Issues #76-79 “Punch Line”
Another major reveal, another major death - 100 Bullets is entering the finish line, and it’s “take no prisoners” from here on out, with the double-crossings and the bodies piling up as the series rockets forward towards the conclusion. Azzarello and Risso have taken all their main players and split them off into various factions: there’s Graves with his loyal Minutemen Cole and Remi, warlord Lono with Victor, Jack and Loop, and finally, Wylie with Dizzy, Branch and Benito in tow. All three groups head for a violent confrontation south of the border that will see at least one major betrayal and the end of the road for another.
The big reveal this arc is that it was Megan’s father Roland Dietrich who was killed by the rogue Minutemen in Atlantic City - a scene that’s been shown in sometimes frustratingly vague fragments since nearly the beginning, but that finally delivers in a masterful reveal from a writing and art standpoint: it’s hard not to get chills the moment Graves tells Roland, “…no.” It’s a scene that proves Azzarello and Risso know exactly what they’re doing, and have done so all along. The story even adds another scintillating detail in that it was the House of Dietrich who tried to turn Rose Madrid against her own house, and thus set Wylie on the tragic path he’s been on ever since.
A path that comes to an end with this storyline. Wylie dies - an unforeseen circumstance that seems to not be a part of Graves’ endless planning. It’s like Victor says at the end in the wraparound cockfighting segment to the whole arc: “That one - given the right situation - was the best fighter. His trouble was his only trouble: too much heart.” Wylie was the best of the Minutemen, and after the already-deceased Shepherd, the second-closest to the series’ “shining knight;” which is of course why he has to die, and die in a way that’s unbefitting of a dangerous outlaw: completely by accident, and by the hand of dick-wad Remi.
Issue #80 “A Split Decision”
The game board has been shaken up again, so it’s time for another one-and-done to play catch up and set the pieces back up in new configurations. We’ve seen in previous arcs that Victor Ray was secretly working for Graves the whole time, and he’s finally flown Lono’s coop to fly back into the not-so-warm-and-loving arms of Graves, with Branch and Dizzy in tow. Graves is finally face-to-face with Dizzy once more, since I believe the very first arc of the series, and we finally begin to put the picture together as to why Dizzy is so important to Graves’ plan, as this issue’s end finds her a newly-elected Minuteman. The whole series has alternately been about either Dizzy or Graves, so the fact that they’re finally back together means that Azzarello and Risso are shifting their story into the next gear for this final stretch of issues.
Issue #81-83 “Tarantula”
We catch up with the other (better?) half of the Rome brothers with this arc, as Graves sends Ronnie to Italy to try and track down that painting that’s so important to the Trust that we first saw all the way back in “The Counterfifth Detective.” Doing so brings him into contact with Echo Memoria, which of course leads to a whole host of problems. It’s another noir ideal, with a broken-down protagonist (and I like that Ronnie now uses a cane) being thrown this way and that by a femme fatale who’s just as beautiful as she is deadly. It’s a decent enough story, but with no real grasp as to why the painting is important and a complete break from the main storyline, it would have been rather disappointing coming this late in the game.
Which is a good thing the story also goes back in time and tells the beginnings of Shepherd’s career as a Minuteman, as Graves tells Dizzy of the first time they met. The younger Shepherd is at once completely removed from the one we came to know over the course of his time in the series and also essentially the same. Shepherd as a young man is something of an aimless drifter, but every bit as dangerous and conniving as he would later be portrayed, with Graves and a younger Curtis Hughes both attempting to figure out whether or not Shep killed a man and got away with it scott-free - no attaché or 100 untraceable rounds necessary. The arc is also notable in that it reveals that Shepherd was actually gay. 100 Bullets is not a “nice” series, and as such uses not-very-nice words at times. But by revealing one of the major characters as homosexual (arguably the moral center of the whole series), Azzarello and Risso should silence any critics who still confuse depiction with endorsement.