Issue #31-36 “The Counterfifth Detective”
If the last arc was a play on zany, Elmore Leonard-esque crime capers, then this arc is all about the big RC - and no, not the cola. Raymond Chandler’s influence is all over “The Counterfifth Detective” like some vaguely racy and inappropriate metaphor for something that’s already pretty racy and inappropriate to begin with. For a master wordsmith like Azzarello, getting to play in the Chandler sandbox proves to be a delight, although there is an impression that the author had way much more fun writing it than some would get from reading it. Azzarello never goes quite as far on the unknowing-parody scale with this arc as something like, say, Sin City… but with lines such as, “I was struck by her impressive set of lungs. Turns out they weren’t just for show,” he comes dangerously close.
The recipient of Graves’ attaché for this arc is P.I. Milo Garrett, the bandaged gentlemen you might remember making a cameo from a few issues back. Here he’s graduated to “main character,” and finds himself (as private dicks in L.A. are wont to do) in over his head in an increasingly complicated plot of theft and murder. This being 100 Bullets, there’s a bit more going on than just what’s on the surface, and it isn’t long before familiar faces such as Lono and Megan Dietrich make an appearance to mix it up with Milo and co.
A few things play into this arc that will go on to be major factors of the series. The first is the painting that is the focus of all the death and betrayal, an Italian work from the 16th/17th century that the Trust has a vested interest in and will become important as the series goes along. The painting also features the word “Croatoa,” which you’l l remember is the code-word that Graves has used thus far to snap his former Minutemen out of their conditioning and remember their previous lives - and wouldn’t you know it, Milo just so happens to be one. Also introduced (or reintroduced, as it were) is Echo Memoria, the courtesan who Branch paid for the company of in that one-off, catch-up issue. We find out just what Echo was after that night she schtupped Branch, as it turns out Echo’s a high-class art thief, and her quest to retrieve the Trust’s painting will continue for the next sixty odd issues.
With his bandaged protagonist and the overheated narration, Azzarello runs the risk of pushing his story too far into the realm of the ridiculous. And had this arc been nothing more than a simple Chandler pastiche, he may very well have. But the creators are far too smart for that, and instead weave the Chandler-isms into a central part of the story, and also into Milo’s character. Milo Garrett is man out of time - a throwback to when men were men and dames were dames and sexism and homophobia were still socially acceptable forms of behavior. Or at least, that’s what Milo wants the world to think. Who he actually is, is another matter entirely. It’s not a coincidence that Milo’s face is covered in bandages for most of the arc, as identity is a key theme of this set of issues. Milo desperately wants to present himself as tougher than he is, and in a way, accomplishes that through sheer force of will - living up to the noir ideal of a down on his luck loser who, despite having a face covered in ratty bandages, is seemingly able to bed every woman he comes in contact with and beat up dudes twice his size. But unfortunately for Milo, it’s still nothing more than a façade. One that can only sustain itself for so long before it cracks.