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100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call

I'm a very cynical person. I tend to not believe someone I don't know when they tell me what is "hot" and worthwhile. So when critics start raving about a certain movie or a certain comic book, skepticism is my fallback position (you're probably recognizing the irony of me, the guy who weekly gives his uninformed opinion about what comics are worth your time, telling you I don't trust critics, but try to remember that I am more trustworthy than anyone you know, including your spouse, just because I say so).

Anyway, my point being that I sometimes miss out on some good titles because of my Critic Caution, and one of those good titles is 100 Bullets written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Eduardo Risso.

Say someone walks up to you with a suitcase that contains a gun, 100 untraceable rounds of ammunition, an unlimited license to carry said weapon, and irrefutable proof that someone has wronged you in the absolute worst way. What would you do: walk the morally righteous path and let it go, or take your shot (in a very literal way)? That's the question posed by Azzarello in the form of Agent Graves, the mysterious stranger giving people the chance for bloody revenge.

I wouldn't be as impressed with this book if it were just an anthology of crime stories that keep asking the same question, but the book shows signs of conspiratorial undertones when it comes to Agent Graves and his "associate" Mr. Shepherd. Azzarello raises questions about their true agenda: Who is Graves? Are the people that, according to Graves, deserve to be deader than Andrew Dice Clay's career really as guilty as he claims, or are they part of a hit list of people he just don't like? What's Shepherd's connection and what is his role in this?

What's fun about the way Azzarello tells it is that all this conspiracy stuff is just where it should be: in the background to the actual story. It's all superbly understated to the point where you can ignore the conspiracy aspect and focus on the really very good crime drama Azzarello sets up.

The first arc, about Dizzy Cordova and her search for the truth about the murder of her husband and child, is full of the flavor of urban drama in the vein of Boyz In The Hood and HBO's The Wire (an underrated HBO drama, as if such a thing were possible). It's gripping and yet shies away from being a predictable morality play where the lead character decides whether killing in the name of justice is right.

Instead, Dizzy has to decide if death is good enough for her targets (and don't worry; some people buy it in horrible ways).

The second arc, Shot, Water Back, about a bartender framed for a horrendous crime and given the chance for revenge on the woman who did the framing, is equally interesting and is the point where more of the conspiracy aspect shines through.

The art is appropriate for the book: grim and gritty being the fashion for crime drama. I've never heard of Risso before, but he has a great touch with the different ethnicities in the book. Far too many comic artists make Latinos look too similar ("You mean they don't all wear bandanas, have goatees, and sport gold teeth? I'm utterly shocked!" said generic comic book penciler).

Risso makes every character unique and remembers to keep it realistic when depicting "retired" gang members as being in their mid-20s at latest. My only problem wit the art on this book is the inking, or lack thereof. There is no inker listed so I assume that the colorist filled-in in that respect. At times it works to the advantage of the story, but most of the time it makes everything look awkward (especially in the beginning of the book, the characters looks jagged and freakish).

All in all, this is a great way to kick off a series, so a tip of the hat to Azzarello in that respect. This book is also a damn fine value, priced at the ridiculous $9.95. For that low price, you get the equivalent of five single-issue comics, plus a back-up story that got thrown into the collection (5&1/2 issues for $10? Has DC Comics lost its collective mind?).

For any fans of crime drama, this is a must-have, and I'd be willing to wager that more than the regular Vertigo crowd could dig this book. And remember: I'm the only trustworthy critic out there. Roger Ebert will just steal your goobers when you're not looking.

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call

Robert Sparling

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