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100 Bullets: First Call, Last Shot

June 29, 2009

This might be a little late but I decided to try and review a graphic novel for today’s post. It’s been awhile since I’ve actually reviewed a graphic novel or book. It felt pretty good to look through my books and see what I hadn’t reviewed yet.

100 Bullets is one that I’ve been meaning to do since I picked it up in the fall.

Background: Started in 1999 100 Bullets is the series that really launched writer/creator Brian Azzarello’s comic career into prominence. He teamed up with artist Eduardo Risso for the project.

Previously, I reviewed Azzarello’s Joker which was released in the fall last year. He’s known for his street slang, prominent in both Joker and 100 Bullets. The comic has won Eisner and Harvey awards. Pretty high honors in the comic world.

The last issue, issue 100, came out in April of this year. I’m not really sure what other information to dredge up.

The Comic: 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call is a collection of issues #1 – 5. It follows a young hispanic woman who is recently removed from prison. The latter issues follow an older white man who runs a bar.

Both of these people are contacted by a man named Agent Graves who recruits them to kill one person. He gives them a gun, money and 100 bullets to do the job.

As usual, you only get the bare bones of the plot. I really feel like giving away too much plot will kill the impetus to read it. However, I do realize that I haven’t figured out how to give away too little of the plot but giving enough for curiosity like movie critics do. Though I do think that they give away too much. It’s a hard balance to strike and I’m still learning.

A couple of big things to take away from 100 Bullets is the style and why it’s a critically acclaimed series.

The series takes a lot from noir and pulp genres with a very dark tone and gritty style of writing. I’m not always a big fan of noir but this series has a very dark feel to it that makes it work. Of course, that might be from the pulp influences which is something that I do find appealing.

I noticed that a lot of critics applauded Azzarello’s dialogue in this series because of his use of “accurate” street slang, slang in general, essentially an authentic feel to the way his characters reacted to the world and their places in it.

His dialogue is good. I’ve really enjoyed reading it in both 100 Bullets and Joker. You really feel like you’re working your way through an underworld of criminals and the lives of the impoverished.

The series is violent, you know the whole 100 Bullets thing and all. However, it feels to me more about the moral dilemmas that the characters face and their eventual decision to try for the kill. It’s always a broken people, or at least the two featured in this collection are.

Some complaints from me focus on the fact that as a whole (Based on the comics that I’ve read by Azzarello) is that he very much a type-cast writer. He loves his ghettos, underworlds, and criminal “authenticity”. Personally, I’d like to something different from him. His work in the underworlds is good. Don’t doubt that but I guess I just wish to see something a little different.

Another complaint that isn’t really a complaint is that as much as a notation. Most of his characters are broken people. The moral decisions aren’t really decisions. You know what the outcome is from the beginning. Though, I suppose they’re not the real story. Agent Graves is.

I mentioned that the story is noir and pulp and Risso reflects that in his art with few colors, gritty style, and a harshness of the characters. It’s a well drawn comic that reminds me of some early Nightwing comics among others.

My Recommendation: As much as I liked Joker I think that 100 Bullets is better. It feels more organic and appropriate for here, Azzarello’s style I mean. Joker felt forced, this feels correct.

I do think you should check it out when you have the time. It’s worth the read. If you’re not into noir or pulp it’s might not be worth looking at. However, if you like that style of writing and art then this is a good pick up for your library.


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