100 Bullets: The Deluxe Edition (Book 1)
written by Brian Azzerello
illustrated by Eduardo Risso
Vertigo Comics (2011)
A stranger walks into a bar--stop me if you've heard this one--and hands a guy a briefcase. Inside the briefcase is the identity of the person who turned your life into utter dogsh*t, irrefutable proof of the deed ... and a gun with one hundred bullets. Cue Dennis Hopper from the movie Speed: What do you, hotshot? What do you do?
100 Bullets offers up that simple premise. Revenge with none of those pesky criminal charges. Oh yeah, that's another perk the people receive from the mysterious Agent Graves. The law can't touch them. So it becomes a bit of a moral question: if you could get away with murder, would you do it?
Through this captivating tome of stories, multiple characters have just that very question put them by Agent Graves, the man with the plan. What his ultimate plan is, however, remains unclear. Because, while he might offer the means and the opportunity, as well as a caffeine jolt to the motive, the people he approaches are either fatally flawed or irredeemably impetuous. Revenge doesn't come wrapped in a pretty pink bow, no matter how far from the long arm of the law these individuals stand. Their pent up resentment, regret, and outright rage are volatile ingredients. It's all presented in a hyper-stylized mosaic of the crime genre, with dialogue absolutely saturated in attitude, and artwork that practically sizzles.
There are moments that feel cliched. That's fine. There are moments that feel like parody. That's fine, too. The only problem is that during those moments, it feels like Azzerello and company aren't pushing the story to its full potential. The style tends to take over the substance once in a while, and I couldn't help feeling like it was doing a disservice to the story. Oh, it was never boring, and it never insulted my intelligence--and I certainly wasn't aching for some high-minded affectation of crime fiction--but when the book is at its best, it blazes.
I'm as interested in the overarching conspiracy going on in 100 Bullets as I am with the keenly focused stand-alone stories of the seemingly random individuals given a shot at changing their lives. And I hear the second deluxe edition is better than this one, so I'll definitely have to keep going to see how often it can keep hitting that bulls-eye.