Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2610
AUTHOR: Azzarello, Brian
Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline
Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!
ARTIST: Eduardo Risso (illustrator); Grant Goleash (colorist); Patricia Mulvihill (colorist); Clem Robins (letterer); Dave Johnson (cover artist)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
FIRST SERIAL PUBLICATION: 1999-2009
FIRST BOOK PUBLICATION: 2000-2009
The DC Comics imprint Vertigo ran one hundred issues of 100 Bullets between 1999 and 2009, and the title was collected in thirteen trade paperbacks; the title of each collection was a pun on its volume number. 100 Bullets represented a landmark in long-running Vertigo series, which tend to stop in the range of sixty to seventy-five issues. The same creative team, excepting changes in colorist and editor in the first two years and ten pages of pinups drawn by an all-star roster of guests integrated into the story for issue 26, produced all 100 issues and more than 2,200 pages of story over ten years. Before 100 Bullets, the American Brian Azzarello was an unknown and the Argentine Eduardo Risso was not well known in the United States, despite European collaborations such as Boy Vampiro and Chicanos with fellow Argentine Carlos Trillo. Azzarello and Risso’s only collaboration prior to 100 Bullets was in 1998, on the four-issue private-detective series Jonny Double. The character Dex from that limited series makes a cameo in issues 1 and 43 of 100 Bullets. Because of 100 Bullets’ critical success, Azzarello and Risso went on to work together on mainstream characters, including a six-issue run on Batman entitled Broken City, in which Agent Graves makes a cameo. After finishing 100 Bullets, Risso collaborated with Brian K. Vaughan on Logan for Marvel. Azzarello started a spaghetti Western series, Loveless, that ran for twenty-four issues and collaborated on a Sgt. Rock graphic novel with Joe Kubert.
100 Bullets has its genesis in the moral dilemmas Agent Graves offers many of the characters throughout the series. Graves appears in a variety of American cities, seeming to represent some sort of law enforcement or intelligence agency, and presents a person with an attaché case containing irrefutable evidence that that person has been wronged by someone, a gun, and one hundred untraceable bullets. The recipients are always skeptical; however, through experimentation with the gun, the person verifies that if he or she uses the bullets, no law enforcement will interfere. It emerges that some, though not all, of the cases Graves hands out advance his campaign against the Trust.
Thirteen powerful European family heads began the Trust in the wake of the European discovery of the American continent. These thirteen brokered a deal with the monarchs of Europe to leave the Old World and have total control in the New World. Members of the Trust typically passed down their positions to their children, though houses can be dissolved and new houses created to maintain the balance of voting power at thirteen. To enforce their will, the Trust formed a band of seven elite killers, the Minutemen. The Minutemen had strict instructions to eliminate the Trust’s opponents and to curb infighting within the Trust by exacting eye-for-eye retribution whenever one house of the Trust moved against another house. The Minutemen worked under the command of an agent, and the warlord, a former Minuteman, served as a liaison between the Trust and the Minutemen.
This arrangement lasted for 400 years, until the Trust voted to dissolve the Minutemen. Agent Graves and his Minutemen react by burning alive a member of the Trust in Atlantic City. Graves then has the warlord, Mr. Shepherd, report all of the Minutemen dead to the Trust. Graves and Shepherd hide six of the seven Minutemen and alter their memories according to their personalities. The seventh Minuteman, Lono, was not in Atlantic City and is allowed to freelance.
Graves continues to use his connections to the Trust in order to distribute attaché cases even while he is supposed to be dead. After an unspecified time, concurrent with the series beginning, Graves gives a man a case that sends him after Megan Dietrich, a member of the Trust, alerting the Trust that Graves is alive. Graves begins awakening the Atlantic City Minutemen and uses the cases to begin the training of at least two potential new Minutemen: Dizzy Cordova and Loop Hughes. Shepherd assists Graves in these endeavors but continues to work for the Trust and its most powerful member, Augustus Medici. As Graves’s war against Augustus and the Trust escalates, various characters begin to wonder why every move Graves makes helps Augustus consolidate more power. Gradually, a forty-year-old conspiracy to change the nature of the Trust is revealed.
•100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call (2000). Collects issues 1-5 and a short from Vertigo: Winter’s Edge 3, introducing Dizzy, Graves, Graves’s cases and accompanying moral dilemmas, Shepherd, Lono, Megan, and Augustus.
•100 Bullets: Split Second Chance (2000). Collects issues 6-14, featuring two stand-alone stories, awakening the first-seen Atlantic City Minuteman, and introducing Mr. Branch, who explains the Trust to Dizzy.
•100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low (2001). Collects issues 15-19, featuring the story of Loop Hughes reconnecting with his absent father.
•100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow (2002). Collects issues 20-30, introducing Benito Medici, three more Minutemen, and the full membership of the Trust and featuring a stand-alone story about the Kennedy assassination.
•100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective (2003). Collects issues 31-36, featuring Milo Garret as a Los Angeles private eye with a bandaged face and a case from Graves.
