Issues #43-46 “Chill in the Oven”
It was only a matter of time before we got around to a prison story in 100 Bullets, and it was also about time we got back to Loop, who’s been missing for almost thirty issues now. The Loop Hughes we find here is much different than the one Graves gave the briefcase to all those issues ago, now incarcerated and having to deal with the ins and outs of prison-yard politics. He’s a tougher, harder character, who’s made more than one enemy in his time in the big house, and who’s about to get one more added to the pot; a certain tree-trunk of a psychopath with a wolf-eyed glare and a mad grin. That’s right--Lono survived the events of his previous appearance and now finds himself incarcerated in a place where it looks like he could thrive, if circumstances work out as such.
Azzarello pulls no punches in his depiction of prison life, as you’d expect--we get detailed descriptions of the various types of shivs, cons pimping their asses out to other cons, language so salty it’d make Tarantino turn blue… Prison Break this most certainly ain’t. “Chill in the Oven” is so mired in prison lore, it may at first seem a little off-putting, as you try and figure out the lingo the cons use amongst each other. But once the story kicks in, it proves to be the meanest, most brutal and black-hearted arc of 100 Bullets yet. It also sets up a key dynamic that will continue to the series’ end: the almost “buddy-cop” relationship that develops between Lono and Loop. Loop is destined to be a Minuteman, it seems, and it’s heavily implied that Shepherd orchestrated events so that Lono would find himself in a position to train Loop as such, but of course Lono has other plans. But the end of the arc sees them left alone together, so it appears that Shepherd (and perhaps Graves) will get what he wants, after all.
It’s a solid story overall, but it feels like Loop gets the short-shrift, despite being the main character. We just don’t get the insight here into Loop’s character that we got all the way back in “Hang Up on the Hang Low,” leaving the young Hughes feeling like a bit of a straw-man protagonist as a result. The fact that I can’t recall much of Loop’s journey other than being partnered with Lono doesn’t bode well for his future characterization, either, but we’ll find out if that proves to be the case in the upcoming installments.
Issues #47-49 “In Stinked”
You’ll recall I wasn’t terribly fond of Jack Daw’s debut story, “Sellfish & Out to Sea,” and that’s largely because the story lacked a real ending… an ending which we get here, twenty-plus issues later in a fantastic wrap up to what was started when Graves gave Jack his attaché and the picture of the man responsible for ruining his life: namely, Jack himself.
There’s so much going on in these three issues, which see Jack and his junkie friend Mikey travel across country to see Mikey’s cousin, Garv; who runs an in-house, illegal tiger farm, and who’s also looking to sell their skins to some big shot mafiosos from Philadelphia. The metaphor of Jack being the caged tiger is about as unsubtle as it gets, but it hardly matters: when the writing’s this good and the art so evocative (especially in Risso’s depictions of the tigers), the subtly of a sledgehammer is just as effective as a more refined, surgeon’s touch. There are so many great touches, all of them revolving around Jack and the tiger. Is Jack’s cage self-made, or one he was led into after what went down in Atlantic City? Because, as we find out at the story’s denouement, Jack’s a Minuteman, having been conditioned like all the others involved that fateful day and put into hiding in “normal” lives. After all, much like Garv shoots his tigers up with Ketamine before delivering the killing blow, Jack finds himself so doped out of his mind most of the time that he’s forgotten just who he is.
But fortunately, unlike his previous appearance, Jack ends this story with a better grasp of himself. And although discovering that fact destroys more than one life in the process, it’s a choice Jack had to make; both for himself, and for the coming storm of bloodshed hanging at the sides of each and every panel.