Welcome to Recall Reviews the column that features a selection of last week’s comics and yesteryear’s classic series!
First up, I’ll be talking about one of my favorite series of all time, 100 Bullets. This article will focus on issues #1-14, with the rest of the series to follow in future articles. And down below, we’ll be taking a look at We Stand on Guard #1 The Wicked + The Divine #12, The Spirit #1, and CBLDF: Punks The Comic Special!
100 BULLETS Pt. 1 of 7, issues #1-14
Written by Brian Azzarello; Art by Eduardo Risso; Colors by Grant Goleash; Covers by Dave Johnson
As I said before, this is one of my all-time favorite series. I started reading comics around the time issue #92 came out, and for those of you who have read it know that’s not exactly a great jumping on point. It caught my eye that day, but it wasn’t until a year or so after it ended that I finally picked up the first TPB, and I was immediately hooked. I finished the entire series in just a couple months, because every time I went to my regular comic shop, I had to pick up the next volume. In fact, I once went to the same shop twice in one day just to get the next book (which was Vol. 7, I believe.) It was still pretty early in my collecting days, and 100 Bullets was the first ongoing series I ever read all the way through to that point so it is very special, one of those milestones I believe many readers have. I’ve broken down this review into the separate story arcs, but connected the single issues to the previous arc. And now, without further ado, let’s begin…
ISSUES #1-3, “100 Bullets”
Isabelle “Dizzy” Cordova is about to be released from prison, but as we see from the beginning, it’s not likely to be a warm homecoming. Within the first few pages, we not only meet the woman who will become the series’ leading lady, but we get a feel for the world in which we will be immersed in future issues. Soon, Dizzy meets the gentleman who will become one of the series’ main characters, Agent Graves. He approaches Dizzy on a train on her way home, and makes her the offer from which the series gets its namesake.
100 bullets. A gun. Both untraceable. Packed in an attaché case with irrefutable evidence against the guilty people involved in ruining your life. Carte blanche, so no police or federal law enforcement can touch you. Sounds like the definition of too good to be true, right? Once you receive the attaché case, you are free to do with it what you will. No pressure, no strings attached.
Dizzy was sent to prison for her “involvement” in a drive-by shooting, and while she was inside, her husband and baby son were killed the same way. She believed this to be the work of a rival gang, but Graves reveals otherwise. After Graves leaves her, Dizzy returns home to the life she once knew. Her mother is nagging her, her friends are either gangsters, mothers, or both, but her brother is now the biggest gangster in town. Over the next few days, Dizzy contemplates what to do with her gift, until she learns an awful truth that solidifies her decision and seals her fate.
Azzarello crafts a perfectly dark world so early on, part of me thought it wouldn’t get much heavier than it did in this first arc. Readers of this series know how terribly wrong that is. It never got to the point where I wanted to put the book down and walk away, but this story sets the tone for the rest of the series. One thing I’ll probably mention consistently is the artwork. Every issue is penciled by Eduardo Risso, and there couldn’t have been a better choice. His use of shading, particularly on faces, gives each page the visual darkness needed to match the plot. There will be a lot more to say about future issues, so for now I’ll leave the creative critique there. Brilliant opener for a brilliant series.
ISSUES #4-5, “Shot, Water Back”
Unlike what many readers come to expect, the story quickly jumps to a handful of new character for the next few issues. Though Agent Graves and Mr. Shepherd, who we meet in issue #2, are constants in these following arcs, we won’t see Dizzy again until #12.
Now, we meet Lee Dolan. A bartender, a bit down on his luck after a stint in prison for possession of child pornography, and father and ex-husband to a family who won’t speak to him for obvious reasons. But our friend Graves shows up to confirm what Dolan knew all along: he was framed. He gives Lee the same opportunity he gave Dizzy, 100 untraceable bullets and a gun. Lee comes face-to-face with his potential victim a couple of times before he decides to act, and when he does decide, she turns out to be someone he was not expecting.
A sign of a great writer is the ability to create numerous characters with separate personalities and surroundings, and in this case Azzarello nails it. Like its predecessor, this second arc is dark at times, but in different ways. Dizzy’s world in the barrio is desperate and dirty, whereas Dolan’s world while still a bit dirty, lacks the looming criminal element. Lee is also much more eager to use his gun and bullets.
ISSUES #6-7, “Short Con, Long Odds” & #8, “Day, Hour, Minute…Man”
Another 2-issue arc, our focus in “Short Con, Long Odds” is turned to a man who has been gambling his entire life and has no other means. When the opportunity to clear his debt with a loan shark and work with his best friend comes, Chucky Spinks is less than enthused. Then, after Agent Graves informs him about why he was really sent to jail, Chucky takes all matters into his own hands. Though this is not an arc that particularly stands out, we do get a feel for how deep Graves’ and Shepherd’s influence really goes given that Graves has now presented three different people, with seemingly no relation to each other, his life-changing opportunity.
Issue #8 is a very special issue. Not the only of its kind, but the first the reader comes to in this series. While Azzarello is drawing our attention to the main story line with words, Risso is telling another “background” story with his art. The two seem unconnected until they merge at the end of the issue, telling a tale that otherwise would have taken maybe 5 more pages. This is using the comic book medium to its full capacity, and Azzarello/Risso have mastered it. This kind of storytelling is why they are one of my favorite creative teams.
In this case, the main storyline is about Graves and his conversation with a colleague who we have just met, named Lono. The two obviously have a history as we learn about something that happened it Atlantic City 7-8 months ago with other members of “The Minutemen”, they haven’t spoken since, and there is a lot of tension at the mention of Mr. Shepherd. I don’t want to give too much else away since all the fun is in reading it, but just remember that the “background” story I mentioned will come back. Stay tuned.
