Saturday, August 1, 2009

100 Bullets: My only friend, the end

Links: Abhay Khosla's Bram Stoker's Dracula. That should be all the information you need to know to click on that link.

Vertigo has a glimpse of Matt Kindt's upcoming graphic novel Revolver. I can't wait for that one.

Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's new series, The 6th Gun, is looking pretty awesome. Robot 6 has a few preview images, and Bunn posted one more.

Jog caught the only manga announcement of much interest out of SDCC: CMX is publishing Usamaru Furuya's 51 Ways to Save Her. I bet that will be good.

And here's the long-awaited look at the end of one of my all-time faves. All the usual qualifiers apply, including the fact that I'm ridiculously fannish about this series and probably not capable of being very objective, and also that you should expect SPOILERS, of course.

100 Bullets, volume 13: Wilt
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

Wow, if anybody ever doubted that this series would go out with a bang, here's your answer. Yes, as expected, Brian Azzarello ends with a bloodbath, having nearly every character meet a grisly fate, and the only survivors being the guys who decide they've had enough and want to just walk away. It's exciting as fucking hell, and pretty goddamn satisfying to boot. Since there are pretty much no good guys here (Dizzy might be the only exception), we can all get a thrill out of everyone getting murdered, along with most everything being laid bare and actually not falling apart under scrutiny. Sure, there might be a few loose ends, such as what exactly was so special about the painting that Cole, Echo, and Ronnnie were fighting over (I think it was the one containing the word "Croatoa" that woke up Milo Garrett back in volume 5?), what the awful plan that Graves had for Dizzy was (to take over leadership of the Minutemen?), or what Echo's game was anyway (other than just getting involved with the Trust to make some money). Azzarello does give some cursory answers to those questions, and also the big one about how Graves had the power to bypass the law and play his "game" (short answer: he was connected to the government), but that's all pretty secondary to the main conflict, which is revealed here to be more simple and also kind of more complex than previously indicated.

Early on in this volume, we learn that most everything that has happened in the series started back in the 60s, when Graves, Augustus Medici, and Javier Vasco made a pact to basically take over the Trust. This turns the entire series into a struggle between generations, and this finale sees those men, once the younger generation, having become the old guard fighting against the likes of Megan Dietrich, Joan D'arcy, and the previously unseen (outside of crowd scenes, as far as I can remember) Tibo Vermeer. The old guys have made their power play over the last few volumes, although it all started with the big Atlantic City massacre that happened before the series started, and they were on the verge of completely taking over when what happened was that their reach basically exceeded their grasp, and not only did everything fall apart for them, it did the same apart for the similarly greedy young folks. The whole thing seemed to become a meditation on greed and lust for power; as we had learned, the Trust was set up to divvy up that power among equals, but when some of them developed designs on the whole shebang, that's when the trouble began. And interestingly, Graves, who seemed for the whole series to be the guy who acted as a check on unmitigated power, was in on it. The Atlantic City affair supposedly happened because members of the Trust wanted to branch out from their given territory, the Western hemisphere, but it was actually a cover for Graves and his fellow conspirators to start eliminating rival houses. It's a pretty gutsy reveal, that everything you thought was right for so long turns out to be the exact opposite.

The other thread here seems to be the various Minutemen waking up to the fact that they are nothing more than pawns, and not liking it. The different guys have different realizations and reactions, all believable from how they've been developed, but it all eventually comes down to them not wanting to be pieces in somebody else's game. And that's the downfall of the whole conspiracy; the leaders had their eyes fixed on what they wanted to acquire, not realizing that the poor treatment of those under them was crumbling the foundation of their empire right out from under them. Lono seemed to have realized this a while back, and he had been making a play for more power for the past several volumes, but being a being of pure id, he couldn't do much more than smash into the precisely-laid schemes and disrupt everything. And that might have been what woke up some of the others; this crazy motherfucker didn't care about any of them, and neither do the guys in charge, so why just blindly follow orders, for what?

So with everything tangled up together and nobody wanting to just walk away, there's nothing left but to have everything burn to the ground, taking everybody with it. It's an apocalyptic finale that's utterly appropriate, and all these distinct characters have been so well explored over 100 issues of story that we understand the emotions and motivations of each of them. There's so much happening, and it all makes sense, and is really good drama to boot. There are tons of great moments here, including an incredibly intense scene (which must have been an unbearable cliffhanger in the monthly series) in which Lono orders Loop to kill Cole. Or the final moments of Remi Rome, who can't handle being maimed and unable to keep up the life of action and killing that he seems to love so much. Dizzy and Lono getting into a nasty, violent fight when they realize who each other are. I especially liked the Wire-esque plot about a young drug-dealing boy screwing up a killing for his boss and having to bear the consequences that mirrored some of the main plot. I'm always amazed at how well Azzarello was able to make everything fit together, not only delivering great stories, but punctuating them with unforgettable scenes and making everything hit home with visceral force.

