Issues #6-7 “Short Con, Long Odds”
One of the great pleasures of these early issues of 100 Bullets is the almost anthology-esque nature the premise provides. Azzarello and Risso have provided a set-up with near limitless possibilities, and watching Agent Graves drift in and out of people’s lives with his attaché makes for some strong, standalone stories. “Short Con, Long Odds,” with its story of small-time con man Chucky Spinks looking to settle old debts, is probably the least connected to the overall story out of all the arcs, but that doesn’t make it any less of a damn good read. The characterization and dialogue are as spot-on as the series gets, and Risso’s art makes it a very easy on the eyes.
Issue #8 “Day, Hour, Minute… Man”
We go from a regular old con man story to the series’ first standalone issue, and also the first real insight into the larger conspiracy at play. Here we find out what the deal was with that Hawaiian shirt guy from a few issues back, aka Lono, aka possibly the breakout character of the whole series. He meets up with Agent Graves for a quick coffee, and while their discussion is as obtuse as ever, it’s here we first hear words like “The Trust” and “Minutemen,” and we learn a bit more about Graves and Shepherd’s history. Something went wrong in Atlantic City - an event that will be constantly alluded to for the rest of the series, so make sure you’re comfy - and we can discern that whoever it is Graves’ works/worked for is none too pleased about it. The conversation is filled with just enough exposition to make it sound like anything but exposition, and this is a game that Azzarello will play for the rest of the series; that of what to reveal in the ongoing conspiracy and what to hold back. He’s not always successful in that aim, but it’s still early enough to give the writer the benefit of the doubt, and the quick coda at the end of the issue is a nice way of revealing that while Graves claims to always tell the truth, he is absolutely not always to be trusted.
Special mention should also go Risso’s work this issue, the centerpiece of which is a stunning two-page spread of a crack-house raid. The central composition of the pages - of guns going off on either side of whoever’s unfortunate enough to get caught in the crossfire - it’s a visual motif the artist will play with again throughout, and is honestly the best visual representation of what 100 Bullets is all about.
Issues #9-10 “The Right Ear, Left in the Cold”
We’re back to our regularly-scheduled programming with this arc, which sees the introduction of series regular and pretty-boy, ice cream salesman extraordinaire Cole Burns. But Cole isn’t like any of the other recipients of Graves’ attaché: Cole Burns is actually a former Minuteman who used to work for Graves, and had his mind wiped and was put into hiding after whatever went down in Atlantic City. This revelation opens up a whole new door of possibilities for the series: is the true purpose of Graves’ “game” to unlock former or potential Minutemen? Azzarello and Risso keep their cards close to the chest, but Cole’s story here answers a lot of questions without really answering them.
Outside of the larger revelations of Cole’s past, it’s somewhat alarming to go back and realize how light on plot his debut story is. The business of Cole’s attaché and revenge is pretty much taken care of as soon as its introduced, and not really a whole lot happens in between. But that’s okay, because this arc is all about setting up Cole’s character, and drawing him back into whatever it is that Graves has planned.
Issue #11 “Heartbreak, Sunnyside Up”
Harrowing. That’s just about the only word applicable to this standalone slice of black-hearted pie, a story of a girl who ran away from home and the destruction left in her wake when it’s discovered what happened to her. Both Azzarello and Risso have done a stellar job with the series thus far, but this short little piece is a class above even that, with an issue that’s largely made up of a conversation between Graves and the missing girl’s mother, and yet is utterly gripping throughout. Even better, although the story has little to do with Graves’ own personal journey throughout the series, we get possibly our best look at the character at this issues denouement, where Graves stands outside coldly while the girl’s mother puts each and every last one of those 100 untraceable bullets to use. He doesn’t smile or nod to himself in grim satisfaction; he doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in the choice he gives to wronged individuals. For Graves, it’s not a simple matter of right and wrong or good and evil. It’s a matter of action and consequence. He’s a character with a strict code, although you couldn’t in good faith call it “justice.” Graves believes that we all deserve what’s coming to us.
This also feels like a good place to highlight Risso’s use of sound effects. For a while there, more “serious” comics shied away from using the BIFF’s and the BAM’s and the POW’s (I guess to distance themselves from the Adam West Batman), but Risso unashamedly places such effects on the page for maximum effect. There's nothing quite like a well-placed BANG, after all.
Issues #12-15 “Parlez Kung Vous”
Dizzy Cordova makes her return appearance in this relatively plotless affair, which sees Mr. Shepherd send her to Paris to meet the American expatriate Branch, an individual with first-hand knowledge of the Trust and their stranglehold upon America. It’s another long conversation filled with elliptical half-truths and almost-reveals, and at three issues, it’s a bit drawn-out. 100 Bullets was released right smack dab in the middle of the “decompression” phase in comics, where writers would take five issues to tell a story that could easily fill two, and Azzarello and Risso’s series falls prey to that stretched-out storytelling on more than one occasion. But - with a (perhaps somewhat misguided) projected hundred issues to tell their story - they’ll certainly need the extra room to draft the complex web that will make up the bulk of what 100 Bullets will become. That said, we’re introduced to another major player in Branch, a former reporter who got the attaché from Graves years ago but never used it, instead attempting to track down Graves and try to figure out what the deal with the Trust is anyway. We still don’t know the full picture, but Branch’s story illuminates what the main through-line of the story will become: powerful, untouchable people and things they’ll do to remain powerful and untouchable.