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OUT OF BULLETS

The comic book series 100 Bullets, having reached its 100th issue, does what logic in these numerically driven days demands: it ends. It ends, as the New York Daily News reports, with a bang. Not surprising: it’s been banging away for all 100 issues. The “bang” in this case denotes not only the fatal gunslinging events of the story by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso but the issue itself, double the usual length and without interruption by pages of advertising — a measure of the esteem accorded the creators of this unprecedented title by their publisher, DC Comics in its Vertigo incarnation. It probably gives nothing away to say that by the last page of this last issue everyone in this gangster-ridden tale is dead or about to be. The last panel, which Azzarello told the News’ Ethan Sacks he had envisioned from the very beginning in 1999, is a full-page tombstone of a tableau depicting Agent Graves on his knees, affectionately cradling the voluptuous Dizzy with the tear-eyed tattoo, who, though fatally damaged, is holding a gun to his head.

100 Bullets The series, Sacks claims, “reinvigorated the crime genre in a medium dominated by superheroes in spandex.” One commentator said 100 Bullets is not so much about gangsters as it is about power. And I agree — with some additional caveats: it is a classical saga about the corrosive effect of power, how power corrupts and, at last, turns unrelentingly brutal and inward, and destroys itself. From the start, each issue began with Agent Graves giving an untraceable gun and 100 bullets to some poor slob who had cause to seek vengeance for some past abuse; by the issue’s last page, the slob had achieved his heart’s bloody desire. Then the stories started taking more than one issue to unfold.

For me, 100 Bullets was not so much about power in the abstract  as it was about the power of pictures, the masterful comics storytelling of Eduardo Risso. He deployed pictures, breakdowns, and page layouts in ways not often so adroitly demonstrated anywhere else by anyone else. His pictures were a pleasure to view, to enter into, however raw and gory they were.

I savored Azzarello’s command of ghetto argot, which seemed to me, without doing any authentication at all, to ring truest when his characters were African American thugs, but it was Risso’s surpassing skill as a pictorial storyteller that kept bringing me back. Some of his tics and tropes he eventually used often enough to make them cliche — but only in this title. No one else could do it as well. Besides, every page had enough new visual quirks to engage and entertain, and the last issue was no exception. Afforded more pages, Risso and Azzarello use them to pace the unfolding brutalities, to stage and prolong the final fatal moments of the armageddon of self-destruction they are recording, the brace of concluding disasters taking place simultaneously on alternating pages, then in alternating panels, building to a blazing, exploding crescendo of conflagration — much of which takes place without any talk, no words. Only Risso’s telling pictures.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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