•100 Bullets: Six Feet Under the Gun (2003). Collects issues 37-42, featuring six stand-alone stories moving different characters along in the plot.
•100 Bullets: Samurai (2004). Collects issues 43-49, featuring the stories of Loop and Lono in prison and of Jack in a zoo in the New Jersey woods.
•100 Bullets: The Hard Way (2005). Collects issues 50-58, introducing Victor Ray, explaining the origin of the Trust, and featuring Wylie Times facing off with Shepherd.
•100 Bullets: Strychnine Lives (2006). Collects issues 59-67, featuring Lono and Loop free from prison, working with Victor for Augustus, and Benito and Branch meeting with Megan and then Dizzy.
•100 Bullets: Decayed (2006). Collects issues 68-75, featuring Graves activating the last Minuteman and a flashback to 1962 showing the elevation of Graves as the agent of the Minutemen.
•100 Bullets: Once Upon a Crime (2007). Collects issues 76-83, featuring Lono and Graves’s Minutemen in a confrontation over Dizzy and a flashback to Shepherd’s recruitment by Graves and Mr. Hughes.
•100 Bullets: Dirty (2008). Collects issues 84-88, featuring five stand-alone stories, including the introduction of Will Slaughter.
•100 Bullets: Wilt (2009). Collects issues 89-100, featuring the fiery and violent end of the series.
•Agent Graves is the central character, appearing in the most issues. He appears to be playing a moralistic game by offering the chance of revenge to unwitting recipients, but his larger plan emerges. Graves never lies, and he sincerely offers people opportunities to change their lives.
•Isabella “Dizzy” Cordova, a.k.a. The Girl, is the point-of-view character as she becomes a Minuteman. A former Chicago gang member, Dizzy lost her husband and son in a drive-by shooting. Graves selects Dizzy for her strong sense of morality, and Shepherd and Graves compete over their plans for her.
•Mr. Shepherd works as the Trust’s warlord and is in charge of training potential Minutemen. It is never clear how much of his agenda is his own, how much is the Trust’s, and how much is Graves’s.
•Lee Dolan was an awarded-winning restaurateur in Los Angeles before allegations of child pornography cost him his position and family. He is working as a bartender when Graves approaches him.
•Megan Dietrich is the head of the House of Dietrich in Los Angeles. She resents her father’s death, has prickly relationships with Benito Medici and others, and is racist and sexist.
•Lono, a.k.a. The Dog, is a Hawaiian mercenary who kills and rapes with no conscience and was difficult to control as a Minuteman. Shepherd grooms Lono to be his successor as warlord.
•Augustus Medici has been the head of the House of Medici in Miami since the 1960’s and is the most powerful member of the Trust. He uses Graves to consolidate his power.
•Sophie was a waitress in Miami and Loop’s cousin’s girlfriend before Lono raped her repeatedly and killed her boyfriend.
•Cole Burns, a.k.a. The Wolf, works as an ice cream man in New York before Graves reawakens his memories of being a Minuteman. Subsequent events test his loyalty to Graves.
•Mr. Branch was a journalist before receiving a case from Graves and investigating it, then learning about the Trust from Lono and Shepherd. He exiles himself to Paris to escape the corruption of the Trust, and Shepherd sends Dizzy to learn from him. Branch has a vexed friendship with and fear of Cole.
•Mr. Curtis Hughes is a former associate of Graves whom the Trust would not allow to be a Minuteman because of his race. He works in Philadelphia as collector for Italian gangsters and has never met his son.
•Louis “Loop” Hughes, a.k.a. The Boy, is a young man to whom Graves offers a chance to kill his absentee father. Loop instead begins working with Curtis. Graves arranges for Loop to be sent to prison to continue his training as a Minuteman.
•Benito Medici is the privileged son of Augustus who avoids the responsibilities of his birth, but an assassination attempt makes him reconsider.
•Jack Daw, a.k.a. The Monster, is a heroin addict and a massive man who is an occasional bouncer in Boston. He persists as a junkie, criminal, and street fighter before rejoining the Minutemen.
•Echo Memoria is an Italian thief who seduces many of the series’ men as she seeks a painting important to the Trust.
•Milo Garret, a.k.a. The Bastard, is a disfigured Minuteman who works as a private eye in Los Angeles and prefers it to his old job.
•Wylie Times, a.k.a. The Point Man, was the head Minuteman. As a drunken gas station attendant in El Paso, Texas, he resists his tragic past and deep grudge against Shepherd and the Trust.
•Victor Ray, a.k.a. The Rain, was the Minuteman Graves activated first while in Chicago, but he is one of the last he contacted despite being the most loyal to Graves.
•Remi Rome, a.k.a. The Saint, is a scarred, sadistic, volatile, and arrogant Minuteman hidden as a meatpacker and trapped in a love-hate relationship with his Cleveland mob enforcer brother, Ronnie.
