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The plot is an immediate grab, but this acclaimed noir comic won’t be for everyone.
What if someone gave you an unmarked gun with 100 untraceable bullets? Would it change your life? Ruin someone else’s? Or vice versa?
Last week, DC‘s longstanding adult-oriented imprint Vertigo turned heads by announcing that Tom Hardy would be producing a film adaptation of acclaimed series 100 Bullets, a turn-of-the-millennium noir crime drama that centers around this irresistible thought experiment.
100 Bullets is a comics series from Vertigo created by a pair of comics legends—writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso, with cover art by Dave Johnson. The series made Azzarrello a star for DC and garnered tons of critical acclaim, including several Eisner Awards, during its decade-long run. The series also produced one spinoff, Brother Lono.
In each arc of 100 bullets, a mysterious older man named Agent Graves turns up to deliver a gun, bullets, and a briefcase full of evidence to individuals, offering them the chance to do whatever they what with them. Though these people at first seem to be randomly chosen, many of them have ties to a much larger, shadowy trail of conspiracy and secrets—to a group known only as the Trust, operating above the law and around the world.
There’s only one group of people who can stop the Trust and its mysterious 13 families from abusing the law: the equally mysterious Minutemen. But how can the Minutemen save the world when they’ve barely been able to save themselves?
How can I read all of it?
100 Bullets is an adults-only series, no question about it. The entire series is 100 issues long. They’ve been collected into 13 volumes, which you can pick up from Comixology or any print comics shop. Alternately, you can pick up the five-book deluxe edition, which was published in 2011 and combines all 13 volumes.
Right now, only the first two books of the five-book deluxe compendium are available in ebook format. The third book is due to be released in September. In the meantime, if you’re not picky about versions and don’t want to wait for the rest of the books to be released in ebook format, your best bet for digital reading is to read Book One and Book Two, then continue on starting with Volume 6.
If you want to read 100 Bullets you should keep in mind that you’ll want to read all of it to understand how deep its rabbit hole extends. It’s not a series you can easily a la carte. This can take quite a chunk of time, given the series is 100 sizable issues long. But the twisting plot makes getting to the end worth it, and the journey there is full of gorgeous imagery, full of detail, with particularly striking composition:
Uncertain readers, however, should also know that the series has plenty of flaws. The melodrama can get pretty over-the-top, like a ridiculous real person fanfic cameo in Issue No. 27 that ropes in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Nearly every issue contains gratuitous racial stereotypes, and while some of the most complex characters are black and latino, readers may lose patience at the high number of drug dealers, thugs, and gang members who parade in and out of these stories as bit players. In one scene, one of the only Asian women in the series is portrayed as a tabletop decoration who doesn’t speak until suddenly she reveals that her pool stick conceals a martial arts weapon.
It’s all very cliché.
Another issue is the blatant sexualization of women and sexual violence. Almost every woman in the series, from the platinum blonde femme fatale who is sexualized in every frame, to the nameless black housekeeper shown in a single shot and never heard from again, is displayed and an object for male viewers.
Multiple times the threat of rape is used to frighten female characters or manipulate them into a reaction. At other times, the tragedy of rape is used to deepen the pathos of a situation. One issue is purely about depicting the tragic decline and ultimate death of a pre-teen girl who gets caught up in a life of sex trafficking and drugs. After pages and pages of hearing about the misery her daughter endured, her mother puts all of her 100 bullets into the man responsible for her downward spiral. Fifteen years after the issue was written, it feels less like catharsis and revenge and more like the utterly tired use of sexual violence against women to create empathy and feelings of protectiveness in a targeted male audience.
That said, if you don’t mind the series’ stereotyping, objectification, and macho posturing, there’s plenty of pulpy noir tropes here to satisfy: Bleak cynicism and dark mood partner to contain a storyline marked by a switch-off between leisurely suspense that piles on the twists and questions, followed by spasmodic, routine outbursts of violence.
In the middle of it all there are plenty of memorable characters, like Lono, who gets his own spinoff, and Dizzy Cordova, the latino parolee who’s the first person to be offered one of Graves’ briefcases.
Don’t worry if you feel like you need a map to keep track of who’s who. Other fans did, too:
What are the must-read arcs?
Hang Up on the Hang Low, issues 15 – 19 (Vol. 3). In this arc, a young man named Loop gets a chance to take revenge on his deadbeat dad for leaving him to fend for himself all these years. But his vendetta doesn’t turn out quite like any of us, least of all Loop, expects.
The Counterfifth Detective, issues 31 – 36 (Vol. 5). In this popular arc, we’re introduced to a private detective named Milo, who finds his paths crossing our resident femme fatale, Megan Dietrich, who sits at the head of the powerful Trust. Not a good position to be in, Milo. Will he make it out alive?
Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down, issues 51 – 77 (Vol. 8). In this sequence we learn the irresistible backstory of Wylie Times and how he came to his role as a Minute Man.
So what about the movie?
Tom Hardy will be producing the film for New Line. Chris Borrellli, known for The Vatican Tapes, is drafting the screenplay.
As for which character Hardy might play, that’s anyone’s guess. Agent Graves is unlikely, since that character is much older. With his chameleon-like approach to playing characters, Hardy would seem as likely a fit for Cole, “The Wolf,” as Lono, Wylie, or even Shepherd, the antagonistic double agent.
We’ll just have to wait a while to find out. There’s no director attached yet, and Hardy is still filming pieces of The Revenant, don’t look for a release date until 2017.
Lucky for you, you’ve got 100 issues of the comic to keep you obsessed until then.
Illustration via Comixology
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.