Issues #89-100 “100 Bullets”
This is it.
Back in 2009, after one hundred issues released over the span of roughly a decade, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso ended their magnum opus of death, deceit and power. It wasn’t always pretty, and it wasn’t always perfect, but it defied the comic book conventions of its day and wound up becoming a milestone of graphic literature. Even better: the creators defied the odds and actually wound up pulling off a satisfying and well-earned ending - unlike similar mystery-based, long-form narratives such as Lost and The X-Files, all the subterfuge and elliptical storytelling here pay off fantastically, as (most) all of the threads are tied up and wrapped into a nice, blood-stained bow.
Of course, not everything wound up working out in the creators’ favor, so - as overall pleased as I was with the ending on this go-round - there were some bumps the story had to navigate to get there. Most egregious of all are the Rome brothers, who entered the series roughly three quarters of the way through and just never really fit in as well as maybe Azzarello intended. Their story is so removed from everything else that an entire issue halfway through this collection had to be devoted to them - an issue that’s fine on its own, but that comes right smack dab in the middle of what is possibly the most exciting continuous story of the whole series, which then must be put on halt so we can shuffle the Rome bros. out entirely (this must have been especially infuriating to those readers who read the series monthly). Also resolved somewhat unsatisfactorily is the ongoing saga of Echo Memoria and that damned painting she screwed and killed just about everything in sight to get a hold of. Early on it seemed as if the painting had more significance to it, something that is dropped entirely here as Echo is killed by the estranged Minutemen and wrapped in the painting she spent all those years after; the two thrown into a swamp as an afterthought so that the authors can forget about it and move on.
But aside from those quibbles, this final story-arc delivers on just about everything else the series had been setting up towards this point. These eleven issues start as the story began all those years ago, with a tale of small-time criminals framed against the larger empire of the Trust. It’s here we encounter the sad story of Pip, a young kid with a junkie for a mom and a corner selling smack, who gets taken a keen interest in by the local drug kingpin Leon. Someone else is trying to take their turf, and so Leon gives Pip the job of taking him down - leaving Pip with a gun and a choice. In that way, the story of Pip encapsulates everything that 100 Bullets is all about: from the early issues with Graves and his attaché all the way to now with the story’s killers all on the warpath, it all boils down to a gun and a choice. Or is it really a choice? Taking a look at Pip, it doesn’t seem so clear cut. Poor little Pip, who was supposed to be named after Pippin the prince instead of Pippen the baller, just never knew any other way. In his world, you either died by the gun or held it, and holding just meant you were most likely going to die by it anyway. The “choice” was already made for him.
Much like it’s been made for the similar story that plays out within the Trust, albeit on a much larger scale. The thirteen families of the uber-powerful cabal have been whittled down to five, as Augustus Medici’s plan to consolidate all of the houses into one reaches its bloody conclusion. Medici has been one of the series’ most complex and elusive characters, and his relationship to Graves has been equally fascinating; for men operating at such heightened scales of power-plays, there seems to be no distinction between “friend” or “enemy”--the only such labels the two care about can be related to pieces on a chess board. Graves, Medici and Javier Vasco solidified their power base as young men after they engineered the death of the elder Vasco, and the trio continue their bid for power amidst their younger generation’s threat of usurpation.
A younger generation that reaches the only fate possible, in some cases. Poor Benito gets off’ed right at the moment he starts to take an interest, in a reveal that’s as shocking as it is devious, where we find out that Augustus all but signs his own son’s death warrant by making him the new head of the household. Megan Dietrich also wades too far into the pond, as her manipulative relationship with Augustus blows up in her face (or is that blows up her face?). Loop is one of the few characters to catch a break, finally shedding the skin of Lono and driving off into the sunset with Victor Ray and his father (who turns out to be Will Slaughter, another character who showed up late and kind of went nowhere). It’s good that Loop got a happy ending, but I still can’t help but feel the character never grew into his own after his phenomenal debut story - he spent far too much time being dragged along at Lono and the other Minutemen’s coattails for him to develop any of his own personality.
The Minutemen themselves go through quite a number of changes here, as their allegiances shift and long-time loyalties finally erode. Cole catches up with Loop and Jack, and the three of them go through so many iterations of team-ups and show-downs that it begins to get a little bit dizzying. I do like what is done with Cole here: he’s been Graves’ right-hand man for so much of the series, it underlines just how dark and cruel this particular world is when events play out as such to make him go rogue. And we mustn’t forget Lono, who pretty much goes through hell and back all the way through this story, as the power-base he’s acquired acting as warlord for the Trust is taken away in one fell swoop - a story-choice that absolutely works in the series’ favor, as Lono is always best when he’s got his back to the wall. If it’s fitting that Loop, Victor and Slaughter get to drive off into the sunset at the end, then Lono being the only other character to walk away with his life intact acts as the punch-line to that little coda.
And then there’s of course the most important character of the youngsters, Ms. Isabelle Cordova. Dizzy was on the first panel of the very first page in issue #1, and she, along with Graves, is there to the last. Those two characters have been the heart and soul of the entire series, with the moment in the first issue where Graves gave Dizzy her attaché * having taken on a sort of mythic quality. When it’s decided that Graves will head up his own house as a full member of the Trust, Graves names Dizzy as his replacement for acting agent of the Minutemen; a tragic irony epitomized on the last page, where Dizzy is forced to punish Graves for acting against another house of the Trust in what has to be one of the greatest last pages to a series there is--the perfect visual representation of the younger generation usurping their elders.
* We also finally get to see how Graves has gotten away with his “game” all these years - the one important story beat that Will Slaughter carries out.