This first issue in a collection of standalones focuses on a day in the life of Trust member Sigmar Rhone, the owner of a casino and apparent media mogul. His involvement with the Trust of course means he spends his days involved in all sorts of illicit activities, but from the very first page we see just what kind of a man Sigmar is, giving the employees of the casino the week off after a violent incident involving an up-and-coming rap star, stating that they should be taken care of because they’re all part of the “family.” Sigmar himself is a family man, with three young children and a beautiful, young (actress?) wife. But Sigmar is a man just like any other, and given to certain weaknesses; like Kate, the valet/bodyguard to Megan and Augustus (who I don’t believe we’ve seen before - for all its strengths, one glaring weakness 100 Bullets continually falls prey to are these introduced-late-in-the-game characters) who Sigmar is schtupping on the side to get certain information out of her. Information that’s been hinted at but that is finally revealed here: Graves and Augustus have been working together behind-the-scenes.
It’s a shock followed by another of a different sort, as this particular day in the life turns out to be the last for Sigmar and his family, by the hands of Victor and Remi - reminding us that the Minutemen are not the heroes of this story, despite whatever allusions we may cast over them as the “protagonists” and thus, the characters we should be rooting for. Azzarello and Risso are committed to nothing more than the tearing-down of traditional expectations for stories such as these.
Issue #85 “Red Lions”
The first time we met Sophie, the focus of this particular issue, she was the waitress to Graves and Lono all the way back in issue #8, where Graves very much intentionally tipped her and her morally-unscrupulous boyfriend Carlos off that the Dog himself was carrying a million in cash. It turned out that Carlos just so happened to be Loop’s cousin, and thus the characters found their way into the story again as they set off to spend their newfound loot on a nationwide tour. But of course Lono caught up with the two eventually, and proceeded to kill Carlos and tie Sophie up to the bed to repeatedly rape her. Now, almost eighty issues later, we catch up again with Sophie, who is now teaching a martial arts class at her local gym. She’s a character who’s been through a lot, but come out stronger on the other side, and is now sharing that strength with other women who found themselves similarly abused. But when Lono himself comes walking through the door to her gym, Sophie must decide how far she’s willing to go to get her revenge…
This is what’s best about 100 Bullets: no stray story beat or background character should be taken for granted, as the creative team has shown time and time again that, in this world, everything is connected. Here, Azzarello and Risso take a character previously used almost entirely to show off Lono’s depravity and turns her around completely; making her into wonderfully complex character in the process. It’s hard to believe the careless blonde waitress from all those issues ago would one day come the closest to killing what could be the most dangerous man in the world, but there you have it. Lono is a man who’s survived countless stabbings, shootings and worse, but here he almost bites it as Sophie locks him in the gym’s sauna after pouring ammonia into the steam. It’s only by the grace of Sophie herself that Lono survives, wishing to point out just how vulnerable Lono is after all. Every character in the series, no matter how hard or badass or untouchable they may appear, is just as likely to see a past sin coming up out of nowhere and locking them up and signing their own death warrant.
That’s especially true for Augustus Medici, who it seems everyone wants dead as he continues to take sole control of the Trust. Azzarello appears to be aware that he’s running out of real estate, story-wise, and so also packs in the reunion of Benito with his father after his jaunt with Dizzy and the others into this otherwise standalone tale. The dinner conversation between Augustus, his son and Megan is mostly an affair of story catch-up and set-up, but the character dynamics remain as sharp as ever - especially now that Benito’s father is in bed (literally) with his one-time crush.
Issue #86 “Rain In Vain”
The darkness has been kicked up a notch for Vol. 12 in general, but this issue takes it to a whole ‘nother level beyond what even 100 Bullets has shown us before. The main action of the story involves Victor Ray carrying out yet another hit on behalf of Graves, as two more of the Trust fall beneath the gun. But it’s what Victor decides to do in his off-hours that really leaves an impact, in a gruesome story-line that is sadly all-too familiar to anyone who watches the evening news. It may seem odd that the same man who helped murder an entire family two issues ago here seeks retribution against a couple of murdering kidnappers, but that’s human nature for you. Victor Ray is loyal to Graves, but not completely at the expense of losing his own conscience entirely. We’ll just have to see if that loyalty holds for the remaining fourteen issues.
Issue #87 “The Blister”
Thirteen issues to go, and Azzarello and Risso are still introducing new characters. But that’s largely forgivable, as long as said characters prove to be as interesting as retired Minuteman Will Slaughter, who here is called back into action by Trust-member Joan D’Arcy. With three more hits carried out in a single, D’Arcy realizes that the Trust’s number is up, and so hires Slaughter on to put a certain someone in his sights… not, it should be pointed out, Graves, but seemingly Slaughter’s own progeny, who he groomed to take his place in the Minutemen. And someone who we’ll have to wait for the next volume to find out for sure.
Aside from that, Remi gets put in his place by Graves, after a full-blown John Woo assault against the house of D’Arcy winds up a dead end. Risso truly gets to shine in these sequences, where even Remi gets to look like a bad-ass. The home-life scenes of Sluaghter and his family are also a welcome respite - especially after such a dark turn in the last issue - although we must assume that Slaughter’s loving goodbyes to his family before undertaking this last job will turn out to be his last… because when is it not?
Issue #88 “My Lonely Friend”
We catch up with Cole and Branch this issue, as the two retrieve the painting that Ronnie and Echo spent their last appearance going back and forth over. Those two also make their return, with the duplicitous Echo just as dangerous as ever - resulting in the death of Branch on the very bench Cole put an end to Daniel Peres in the series-redefining arc “Red Prince Blues.” There’s also a side story of a young man who’s just about to leave the country gets gunned down for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time - something that could be read as the coda to Mr. Branch’s entire life, for that matter. We also get some nice insight into Cole’s character, as he considers blowing Ronnie away in retribution for Remi killing Wiley Times, a character that Cole had no special love for, but whom he respected.
The pieces are starting to lock into place as Azzarello and Risso approach the finish line, and we’re not done counting up the bodies just yet. Eleven issues to go!