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Sunday, March 29, 2020

100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective

Title: 100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective

ISBN: 9781563899485

Price: $12.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2003

Artist: Eduardo Risso

Writer: Brian Azzarello

Collects: 100 Bullets #31-36

Rating: 4/5

One Milo Garrett has been hospitalized following an unrevealed set of circumstances, and was seen in A Foregone Tomorrow receiving the now familiar attaché case from Agent Graves, a scene re-run in greater detail here. He returns to Los Angeles with his face completely bandaged, and to his trade as detective. It’s a career he really enjoys. In fact he wraps himself in the myths and clichés from the hard-boiled narrative to the hard drinking and the constant hard fighting. One might almost consider he’s trying a little too hard to be the man he is.

By now we have a greater familiarity with the characters important to 100 Bullets, and so are one step ahead of Garrett to start with, but then he’s dragged from pillar to post in order to locate a stolen painting. In his wake he leaves corpses, and his path is scattered with beatings. The painting is pivotal, and when Garrett eventually sees it for the first time it awakens something in him.

The Counterfifth Detective is no linear path. Brian Azzarello’s plot is the literary equivalent of those electrical cords behind your computer. It takes some consideration to discern the assorted relationships and contacts, and such is the deliberate level of deceit and manipulation, and the muddied nature of the series, that you could still be wrong. Still, with 100 Bullets the journey is what counts, and there are enough sparkling stopping points here, particularly the well-juxtaposed dialogue.

Eduardo Risso’s on his usual stunning form as well. He’s excellent at filling backgrounds as outlines, creating the impression of supplying more than is delivered, and of populating the pages with the most careworn citizens the city in focus has to offer.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow

Title: 100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow

ISBN: 9781563898273

Price: $17.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2002

Artist: Eduardo Risso

Writer: Brian Azzarello

Collects: 100 Bullets #20-30

Rating: 4/5

For much of the series to date Brian Azzarello has inserted hints about the bigger picture, a couple of characters discussing matters, a few dropped terms, some reference to the past, but it’s not added up to anything. A Foregone Tomorrow spills everything as the Trust meet in Atlantic City to discuss the future. We’ve seen some of them before, and others we’ll not be seeing again, but in the course of their discussions and a particularly cruel plot, pretty well everything is spelled out. One thing becomes very clear. No-one likes the idea of Graves hanging around, or having to deal with him.

Before that Azzarello takes a change of tack. In the past we’ve seen Graves hand a case over to someone and explain the contents, but when we meet the dissolute Jack he already has the case. It’s the first story not to hit the 100% mark. There’s little sympathy generated by Jack, who at one point seems to have had it all, and a scene with a former girlfriend falls rather flat as does a meeting with his mother. Had it been the series opener, it would have seemed brilliant, but we’ve been served better from the start and a shock ending doesn’t compensate. What does, though, is the usual superb art from Eduardo Risso and that this tale is surrounded by top notch material.

We have a dip into the past skirting with all sorts of opprobrium as it concerns a great baseball player whose film star wife has just died when he’s approached by Graves. This was back in the day, and they have another meeting in the present as Graves drops off another case in a hospital to someone who’ll be playing their part in the next volume, The Counterfifth Detective. Whether down to Azzarello or Risso, the background material is very funny.

Elements of a trip down to Mexico are also very funny, set up in the fashion of a slapstick buddy movie, but the progression is into deadly territory. It’s the standout story here, revisiting several previously seen folk, and one new character of seeming importance.

Risso is again outstanding. Within this book he supplies just under thirty major characters (defined as having more than a couple of lines of dialogue and appearing on more than one page) and you could stand them adjacently along a wall and have no trouble distinguishing each of them. How many comic artists meet that target? His work on the title for the material here won him a second consecutive Harvey Award as Best Artist or Penciller.

