100 Bullets is one of those books I have a history with. I think I heard about the book by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso where a mysterious man handed people a briefcase full of untraceable ammunition and evidence of who wronged them, giving them the chance to right wrongs, first from Wizard. It sounded interesting, so I gave it a look. I think #8 was the first issue I ever picked up and I was hooked. I went back and got the issues I missed and was then in for the long haul. Well, almost the long hall. As I’ve mentioned before, when I went to college in 2001, I would only read comics when I came back home, so there would be months between issues or groups of issues for me and I would forget a lot. So, I put the 100 Bullets issues aside to read them all at once kind of like trades. Eventually I got through college and moved out to New York to work at Wizard and I unfortunately lost track. Even though this was the first long-form creator-owned type comic I ever got into, it was so dense that I didn’t want to read an issue while at lunch and completely forget what happened by the next. So, I fell off. Then the book ended and I started looking for the trades. I got the first seven through a Sequential Swap, but only just got the very last one I’d been waiting on for my birthday earlier this month.
With that, I got to re-reading/finishing a pretty important book to my comic book-reading history. I should note that, back in 1999 when this book started and I began reading, I was reading mostly DC books and only superhero comics. This book really introduced me to the variety of titles under the Vertigo umbrella, Azzarello s a writer whose work I have really enjoyed over the years (his run on Hellblazer got me into that book too) and a world of comics filled with some bad, bad people who do bad, bad things. You wouldn’t see the things in this book in Superman: Man of Steel.
I was honestly nervous to go back and read the entire series. I had read the first seven volumes all together when I got them a few years back and really enjoyed them, but you just never know how something is going to end. I spent a good deal of time collecting and reading the Ex Machina trades and, at the end of the day, the ending of that book didn’t make the practice worthwhile. Thankfully, that’s not how I feel after reading all 13 volumes of this book. I won’t claim to understand everything that happened, but I do like how it ended. It felt true to the story that had been set up in the previous volumes and even had a kind of choose-your-own-adventure, Sopranos type thing that I liked. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it started off as the gimmick about the titular ammunition, but moved into a much more complex story about an organization controlling America and the men formerly tasked with keeping them on the up and up.
I’m not going to get into a volume by volume review here because that would take forever and I didn’t take proper notes, but I don’t want to note a few things. First off, I highly recommend reading all of these books in fairly close succession. There are so many things going on that pop back up at different times throughout the series. I’ll also say that, in talking to some friends about this book in general, it’s been called over-written. I didn’t understand that when I first heard it, but I get it reading through this time. The dialog has a very planned cadence packed with double and triple meanings that can get pun-y and possibly annoying, but I liked it because it reminded me of something like a classic noir or gangster story or movie. If that’s not your thing, you might not dig this book, but I figured I should mention it.
A few more things about the book that jumped out at me on this reading include the fact that this is not a book about nice or even good characters. I have a tendency to try and see the good in people and I kept trying to do that with the characters in this comic without success in many cases. At some point, I just realized it and let my hopes for redemption or whathaveyou go and I was a lot happier just experiencing life through these very different people. Lastly on the story perspective, I really appreciate how dense this story is. Like I said, I got a lot of what happened, especially the parts I had read before a few times, but there’s a lot that I’m still note quite sure about, but in a good way. I get the feeling it’s all there whether actually written on the page or drawn in the book, I just need to dig in and figure it out. That’s re-readability which is a great thing.
On the art side of things, Risso murders every page in this book. This guy is so good, it’s almost shocking. And, the best part, is that some of the most genius bits don’t exactly jump off the page and slap you in the face with their brilliance. Many of them deal with creative angles for various panel shots. I remember one that stuck out where a character is talking to another who’s painting, the painter is actually painting on the surface of the panel we’re looking at. There’s a lot of little things like that that were really fun to look for. Risso also excels at scenes where two stories are being told. Azzarello sets plenty of scenes in outside locales where the two main characters are talking to one another and another story is being told in the background that eventually collides with the main characters. Obviously, some of this stuff is in the script–heck, all of it could be, actually–but the way Risso brings those moments to the page is fantastic.
So, at the end of the day, the whole experience was worth the wait. It was worth being excited about this book over a decade ago, sticking with it and having the pleasure of revisiting it again now. I will proudly display these books on my shelf along with my other favorite series’ like Sandman, Starman and Preacher.