ISSUES #9-10, “The Right Ear, Left In The Cold” & #11, “Heartbreak Sunnyside Up”
Cole Burns runs an ice cream truck in the city, and though most of his customers are kids getting sweets and cigarettes for their moms, today he is visited by an older gentleman with an unbelievable proposition: Agent Graves with his magic attaché case. But Cole Burns is an entirely different case for Graves, as we find out in issue #10, Burns, Graves, and Shepherd are old friends. Now we start to get a feel for what Graves’ plan may be and where the series is really going, as he seems to be making contact with several Minutemen at this point.
“Hearbreak Sunnyside Up” is important to show how many people Graves knows have been wronged in life and who he is willing to help, whether he can get anything out of it or not. Other than that, the characters in this stand-alone issue will not return with the exception of Graves of course, but it does hit a new level of darkness that, to my recollection, won’t be seen again for a while.
ISSUES #12-14, “Parlez Kung Vous”
The return of Dizzy! After being sent to France by Mr. Shepherd to meet a man called Mr. Branch, Dizzy learns more about herself, her abilities, and about what Graves’ attaché opportunity really is. Mr. Branch leads her through the streets of Paris explaining how he knows Graves and Shpeherd and what he did when his opportunity came knocking, and we finally get to learn about “The Trust”. I’ll let you read into this one yourselves, as this is a very pivotal arc in the series so far. I can’t do it justice here, so I’ll let Azzarello and Risso tell you in their own right.
As for me, 100 Bullets will be back on “Throwback Thursday” next week with my reviews of issues #15-30.
Now up from last week’s offerings…
WE STAND ON GUARD #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Art and Cover by Steve Skroce; Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
To celebrate Canada Day last week, Image debuted this new series featuring the American invasion of Canada in the not-too-far off year of 2112. 12 years after the initial attack in America and their subsequent bombing of Ottawa, Ontario, 18-year old Amber meets up with The Two-Four, a unit of Canadian civilian freedom fighters.
One thing consistent in Brian K. Vaughan’s writing (at least his Earth-bound series, Saga may be an exception…) is his ability to seamlessly wedge factual information into a storyline that may appear irrelevant, but is always entertaining. Did you know America’s greatest superhero, Superman, was co-created by a Canadian? Now you do. He does this often in Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina as well. And, in typical BKV fashion, it doesn’t take long to pull at some heart strings.
I am unfamiliar with any other Steve Skroce work, but I am impressed with his work here, especially his full page spreads. Either Vaughan often finds artists who use this technique, or it’s a style he likes to employ himself, but I’ve always liked opening a comic to a full page spread. There’s something engrossing and welcoming in it. Again, see Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Saga. Hollingsworth’s colors are not what I was expecting and what I’ve seen from him elsewhere (Hawkeye, mainly) but fit well with Skroce’s style. All around, a strong first issue.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #12
Written by Kieron Gillen; Art by Kate Brown & Jamie McKelvie; Colors by Kate Brown & Matt Wilson; Covers by Jamie McKelvie & Kate Brown
First off, last issue? Ouch. That one hurt, guys.
Following the events of issue #11, Cassandra’s former intern, Beth, is trying to piece together the story of what happened. In doing so, runs into Baal, who is a bit pissed to say the least. They’re led to Morrigan to try to find Baphomet to settle the score.
Kate Brown is first up on the arc-long list of guest artists. It’s daring to try to bring in new creators after such an event as the last issue. She certainly brought a different feel to the book with lighter colors and more cartoonish faces, but the depth and impact of the story was certainly not lost. That can sometimes happen when guest creators come in, but Brown stayed right on par. Next month will feature Tula Lotay (Supreme Blue Rose and the upcoming Heartless)
THE SPIRIT #1
Written by Matt Wagner; Art by Dan Schkade; Colors by Brennan Wagner; Main Cover by Eric Powell, various Variant Covers by Matt & Brennan Wagner, Alex Ross, and John Cassaday.
Oh no! The Spirit has been missing, and is presumed dead, for two years and Central City is in chaos! Crime is booming, police and citizens are hopeless, but Denny Colt’s former detective partners are on the case!
If you’ve never read any Spirit comics before, this is a fine jump-on point, as Wagner (re)introduces characters and explains their connections with The Spirit. To my eyes, Schkade’s artwork looks very similar to Matt’s, but maybe it’s the colors by Brennan Wagner that make it so. An enjoyable first issue for old and new fans!
CBLDF: PUNKS THE COMIC SPECIAL (One-Shot)
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov; Art and Covcer by Kody Chamberlain
“In case you don’t know, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has protected the first amendment rights of comic creators, publishers, and retailers since the ‘80s.” – President Abraham Lincoln
The first three pages of this book includes the original Comic Code Authority rules from 1954, just to show exactly how many of these rules one comic book can break. They even point out exactly which rules are being broken, panel by panel! It’s interesting to read over this list and think that so many stories that inspired today’s creators had to follow these guidelines in order to get published.
The story is pretty simple: a burglar breaks into our protagonist’s home, where Skull warmly welcomes him in until Lincoln regards this as a bad idea. The burglar eventually steals one of their friends, but not before being a little freaked out and having to defend his carnivorous honor.
One thing that makes this franchise really special is the art. It’s not your standard pen and ink, it’s more like cut-outs from a magazine, placed, and photocopied with word balloons. But it’s perfect given the subject material and silliness of the characters. If you haven’t read the rest of the series yet, it’s not essential in order to read this, but it will help with some jokes and relationships between characters. You can find Vol. 1, Nutpuncher, available now.
Looking for more recommendations? Find me on Twitter @4ColorPhil
That’s it for now, see you next week!
Tags: 100 Bullets, CBLDF, Recall Reviews, The Spirit, The Wicked & The Divine