As one of the issues reprinted here was originally the 25th of the series, a number of guest artists supply pin-up pages. Despite the quality behind the names involved, they’re a surprisingly mundane bunch of illustrations. The honorable exceptions are the work of Jordi Bernet, Mark Chiarello, Dave Gibbons and Jim Lee.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low

Title: 100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low

ISBN: 9781563898556

Price: $9.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2001

Artist: Eduardo Risso

Writer: Brian Azzarello

Collects: 100 Bullets #15-19

Rating: 4/5

In volume one we were introduced to minor league loud-mouthed gangsters L’il Moe and his father Big Moe, and they’re back here, but as corpses and examples of the attention to detail required to follow Brian Azzarello’s complex and brilliant crime series.

Hang Up on the Hang Low features several archetypes familiar to readers of crime fiction. There’s the guy in well over his head, two here actually, although one remains blissfully unaware. There’s the down at heel loser who thinks he’s escaped, the woman on her last chance, and the predatory gangster, seemingly beyond vengeance and certainly beyond redemption. One of them eventually makes a mistake leading to inevitable and fatal consequences. It’s a heady cocktail, shaken, then stirred.

The man with the swizzle stick is Agent Graves, revealing himself here as both the complete bastard we suspected, and also a man who sets events in motion without any certainty of the outcome. Handing out a gun with untraceable bullets along with evidence that the recipient has been wronged turns out to have random consequences, and Graves adapts accordingly.

At the heart of this superb, Eisner Award-winning story is Loop Hughes. He’s in his early twenties, abandoned by this father during childhood, although whether or not a father figure would have given direction to his drifting lifestyle is open to question. Beyond a lack of motivation, Loop is fundamentally decent. He’ll take a crooked opportunity that slaps him around the face, but has a basic caring nature, and much of his perceived character is front. He’s extremely well delineated by both Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso, the latter managing to convey Loop’s eventual inner strength. Loop meets Graves early and is taken on quite the journey.

Risso is once again superb. The effort taken on panels merely required to set scenes puts other artists to shame. A bar is prominently featured, over several chapters, and it’s consistent throughout down to the taps. When two characters meet at a different bar they’re initially seen in the background as in the foreground Risso has drawn a trio of regular patrons, each designed so well that their character is conveyed in a single panel. With the effort expended, they could be supporting characters, but they’re just local color.

Azzarello concludes his tragic story not so much with a twist of the plot, but a twist of the knife to the gut. At five chapters it’s both the longest and the best story in 100 Bullets to date, infused with seedy urban desperation and an overwhelming air of impending tragedy. The fantastic element is that there is far more to come, equally or almost as good, and the next does of goodness is A Foregone Tomorrow.

It should also be noted that with this volume Patricia Mulvihill begins coloring the series to great effect. Whereas the previous books had utilised the distressingly familiar Vertigo palette of shades of brown, Mulvihill endows Risso’s work with a greater power through far more imaginative application of color.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

100 Bullets: Split Second Chance

Title: 100 Bullets: Split Second Chance

ISBN: 1563897113

Price: 14.95

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2001

Artist: Eduardo Risso

Writer: Brian Azzarello

Collects: 100 Bullets #6-14

Rating: 4/5

Somewhere along the way your life has been ruined.  All those hopes and dreams smashed to pieces by the cruelest fate.  Now you're a shadow of your former self and wallow in self-pity.  Along comes Agent Graves with an offer you can't refuse.  He gives you a briefcase containing an untraceable gun, one hundred untraceable bullets, evidence proving the person who ruined your life is guilty, and the sure fact you'll never be convicted.

Short Con, Long Odds - Chucky and Pony are two childhood friends who grow up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Chucky ends up being an expert gambler with a knack for dice, but he does a long stint in prison ruining his chance to make a lot of money.  Pony spends that time building a rep and getting paid. Now Chucky is out and trying to make a name for himself, but things aren't going so well.  Agent Graves shows up to reveal who is responsible for Chucky's imprisonment and make an offer he can't refuse.  Things get ugly.

Day, Hour, Minute...Man - Agent Graves meets up with an old friend and we learn a few details about his past.  He's not a man you want to cross.

