Monday, March 24, 2003

100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective, written by Brian Azzarello, art by Eduardo Risso

Noir, for whatever reason, seems to be done most successfully in comics nowadays. There's Hellblazer (see below), there's Frank Miller's Sin City (slightly over-the-top for noir, true, and the characters kick a bit too much ass to be true noir heroes), and there's 100 Bullets. Azzarello and Risso have walked the shadows of the Marlowes and Hammers in previous storylines, but in this volume (which collects issues 31-36 of the series) they push the hapless and clueless Milo Garret, private detective, into the light and put him through his paces. Milo has recently had a run-in with a windshield, so his face is bandaged like a mummy in a cheap suit, and that fact becomes significant when questions of his identity are raised. Of course there's a girl--actually, there are two, and they're both knockouts--and a mystery which seems to be the tip of a deadly iceberg.

For one thing, Milo's accident may not have been an accident, at least according to Agent Graves, the guardian angel/devil with his own agenda who gifts Milo with the infamous briefcase, familiar to readers of the series. Graves appears in the lives of people who've been wronged and don't know it, or at least are ignorant of who's responsible. To these people, carefully selected, Graves gives 100 untraceable bullets and a matching gun, along with evidence implicating their tormentor(s). There's no catch, at least, not the obvious one. The bullets really are untraceable, and no DA in the country will prosecute for their use. But there is more to Graves than simply accessorizing revenge, and as the story unfolds it appears the Milo may be part of that without even realizing it.

The language of Milo's story is a bit too poetic at times; it's the poetry of the detective/knight figure which Raymond Chandler's Marlowe exemplified, and more than once it's clear that Azzarello is forcing it a bit. And the superstud part of Milo's personality is a bit much to take, aside from being anti-noir. But the mystery of Graves and the Minutemen grows more intriguing at every turn, and Milo's story is an integral piece of the puzzle, as becomes apparent by the end. As always, Eduardo Risso's art is dynamic and fluid, and he doesn't feel the need to use straight realistic portraiture as a crutch. His characters can approach caricature, but they are always convincing and alive, and some of the background action is not to be missed. 100 Bullets is a Vertigo production from DC Comics. I highly recommend it.


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