Issue #50 “Prey For Reign”
Welp, we’re at the halfway point, and considering we first learned of the Trust and their behind-the-scenes machinations twenty-five issues ago, it’s time for another big reveal: the “origin story” of the Trust itself.
The issue begins in a bar, where a couple of lowlifes who’ve just carried out a diamond heist are all waiting to meet-up. One of said lowlifes is Victor Ray, a tattooed good ol’ boy who claims to know the secret history of Americas, which he regales his compadres with while they wait for the rest of their party. The Trust, we learn, is older than America itself: a collection of thirteen criminal families who’ve had their fill of the Old World and look to start taking control of the New. Having already dealt with JFK, Azzarello now turns his sights on another of America’s great mysteries, the very first in fact: Roanoke, the Lost Colony. Both writer and artist seem to have a field day in depicting what really went down, as we find out that every man, woman and child in Roanoke disappeared that day because the original Minutemen made it so, on behalf of the Trust solidifying their power-base in the New World against Queen Elizabeth I.
Whilst telling his tale, we also get to see Victor Ray in action, as their meet-up goes cock-eyed and Ray and the others have to shoot their way out of an ambush. Ray proves to be a regular Chow Yun-Fat, winding up as the last man standing with twin smoking guns in his hands; which is fitting, as it turns out that he’s a former Minuteman, reactivated by Graves literally minutes before the opening of the very first issue. I don’t know if it’s terribly wise to be halfway through the story and still introducing new main characters, but at least Victor Ray comes to us fully-formed (i.e., we don’t have to devote any more real estate into seeing him getting “reactivated’). Whether or not he becomes as compelling as the rest of the main cast remains to be seen.
Issues #51-57 “Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down”
From the first to the last page, 100 Bullets is unquestionably noir. A lot of people have preconceptions of just what “noir” really is. For some, the mere mention of the word will conjure wide-brimmed fedoras, rain-drenched trench-coats and slinky blondes… but those are just surface details. Some might even point to the heavy shadows and the sharp, German Expressionist angles, but again, that’s all just a matter of style. The truth is, noir isn’t even necessarily a genre in and of itself. It typically involves crime in some fashion, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be about cops and robbers or gangsters and molls. Noir is, at its core, an attitude. An outlook that takes a quick, paranoid glance at the world around it, and doesn’t like what it sees. Noir is about desperate men (and although it doesn’t always have to be chiefly about men, most of it tends to be - there’s this whole male emasculation thing going on throughout) in a cruel and unforgiving world, and whether or not they accept defeat with solemn melancholy or a white hot blast of rage. Because the hero never wins in noir. And if he does, it’s probably because he winds up not the hero, after all.
The whole of 100 Bullets is a noir, but no single story within its framework is as noirish as “Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down”: seven pitch-perfect issues in a series that was already pretty close to that to begin with. Wylie Times’ debut story might have been lighter fare (for 100 Bullets, at least), but it’s this arc where we really get to dig into the nitty-gritty of Wylie’s character, and make no mistake: it does get nitty and gritty. We learn more of Wylie’s past as a Minuteman, and his tragic affair with Rose Madrid, the daughter of one of the Trust’s most powerful families. Led to believe that Shepherd was responsible for Rose’s death, Wylie heads down to New Orleans - home of the House Madrid - to settle a few scores from his previous life. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, and what follows in the next seven issues is a tragedy of the highest order. A tragedy possibly best exemplified in "Gabe," aka Martin, a poor, little runt with an ugly mug but a beautiful ability to play the trumpet, and who finds himself trapped (quite literally) in Wylie's situation, all because Wylie is one of the few people he comes across who shows him kindness. That cuts to the heart of what noir truly is: much like the state of a recently broken-hearted lover, any sign of empathy or emotion will do nothing more than bring the world crashing down all around you.
Special mention must also be made of Patricia Mulvihil’s coloring. The comic book colorist is possibly the most thankless job, because if they’re doing their job right, you shouldn’t really notice, but Mulvihill captures the deep and thick atmosphere of New Orleans so perfectly, you might just break into a sweat while reading.
Issue #58 “Coda Smoke”
It’s with this issue, an epilogue to the previous arc, where we get our first major death. Shepherd’s the closest thing to a “Shining White Knight” that 100 Bullets has, so of course he’s the first of the main players to die, and in a way that no one (least of all Shepherd) could ever see coming. It turns out that the “Croatoa” code word that Graves has been using works on more than just former Minutemen, but also newly-trained ones as well, as an accidental use of the word causes Dizzy to pull out her gun and pop Shepherd right in his chest.
Was this Graves’ plan all along? Hard to say, but it certainly seems to throw a monkey wrench into whatever the larger scheme at play is, while also reminding us that Dizzy will probably wind up being the most tragic figure in a series of tragic figures, as she starts the dark and lonely path she’ll follow for the rest of the series here by unwittingly shooting her mentor.