Today, I finally finished a comic book series I’d been reading of and on for the past five years, starting the same year the final issue came out. Because of the start-and-stop nature of my relationship with this series, there was a lot of backtracking and rereading, which in the end saved me a lot of confusion, because there are a lot of twists and turns in these 100 issues.
I’ve said before that I don’t particularly dig the whole superhero thing, mostly because I’ve never been into high fantasy (the Tolkien-style elf-dwarf-wizard kind of deal), and superheroes resemble all that a bit too much. The other big reason is that they are series without endings. Stories and characters can drag on and on until they’re stale, at which point the only thing keeping them alive is the marketing. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but there’s something far more fulfilling about full, bounded stories–closed systems that live, expand, contract, and die without the bothersome necromancy of the Crossover or Reboot.
Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets is an entropic masterpiece. The question, what would you do if you were given a gun, 100 bullets, and carte blanche?, quickly gives way to who’s giving all that away? It’s a solid premise, but that wouldn’t mean squat without the high quality writing and art that Azzarello and Risso produce consistently throughout the series. It’s gloriously uncensored and has a kind of grit and realism that make Chinatown look like a Peanuts strip, and while some characters in it may be vulgar, the storytelling never is.
But that grit doesn’t come without a price. The characters in the story grow in number and depth until it becomes clear that this is a version of the 47 Ronin story. At that point, about halfway through the series, 100 Bullets takes the line between realism and nihilism and plays double-dutch with it. It resembles the George R.R. Martin style of writing, in which no character is safe, no matter how good or bad, so don’t get too attached. The difference is that, at the end there is a slight glimmer of hope. In many ways, 100 Bullets operates with the kind of gleeful angst seen in Hellblazer (on which Azzarello also worked) and Preacher–a kind of attitude that both flirts with cynicism and kicks it squarely in the scrotum.
While I like a lot of the various comic series I have read, there are very few that I genuinely regret finishing. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to finish 100 Bullets. I didn’t want to see these characters or this story go away, and now that they’re gone, I’m left poking the faintly glowing embers of a dying universe and remembering the good times we had.