And of course, you can't talk about what a great series this is without giving tons of props to Eduardo Risso, who brought the story to life like nobody else could have. The variety of emotions he's able to display here is incredible, and the subtlety in which he makes all the characters "act" is astonishing. I never feel lost when reading any of these stories; the action is clear and understandable, and often delivered with a flourish that grabs the attention wonderfully, and the compositions are just arresting and beautiful to behold. He even uses some shading techniques that might be new for him but realize the mood beautifully, like this depiction of fog:

Or a striking depiction of flaming death:

And action scenes are always exciting, often using innovative techniques to impart information, like the way he places the viewing angle high above the street here, foregrounding the bomb that is about to be set off:

And the emotion is always clear and readable; I especially liked this scene, in which Graves has discovered that the man who made his "game" possible has been killed:

You can read the anger written on his face like a neon sign. And the violence! Azzarello comes up with some pretty awful, nasty stuff in these stories, and Risso never backs down when depicting it. Some of the bits that I found most effective included Mr. Slaughter blowing a guy's leg off with a shotgun:

Remi's hands getting blown off:

And Benito suddenly shooting Lono in the face:

Those are definitely not the only examples of blood and mayhem in the book, and Risso really renders the gory fuck out of each and every one of them, often making them sudden and unexpected, like a slap in the face. It's pretty goddamn masterful work.

Yes, I can't say enough good things about this series, and this ending, which just blew my mind with how satisfying it was, considering the complexity of everything that had come before. Azzarello and Risso had a lot to live up to here, and they did not disappoint. I'm still not sure if there was much going on here in the way of a deeper meaning (greed and lust for power are bad? Power leads to corruption? Placing your life in the hands of someone else, even if they seem trustworthy, might turn out to be a bad idea?), but the fact that the story was so rich and compelling will leave me considering it for much longer than most other books I read. Yes, it's great comics that I can't lavish enough praise on, and I'm sure I'll be able to continue to pull out the various volumes and enjoy them even more in the years to come. I can't think of much higher praise than that.


  1. "So with everything tangled up together and nobody wanting to just walk away, there's nothing left but to have everything burn to the ground, taking everybody with it."

    I really enjoyed this whole piece you've written, that quote is just one of my favorite sentences. I'm going to miss reading 100, and the absence of a regular dose of these characters already aches a bit. I wanted it to end, because it needed to have an ending, but I think, like you, that I enjoyed it the experience of chasing this stories many threads so much that neither of us would've had the spine to shut it down. What a damn good piece of fun it's been.

  2. I always felt that the series lost a lot once it passed #50 mark, and veered away from the stories of Graves handing out the guns to regular people. There are a couple of stand-out moments after that, particularly "the Wylie runs the voodoo down" story-arc, but Az focused mostly on the conspiracy. By the end there was just no way it was going to wrap up in a satisfactory way.

    I really think that Azzarello fooled a lot of his audience with the "kill everyone" last issue, in that it didn't exactly resolve anything. Also, the sub-plot involving a young drug-dealer that started the arc got wrapped up way too early for it to be more than a relatively subtle parallel to the wider arc.

  3. Vanja: That might be a common complaint; the plots about the guns and revenge were some compelling stuff, and I'm sure many people would have been happy to have that be the whole series. I dunno, I liked the conspiracy angle (although I don't know if I would call it that anymore; most of the secrets were revealed a good 20 issues before the finale, and all that remained was to see the players bounce off each other until they wiped each other out). I thought Azzarello had established the characters well enough that it was interesting to see them play off each other, and I did think it all got resolved as well as could be hoped for. But if you were less interested in all that stuff, I could definitely see that being unsatisfying.

    As for things being resolved, well, I think mass death was the expected conclusion, and that's what was delivered. All the plots did come to an endpoint; was there anything specific that you felt didn't get resolved?

    As for the drug dealer story, it seemed to mostly parallel what was going on with the various minutemen, so it ended as that part of the story ended. I thought it worked. In fact, I might have another post in me about that and some similar subjects, but I usually don't follow up on promises like that, so don't hold me to it.