100 Bullets, volume 12: Dirty
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso
As has been mentioned before around these parts, I'm not exactly unbiased when it comes to this series. It consistently blows my mind whenever a new volume shows up, so feel free to take whatever I say with a grain of salt (and watch out for spoilers, although I'll try not to reveal anything major). But know this: I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's a really fucking good series, with some amazing writing and absolutely beautiful artwork. I can't get enough of it.
With the series ramping up to its 100th-issue finale, Brian Azzarello seems to be setting up the pieces for a final conflict. There's no multi-issue story in this volume; it's all done-in-one tales, showing characters being manipulated, screwed, and murdered on the way to the bloodbath that is sure to come. The original conceit of the series (consequence-free revenge, courtesy of the titular projectiles) has long since been left behind, shown to be a setup for the real story of the behind-the-scenes-of-American-life power play that all the various characters are caught up in. Agent Graves is taking out the heads of the Trust, one by one, as a revenge for their traitorous turn on him and his Minutemen. Or is he? Maybe he's actually working with one or more of the existing houses of the Trust to consolidate power. Or maybe he's decided the vast criminal empire cannot be trusted to secretly run the country anymore, and he's eliminating it altogether.
Whatever the case, we're not privy to the decision-making or high-level maneuvers. What we see here is the dirty work, as Graves' men go about the ugly business of massacre-ing their targets. We've seen various members of the Trust from time to time (aside from the major ones like Augustus Medici or Megan Dietrich), but the ones that were unknown before this point barely even pop up for an introduction here before being executed. It's pretty horrific, especially when we get to see just enough to know that they might be good friends or loving fathers before receiving a bullet between the eyes. And as much as we might have grown to like characters like Cole or Victor, these chapters confirm that they're as vicious as anybody else in the series.
We also get some other looks at the idea of revenge, which is near-omnipresent in this series. An especially powerful chapter sees Lono (probably the most vicious killer in the series, and that's saying something) confronted by a woman whose life he destroyed with his casual violence and nearly killed. She swore to herself that she would kill him given the chance, but she can't bring herself to do it. It's a fascinating scene, both in the emotions displayed and the implications; we know he's going to go on and keep raping and killing, so wouldn't it have been better to rid the world of him? Azzarello gets a lot of credit for his complex plotting, but we can see that the themes and emotions are all incredibly complex as well.
And there's so much more that could be talked about, from the mannered dialogue to the layered "cuts" between scenes that play off each other thematically. But among my favorite aspects is the little stuff that happens in between the major moments. One chapter sees Victor do something for himself as sort of a reward for completing a killing that he was ordered to do, and the result is one of the most horrifying revelations I've seen in a crime story, probably because it's all-too-possible. Another chapter uses a simple killing as a counterpoint to the high-level schemes going on between characters, and, as with the plentiful similar scenes over the course of the series, it's a nice way of reminding us that you don't need glamorous, conspiratorial motives to murder somebody; in fact, it's something that happens every day, and usually for stupid reasons. It's Azzarello's way of keeping the series down to earth and showing that murder is an ugly, simple act, no matter how fancily it's dressed up.
There's plenty more to mention in the way of plot developments and revelations, but that can be covered by the anal retentive bit of work I perform below. For now, I can't end anything without raving about Eduardo Risso's artwork. It's as beautiful as ever, giving the characters a noirish setting in which to act out their awful deeds and detailing the actions of the characters amazingly expressively. I end up meticulously studying the details of each page, even when I'm caught up in the story and feel the need to keep reading. I love the way he defines locales, setting the mood for scenes perfectly (props should also be given to Patricial Mulvihill for her excellent colors):
And the character art is just amazing, bringout out the emotions of the characters beautifully:
Not to mention the way the scenes play out. That previous scene sees Benito in shadows, on his way to being ready to enter the dark world of his father. But even if you don't look at symbolism, the scene is just incredible, especially the way the shadows play across the water entrancingly. And then there's the pacing of scenes:
That reaction panel in the middle functions perfectly to stop the movement for a second as he realizes what is happening, then the next tier of panels shows us what he sees, with the final one revealing the full implications of what is going on. Breathtaking. Or there's this bit:
I love the quirky establishing shot from inside the ice cooler; that's a Risso trademark. And the following panels, which see Cole get situated before casually and menacingly confronting the other man at the bar, who has his face cleverly hidden until the reveal on the next page. That last panel blows me away, with the eyes peeking out from the shadowed face and the smoke curling up around it. Wow. Finally, I love the high-energy panels that capture a moment of action or emotion; this one might be one of the best ones Risso has done yet:
So that's probably everything I have to say about this volume (other than buy it if you haven't already. You'll want to read the other 11 volumes first though), but I've got to show off my updated character map. I've spent way too much time putting it together electronically and trying to make it legible, but who knows how readable it is. As the series continues, it just gets more and more complex and clogged with information:
So there it is, containing every bit of important information I can think of. Click to enlarge, obviously. Dead people have a red X through their picture or name, red arrows mean somebody killed the character (or attempted to), and dashed lines mean I'm not sure about that information. If you have any corrections or additions to suggest, let me know, but please don't spoil anything past volume 12/issue #88. And try not to let it drive you insane, like it nearly did me.