Written By Cadeem Lalor
After reading the much hyped Joker by Brian Azzarello’s much hyped Joker, I found myself somewhat disappointed by it. The concept was great and since The Joker is my favourite villain, I was happy to explore his madness more, but the ending felt incomplete and the overall story wasn’t as engaging as I hoped. 100 Bullets was highly recommended and I figured that I would give it a shot. The entire series runs for 100 issues and I purchased the first volume, which includes issues 1-19.
Now I have a better idea of why Azzarello is a revered author. The concept was what motivated me to buy the comic, revolving around separate stories where people are given an opportunity to take revenge on someone who has wronged them, armed with irrefutable evidence and a gun with 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition. This revenge is facilitated by a man known only as Agent Graves.
While the concept is interesting, the comic could easily falter with poor execution. The toughest thing to initially accept was the artwork, which I felt paled in comparison to works like The Walking Dead or Transmetropolitan. Like Joker, some panels are amazingly detailed and well-rendered. Meanwhile, several others looked poorly done. I remember that I felt the same way about the art for the first few issues of The Walking Dead, and I wondered if I might get more used to the art as the story progressed. For the most part I did, but I still feel like the artwork is one of the weaker aspects of the comic.
Another issue that seemed to carry over from Joker is the way that minority characters are generally depicted. Most of the characters we meet in 100 Bullets are poor ones, so I initially tried to dismiss the ebonics and the stereotypes as being indicative of class, since it also crosses racial lines. However, Killer Croc (who is black) also has similar lines in Joker. Maybe we can argue Croc also grew up poor but the dialogue ends up sounding stale and forced when the writer shoehorns slang into every other sentence. One of Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing is to use regional dialects and slang sparingly, but that isn’t the case here. Series like The Walking Dead handled such dialogue better with characters like Tyrese and Axel, making it flow more smoothly.
With the negatives out of the way, I can say that Azzarello still manages to craft a great story. As the issues continue, the different storylines and characters become more connected. We learn more about Graves, his allies, his enemies and it starts to become clear that the people getting their shot at revenge are likely pawns. Since each issue generally revolves around a different character, with appearances or references by others, one of the biggest challenges is to keep each story as engaging as the previous one. Azzarello accomplishes this well, introducing our new character and their predicament quickly. The stories then snowball from there, from a case study of one person, into a larger exploration of this world. The dialogue is well written when it’s not weighed down by slang. Azzarello also allows the plot’s full details to be revealed slowly. We know who our character is and why they want revenge. Everything else, such as Grave’s goal, is only hinted at piece by piece. We get the feeling we will know all at some point, but we also know that we won’t be learning until near the end of the tale.
The series isn’t perfect and since it won an Eisner award, my expectations are high. However, I am excited to see how the story wraps up.