“100 Bullets” is a strange comic. It’s one that’s pretty much universally agreed to be popular and successful. It’s a lynchpin in the current Vertigo lineup. It’s critically acclaimed and award winning.
And yet, month to month, issue to issue, I can’t find a single person to talk to about the latest issue. While it started and gained attention for its remarkable premise and “Elevator Pitch” — Man Delivers Untraceable Gun And Bullets To The Wronged Of America — it has long since taken its intended form as one of the most complex and rewarding crime sagas in comic book, hell, literary history. And now that the end of the series is approaching, each issue has more staggering and game-changing developments than the last.
But everyone I know is either “waiting for the trade” or “Oh, yeah, “100 Bullets”, I gotta read that one day for sure.” Yes, there are pockets of fandom scattered across the internet. Yes, you can find detailed schematics of every interpersonal relationship in the series constructed by devoted readers. But this is a book that’s so effortlessly successful at its intent while simultaneously so in-depth and complicated that you’d think everyone would be reading it, that message boards across comic book fandom would be bursting after every new issue. “ZOMFG, DID [BLANK] JUST KILL [BLANK]? AZZ WOULDN’T DO THAT NO WAI.” Alas, it never seems like anyone is paying attention.
In the latest issue: Chapter Three in the final storyline, “100 Bullets” (and you know, it wouldn’t surprise me if exactly 100 bullets were fired over the course of it); the scope in both the story and the art, expands pretty significantly. In a comic that’s always been its most successful when telling stories in tight and claustrophobic panels, the moments are now bigger, and the pace and vistas are both slowing down and growing appropriately.
I’d be loath to spoil too much, but Azzarello recently introduced a spanner to the works of Mr. Graves’ long-term plans. In this issue, the aptly named Slaughter makes a massive dent in them. We get to see the aftermath of the event echo over several pages of unrelated developments, all given plenty of room to breathe on the page. After years of hurtling through dozens of botched small time crimes and deliberate and shadowy positioning, Azzarello and Risso have taken a step back, visually and narratively. These are now the big moves we’ve been waiting for, and they’re being given the appropriate attention and room to breathe.
The storyline itself has also expanded in scope. While previously an individual storyline would focus on a particular character (or a handful of related ones) and their roles in both the overarching storyline and usually a random and local act of violence and/or stupidity, “100 Bullets” focuses on every Minuteman and Trust capo that’s still standing in the book. What started as a street level shooting has now grown to involve an almost nation-wide examination of gun and gang violence.
As the series gets closer to its finale, and the stakes get even higher, the odd stature of “100 Bullets” becomes all the more frustrating. I want to be able to talk about it in the store, the way I always hear people do the same about “Who’s a Skrull?” or “Is J’onn J’onnz really gonna end up in the big Oreo Factory In The Sky?”
I suppose I’ll just have to wait a few years for the series to be over, for all the retrospective articles to be written, for Mr. Graves and Dizzy avatars to be just as popular as Spider Jerusalem ones are today.
It shouldn’t be too long now. There’s only nine issues left, and Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso and their dutiful compatriots have just been getting better and better in every single one.