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Guns and Ammo

  100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow

 

Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso

Vertigo/DC, 2002

Rating: 3.7

 

 

Posted: December 30, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Out of a fairly boilerplate noir premise -- one that echoes the vintage television drama The Millionaire -- Brian Azzarello has crafted an intriguing epic. A man known only as Agent Graves approaches people who've been wronged in some way and offers them the ultimate revenge: a gun, a suitcase full of 100 untraceable bullets, and the implied assurance that the recipient will get away with his or her revenge scot-free. This set-up would make for a fairly solid crime-story anthology, a look at broken lives and the ultimately empty thrill of vengeance, and indeed 100 Bullets does work on that level. But beneath the hardcase-learns-a-lesson-of-the-week veneer lurks a murky, compelling tale of espionage, conspiracy and territorial pissings to rival The X-Files, The Godfather and The Tailor of Panama.

A Foregone Tomorrow, the fourth volume to collect the ongoing 100 Bullets series, delves deeper than previous volumes into the nuts and bolts of the tangled intrigue of its players: Graves; his opposite number, Shepherd; the Trust, a secretive conclave of families who wield great behind-the-scenes power; the Minutemen, a now-defunct enforcement arm for the Trust, once headed by Graves; and of course the pawns, recipients of Graves' generous offer, caught up in a world of shadowy associations and hidden motivations.

To his credit, Azzarello doesn't fall into the trap of fleshing out his byzantine world -- what writers of The X-Files called the "mythology" of the series -- at the expense of the everyday characters tangled in the great game between Graves and the Trust. In "Red Prince Blues," a hard-luck gambler named Hank is driven by desperation, and his gravely ill wife, to take up arms against pretty-boy Benito Medici, a scion of one of the 13 families of the Trust, which has convened for a summit in Atlantic City, where the Minutemen apparently met their end at the hands of the Trust. Azzarello nicely balances the escalating intrigue surrounding the Trust -- including the murder of a prominent seatholder, and the push-and-pull flirtation between a wary Benito and statuesque bombshell Megan -- with Hank's plight.

The rest of A Foregone Tomorrow doesn't fare quite so well as "Red Prince Blues": "Contrabandolero," the collection's other significant multi-issue tale, is a serviceable if overlong introduction to Wylie, a small-town gas station clerk who crosses paths with Shepherd and his right hand girl, Dizzy (introduced in the series' first story arc), and who apparently has his own connection to the Trust and whatever befell the Minutemen in Atlantic City. And a handful of single-issue or two-part tales varies widely in quality: "Idol Chatter" stretches credulity with a trite look at a ballplayer's involvement in the Kennedy assassination, ostensibly as payback for the grim fate of the slugger's movie starlet wife (any correlation to Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe is, presumably, intentional). And "Mr. Branch and the Family Tree" commits the grievous sin of feeding the reader lengthy, expositional backstory through dialogue, in this instance between a talkative bit player in the unfolding saga and a coarse Parisian prostitute.

But if A Foregone Tomorrow lacks the taut storytelling punch and indelible character sketching that made its predecessor, Hang Up on The Hang Low, the series' high-water mark to date, it still proves a satisfying, multi-layered onion of a tale with considerably more depth than most comics genre tales. And the evocative artwork of Eduardo Risso, perfectly complemented by Patricia Mulvihill's shadowy palette, continues to shine, making 100 Bullets perhaps Vertigo's most visually distinctive offering, as well as, arguably, the line's flagship title. Tomorrow's slight dip in high-quality consistency doesn't seriously mar 100 Bullets' status as one of the most engrossing, well-executed and enjoyable mainstream comics being published today.

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