100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call
This book contains the first two tales of Brian Azzarello's ongoing series, 100 Bullets. Each story, of which there are two here, concerns a wronged person who is approached by an enigmatic character called Agent Graves. He gives them a briefcase containing a gun, one hundred bullets and information on the person responsible for their tragedy. As the story goes on, more is revealed about Graves and the organization he works for, though only glimpses of this are seen in the first volume.
The first story is the weaker of the two, as Azzarello finds his feet. The main failing is the focus on a cliched description of an urban ghetto, with gratuitous Ebonics and a story that fails to take full use of the book's premise. After being released from jail, Dizzy Cordova is given a chance to get vengeance for her murdered husband and child when she receives a package from the enigmatic Agent Graves. The use of dialect can make the dialogue difficult to understand, though a sense of what's going on can be picked up from the context. It improves at the end, when the focus is moved from street level gang action and onto a more entertaining interaction between Dizzy and Shepherd, an operative connected to Graves.
The second story is a significant improvement. Lee, a bartender, is given the opportunity to get revenge on the person who ruined his reputation. The first chapter is an interesting character piece, but it's the second that hooked us on the series. By just hinting at the insane personalities and power behind the scenes, Azzarello shows the menace of those that are in control of everything. Something's clearly going on, and we're not sure what.
Eduardo Risso's art is consistent and strong. The slightly cartoony look can take a bit of getting used to but his use of light and shade more than makes up for any lack of sophistication, providing a noir feel that permeates the book.
While more uneven than the later collections of the series this is a strong introduction and, once Azzarello gets settled, it just keeps getting better. While not as good as later volumes, this is an essential introduction for the brilliance to come.
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