If a man walked up to you and told you your life was a shambles because of one individual, and he had incontrovertible proof this person was responsible, and he had one hundred untraceable bullets for you to do whatever with… would you do whatever?
A fascinating premise, and surely one that could sustain quite a few one-off tales? And it does. Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets has quite a few one or two issue story arcs that are sometimes exciting, sometimes touching, sometimes funny. A successful comic book series, then!
Oh wait, we’re only two tiny paragraphs in. Nope! There’s problems! Here I address them:
It is a hundred issues long. There is an overarching story about a shadowy cabal that runs the world in secret, but none of them are terribly interesting. Nor do you get to know them all. Azzarello employs that laziest of all tension-creating devices: the deliberate withholding of information. Everybody’s motivations are so goddamned mysterious and shady and covered in layers of mistrust and lies that you simply don’t know what the hell is going on most of the time. Why does this guy wanna shoot this guy? Who knows! They’re too mysterious to tell you! At one point, there are two factions in The Trust (the aforementioned shadowy cabal) that are at war. I simply couldn’t tell you who was fighting who and why. Small price for keepin’ everyone MYSTERIOUS and COOL, I guess!
Every character is MYSTERIOUS and COOL at the expense of being likable. If everyone’s mysterious, no one gives a shit, Azzarello! They all just become cyphers! Excuse me for dragging Star Wars prequels into this, but in the end they have the same problem. Characters are blanks because the writer’s more preoccupied with the plot/being badass/”shocking” readers that he forgets to give ‘em, ya know, characters. I will describe some guys from the comic:
Agent Graves: he is the guy with the suitcase that offers people the 100 bullets!
Cole Burns: he looks like Johnny Depp!
Loop: he is a black!
Victor Ray: he is a white!
Jack Daw: he is a boxer!
Lono: Wolverine looking motherfucker who likes rape and money and is pretty much the only fun guy to follow. He’s the equivalent of the Emperor in Revenge of the Sith – he’s still a dumb character, but he seems to be the only one with any passion for anything.
Echo: she wants to steal a painting! Big tits!
Megan: she’s rich! Big tits!
Big tits! Well, okay, that’s not really a problem, but the book does have a very… teenage view of women and sexuality, and I don’t think it’s a sort of meta-commentary on the inherent immaturity of the hardboiled pulp genre this is supposed to be a modern variant of. 100 Bullets really feels like it’s written by a sixteen year old whose exposure to the world is through movies (and then only ones made post ‘75). A good example: the leader of The Trust is called De Medici. That’s… pretty on the nose, but okayyyy, I guess. His first name is Augustus. Ummm… well. His son’s name is BENITO. Look, you don’t need to be Da Vinci Hanks here to read through all the symbolism – this guy’s family is ITALIAN AND EVIL! There are some issues set in France and Italy, and holy shit, this is so annoying even if you just speak a modicum of either language: it completely reads like Azzarello just ran his script through Bing Translator. QUEL EMBARRASSMENT BAISER CROISSANT
I’d like 100 Bullets a lot better if it wasn’t seen as a Great Comic (amongst comic book fans, at least). It’s actually exactly the kind of trash teenage boys SHOULD be reading, in my opinion, to eventually be outgrown. It’s full of posing and posturing and violence and nudity basically everything a developing boy needs to sow his teenage oats. But nope, this is supposedly for “mature” readers. You know what gets the T rating? Basically the same shit as this, but with superpowers, and there’s always some Austin Powers contrivances covering the naughty bits. In an ideal world, they’d leave the supers for the all-ages crowds, crank shit like 100 Bullets out for the teenage hormone crowd, and OMG maybe actually try and tell a mature story for the mature crowd?