The Right Ear, Left in the Cold - Cole Burns sells ice cream in the neighborhoods.  He also sells stolen cigarettes and is connected to the local mobster, Goldy Petrovic.  Another ice cream seller is trying to horn in on his territory, but Cole is too busy making time with his girlfriend.  Agent Graves shows up with a briefcase and evidence showing the person responsible for burning the old folks home his grandmother lived in.  Guess who?

Heartbreak, Sunny Side Up - A woman works in a diner and mourns for her lost little girl - she ran away to the city and never came back.  Agent Graves shows up with a briefcase and evidence revealing why her little girl ran away.  The truth hits close to home.

Parlez Kung Vous - Dizzy Cordova gets sent to Paris by Shepard to meet up with a man named Branch.  Seems like Branch got the same offer from Agent Graves that Dizzy acted upon (in the first volume).  We learn about a longstanding secret organization called The Trust and about the Minutemen. Dizzy meets Cole Burns.

Risso does a great job of artful storytelling, Azzarello's writing and dialogue are good, grander mystery of The Trust and Minutemen is revealed, covers by Johnson are interesting

Briefcase deal is a high-concept one-trick pony, many short stories, some implausible situations, no explanation on how Dizzy knows all sorts of martial arts, seems implausible Agent Graves would have carte blanche to perform his little tests - even if he has major connections

Azzarello and Risso gel as a team in these pages and deliver some good storytelling.  I was genuinely interested in what happened next in the story arcs.  You must read the first volume to get a full understanding of the events in this volume.   If you liked the first volume then you'll enjoy the second (especially if you buy into the conspiracy backdrop).  I'll check out the third volume to see where this all goes and knowing the series ends at one hundred issues reassures me an answer will eventually be given.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call

Title: 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call

ISBN: 9781563896453

Price: 19.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2000

Artist: Eduardo Risso

Writer: Brian Azzarello

Collects: 100 Bullets #1-5

Rating: 3.5/5

You are alone, sat at a bar or on a bus, when a dark suited man comes up to you and sits opposite. He tells you that he knows of the injustice in your life – and that you are right to feel vengeful and aggrieved. He then takes out a photograph and hands it you – some names and addresses are scrawled on its back – it is a photograph of those who have done you wrong. Finally, he opens an attaché case that contains a gun, a Smith and Wesson automatic, and 100 untraceable bullets. They are enough to right any wrong, enough to get revenge. As the man leaves you, he leaves the attaché case behind. It’s up to you now: vengeance is yours if you want it. What would you do?

This is the intriguing premise behind the 100 Bullets series of graphic novels by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso. In 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call, the first volume of the series, we get the opening five issues of the original comic, which makes for two complete stories.

“100 Bullets” is the story that begins the series. Dizzy is a Hispanic woman newly released from prison. While she was inside, her husband and son were gunned down in a drive-by and she blames herself for their killing. The aforementioned guy in the dark suit (his name is Agent Graves, but he doesn’t tell her that) approaches her with the identities of the two killers. Both are cops, but the true culprit – the finger man, the intelligence behind the hit – is someone closer to home.

In “Shot, Water Back” we get a bartender who was once a successful businessman, with a family in the suburbs. Until, that is, the day when child porn was found on the hard drive of his computer and he lost it all. At the trial, he claimed his innocence; he had no idea how the porn had got there. Unlike most, his claim was true. Agent Graves gives him the name of the person who hacked into his computer and destroyed his life.

In this second story we also learn a little more about Agent Graves himself, his past and his possible motivation. It seems that he’s a predator, a hit man who uses others as his proxies. Still, much mystery remains. Who is this dysfunctional Dick Tracy? How does he select his victims? Why has he assumed the twin role of ministering angel and devilish tempter?

As in their previous outing, Johnny Double, the collaboration works well. Brian Azzarello’s story is top-notch and is written with a street dialogue that even Elmore Leonard might envy. Eduardo Risso’s artwork is evocative and vivid. He can paint a bleak cityscape of housing projects and basketball courts, move from the milieu of a barfly to a yuppie beau monde with ease, or mainline you with a collage of images to convey dream and memory. Following his artwork here is rather like watching a stylish movie in slow motion: you have the time to contemplate and appreciate each frame (or panel) in turn, and at your own pace.

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