Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

08 August 2009

100 Bullets, v. 13: Wilt

Collects: 100 Bullets #89-100 (2008-9)

Released: July 2009 (DC / Vertigo)

Format: 304 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781401222871

What is this?: The finale to the crime / conspiracy series 100 Bullets, in which the main characters start dropping like flies.

The culprits: Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso

Here’s another end to another crime / conspiracy series: 100 Bullets, v. 13: Wilt. This ending is more recent and more anticipated than the end of the Bendis / Maleev run on Daredevil, but is it any better?

Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso certainly set their sights higher. It is more difficult to come up with a successful new concept than revitalize an old one, and 100 Bullets, with the freedom and planning that Vertigo seems to specialize in, had a planned end even as the series began in 1999. And while 100 Bullets had higher goals, I can’t say the conclusion actually made it to those lofty heights.

100 Bullets tells the story of the Trust, a conspiracy that laid claim on the New World. They formed a group of gunmen called the Minutemen to keep the peace between the thirteen families that make up the Trust. But the Trust betrayed the Minutemen, who went into hiding, and their leader, Agent Graves, planned his revenge. In Wilt, that long-planned revenge comes to fruition, although not without snags — and the Trust hasn’t been idle either.

100 Bullets, v. 13: Wilt coverThis is definitely a cataclysmic conclusion of the old school; Shakespeare, in his way, would have been proud of this revenge tale, as all the remaining important players meet and try to kill each other. Azzarello leaves none of the big players at loose ends, tossing them all together in a big firefight at the end. It’s not exactly a satisfying end for most of the players, other than to say they are violent men who died because of their pursuit of violence; but there’s little poetry in most of their ends, and it comes across as a lot of violence feeding on the ever decreasing list of characters. But it’s the way the story had to end, given the violence inherent in the setup; the only question was who would survive, if anyone did.

The biggest failure of Wilt is it’s all resolution and no solution: there are no mysteries of any consequence to wrap up, either in plot or character. Motivations are sometimes left ambiguous in the final story, but that’s part of the debate and fun of so long a series. But the Minutemen shift their loyalties in the time it takes to pull a trigger. Before the ending, the motivations seem like trails of gun smoke: insubstantial and easily blown one way or the other. That’s not fun. It just seems arbitrary, taking the importance out of how the characters reached the story’s final battlelines.

I think, of all the series I’ve read in trade paperback form, 100 Bullets suffers the most from waiting for the trade. You really need a scorecard to keep track of who’s playing, and the trade paperbacks don’t supply anything of the sort — no summaries, no recaps, no handy lists of characters. The release schedule of the monthly issues might have been able to keep readers familiar with who’s who, but when it’s been six months or a year since the last volume, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on without doing research. I don’t think it speaks well of 100 Bullets that I would need Wikipedia or a guidebook to understand what’s going on. Chances are, if I read the whole series at once, it would be a lot easier — but who has time to read all thirteen volumes?

Azzarello isn’t big on the old superhero comic cliché of trying to slip exposition into his dialogue, which is more natural, but it also makes it a challenge for the reader. He also isn’t afraid to introduce new characters and let the readers puzzle out whether he’s important or a returning character or both or neither. In previous volumes, I could let this slide, hoping it would come out all right in the end, but in the final volume, that’s just not going to work. In Wilt, for example, one character drifted through the book, shooting and maiming, but not only did I not know who Will Slaughter was until the final issue, I didn’t know he was the same character who had appeared before.

Risso isn’t a big help on this score. I enjoy his style, but a long storyline with a large cast of characters shows his flaws. His art fits the subject matter perfectly, full of atmosphere and violence, with gore and blood dripping off every page. The dangerous men look like they could jump off the page and beat you to death with your own arm; the femme fatales look like they could tempt a man to sin and worse. But his dangerous men tend to be similar looking large men in suits; the schemers behind everything tend to be similar looking old men with short haircuts. The femme fatales have similar faces and body styles, looking as if they might be related somehow. Still, it’s impossible to imagine Wilt or 100 Bullets without his half of the work.

I know this isn’t what I should be talking about, but Wilt is a bargain: twelve issues for $20, and most people can get it for a discount somewhere. Compare that value with the next book up for review: Marvel’s Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson, v. 1. Same number of issues, a few fewer pages, but the price is $29.99 — ten bucks higher. Given that Wilt is more recent, it’s even more astonishing; Simonson probably doesn’t get the same type of royalties as Vertigo gives out, and the Thor Visionaries is a reissue of an older book, so Marvel probably already had the printing set-up completed. And that doesn’t even take into consideration timeliness: one contains the completed ending of a recent, long-anticipated storyline, and the other contains issues almost a quarter of a century old that anyone who wanted could have tracked down in quarter bins or back-issue boxes. Is the paper in Wilt as nice as it is in the Simonson volume? No. Do I care? Not even a little. In one book, DC sums up the difference in value between it and Marvel.

For fans of 100 Bullets, Wilt wraps up the story. That’s rewarding in and of itself: here is the finale of a story, and nothing more will follow it. I wish I could be enthusiastic and unstinting in my praise, but I can’t. Wilt isn’t as engrossing or fun of a conclusion as I would have hoped, but it does make me want to reread the previous volumes. Also, I can’t deny Azzarello and Risso have ended the story in the manner in which they had began it. And that’s something, despite the confusion and unsatisfying ends that conclusion brings.

Rating: Trust symbol Trust symbol Trust symbol (3 of 5)

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