No-strings-attached retribution. That’s the promise a wizened old man called Agent Graves offers a seemingly unrelated clutch of people in Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, arguably one of the finest contemporary continuing comic book series.
The promise comes in the form of an attaché containing evidence as to who’s-wronged-whom, a gun, and 100 untraceable bullets which, when recovered, immediately force the agency investigating the murder to drop and close the case (we’re now past the first nine books and we still don’t know how or why).
Over the nine books, it becomes clear that the people who are offered the attaché aren’t really unrelated. Agent Graves, it emerges, used to work for an organization called The Trust, 13 families that sort of own America, and that some of the earlier killings (including that of a president who had a relationship with a movie star who was once married to an ace baseball player) were orchestrated in the interest of this cartel.
It also turns out that Graves is no longer in The Trust’s employ: He and his team of law-enforcers, who go by the name Minutemen, have been asked to do something that they do not want to; the families have retired the Minutemen by ambushing them in Atlantic city, but not all of them are dead.
Graves has survived and over the course of the books, he recruits new minutemen, or reactivates old ones. And over the course of the books, he offers several people the ubiquitous attaché; the choice of individuals appears random at first, but a pattern slowly emerges. As a recurring line in 100 Bullets puts it, everyone is connected and someone holds all the strings.
The series was launched in 2000 but due to circumstances, including an inexplicable initial revulsion to the name Azzarello, Amazon’s shipping policies, and the quirks of book distributors and retailers like my friend Hemu, I didn’t read the series in order. In fact, I still haven’t read all of it. There are 10 books out until now and I have read nine; the 10th is in the mail.
Over the past two days, however, I have re-read the nine books I have, in order, and I am convinced: Had Dashiel Hammet been alive today, he may well have been writing comics and his name may well have been Brian Azzarello. This is as black as noir can get and has a lot of things going for it: The Faustian bargain Graves offers people; Azzarello’s morally-ambiguous tone and edgy, street talk-laden writing—also seen in a couple of the Hellblazer books featuring John Constantine and Risso’s minimalist but perfect-for-depicting-violence style (as good as Steve Dillon’s in the Preacher series). And who wouldn’t like to get even?
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