If any comic published in the last couple of decades typifies the intrusion of a “noir” sensibility into the field, it’s 100 Bullets. Vertigo/DC collected the single-issue numbers 1-5 and the Vertigo/Winter’s Edge #3 into this volume, which starts the whole thing off.
In this first collected edition, we’re given two episodes in which the mysterious Agent Graves approaches people who have suffered unjustly. He gives them an attache case with a gun and 100 bullets, all untraceable, with the assurance that they can use them however they choose for redress and as soon as those bullets are recognized, any investigation will be called off. For Dizzy Cordova (“100 Bullets”), she’s paroled from jail early. Her husband and child were shot down on the street, but the perpetrators weren’t who she thought — those deaths weren’t the result of gang violence. Lee Dolan (“Shot, Water Back”) was the victim of a prank that put pictures of naked little boys on his hard drive — he lost everything. Mrs. Bugg, in the vignette that closes this collection, used the gun on the landlord who caused the death of her son — and now she’s sorry.
Brian Azzarello’s script is taught and sharp. He has a good ear for street dialect and slang and it shows. It’s also really, really dark — these are not little revenge fantasies with happy endings, at all. Even when the bad guys get their due, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Eduardo Risso’s drawing is perfectly in sync with Azzarello’s sript — if slang can be translated into pictures, Risso’s done it. His style is definite, with strong lines and a good balance between detail and openness. Layouts are more fluid and intuitive than the usual run of comics, leading the eye across the page in a way that enhances the narrative and gives a cinematic feel to the whole story.
Maybe I’m a little biased — the first episode, at least, takes place in Chicago, and both Azzzarello and Risso have caught the energy of the city — what someone called the “yeasty ferment of city life.” As discomforting as it can be at times — and there are places where the stories are really, really grim — it’s worth following through all thirteen collections. (Which probably explains the numerous awards the two have won for it.)