•Will Slaughter is a retired Minuteman who works as a hit man to support his family.
The use of perspective is one of the most striking aspects of 100 Bullets’ artistic style. The viewer looks through panels at angles foreign to the normal camera placement of most comics, such as through the bullet hole in a character’s head and out from pinball machines and paintings. Risso’s panels sometimes jump between radically different perspectives within scenes. Writer and artist Darwyn Cooke has commented that the effect of Risso’s stylizations is a rare artistic reality that totally encapsulates the work’s themes, much as Chester Gould does in Dick Tracy or Steve Ditko in Spider-Man.
Patricia Mulvihill’s coloring and Dave Johnson’s covers work in a similar suggestive and expressionistic vein. Mulvihill often uses repeated color associations to depict the emotions and moralities of the various characters. Johnson’s covers evoke character, setting, and cultural references without a narrative reliance on the details of plot.
Risso’s storytelling often shows the actions of two different story lines within a single panel. The most prominent example of this feature is issue 20, “The Mimic,” which juxtaposes Shepherd and Benito’s conversation about the Trust in a New York City park with a drug dealer’s realization that a more powerful rival will force him out of the park. This construction allows the stories of street crime and elite crime to complement each other and brings their similarities into focus.
Class structure is a major thematic concern in 100 Bullets, as it is in a good deal of contemporary crime fiction. Reviews had described 100 Bullets as a combination of the noir novels of Jim Thompson, the television urban procedural The Wire, and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. 100 Bullets reimagines in pulp terms the historical critique that Zinn and other radical historians mount of a United States founded through, and often perpetuating, genocide, slavery, war, and class exploitation. Azzarello and Risso’s reimagining may lack the nuance of an academic critique, but it dramatizes a United States led by the lies of an organization of elite thieves, the Trust, for their own enrichment.
As previously noted, Risso’s layouts and artwork frequently reinforce the relationship between the powerful and the disenfranchised; this relationship is also mirrored in the interactions between the Trust and the Minutemen. The Minutemen are composed primarily of working-class killers, many of whom are ex-convicts, yet these are the people whom the Trust selects to police its membership. There are limits to the disenfranchised composition of the Minutemen, however, as Dizzy and Loop are likely the first exceptions to the Minutemen’s white, male membership, given the bigotry of many members of the Trust, including younger members such as Megan.
With his mission of pitting the disenfranchised against the powerful through his use of the attaché cases, Agent Graves can be read as a class warrior. He hides the Minutemen in a variety of blue-collar jobs: ice cream man, bouncer, private investigator, gas-station attendant, and meatpacker. Precisely what Graves seeks as an endgame remains unclear, but he admits it will not be perfect and seems to want to ensure a peaceful balance of power by destroying, altering, or greatly weakening the Trust.
100 Bullets was the first long-running Vertigo series devoid of fantasy and supernatural elements and was one of the first major Vertigo series written by an American instead of a British writer. Azzarello paved the way for subsequent writers Jason Aaron, Howard Chaykin, Joshua Dysart, David Lapham, Brian K. Vaughan, and Brian Wood to create non-fantasy series for the imprint. The success and notoriety of Risso’s European style helped lead to more non-American artists on Vertigo titles, including Riccardo Burchielli, Werther Dell’Edera, Marcelo Frusin, Davide Gianfelice, R. M. Guéra, M. K. Perker, Alberto Ponticelli, Victor Santos, and Danijel Žeželj.
In terms of crime comics, 100 Bullets is the second-longest-running series of all time after the true-crime anthology Crime Does Not Pay, which ran for 125 issues in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. With its wide variety of protagonists set in a single universe, 100 Bullets is similar to Sin City and Stray Bullets but tells a more cohesive and unified story. The series has been a major influence on the resurgence of crime comics and publishing ventures such as the launch of DC Comics’ Vertigo Crime subimprint and the translation of European crime comic albums for American markets by publishers such as Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, and IDW.
- Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. Criminal (2006- ).
- Cooke, Darwyn. Richard Stark’s Parker (2009- ).
- Lapham, David. Stray Bullets (1995- ).
- Rucka, Greg, and Matthew Southworth. Stumptown (2009- ).
- Benton, Mike. Crime Comics: An Illustrated History. Dallas: Taylor, 1993.
- Cooke, Darwyn. Introduction to 100 Bullets: Decayed. Edited by Scott Nybakken. New York: Vertigo, 2006.
- Haut, Woody. Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1999.
- Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
- Lindenmuth, Brian. “The Fall (and Rise) of the Crime Comic.” http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2010/12/14/a-history-of-and-appreciation-for-crime-comics.
- Moore, Stuart. “Graphic Violence: A Talented New Generation of Writers Brings Crime to the Comics.” Mystery Scene 77 (2002): 32-35.
- Savage, Bill. Introduction to 100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow. New York: DC Comics, 2002.
100 BulletsCritical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes & Superheroes, First Edition Bart H. Beaty Stephen Weiner 2012 Salem Press