"I wrote about America. About power and corruption, loyalty and betrayal, and the ties that make them family. Friends and enemies. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers. I wrote about moral choices and their costs - whether you make them or not. And about how not making a choice is a choice."
— Brian Azzarello's introduction in the final trade paperback.
100 Bullets is an American Comic Book series written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Eduardo Risso. Since its debut in 1999, it has received much critical praise and gone on to win several awards such as the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story. The series ended on April 2009 at (you guessed it) 100 issues, collected together in 13 trade paperbacks.The general premise of 100 Bullets is simple at first. A storyline would focus on a new Victim of the Week who has been horribly wronged by another individual and, as a result, had their life ruined. At this low point in their life, they're approached by a man in a black business suit holding a suitcase and going by the name of Agent Graves. He offers them a chance at revenge with absolutely no strings attached: inside the suitcase is a picture of the individual responsible for the person's woes, irrefutable evidence that supports this claim, and an untraceable handgun with exactly one hundred untraceable bullets; Graves also guarantees that if the gun and bullets are used, any investigation into a crime attached to the bullets will be stopped, ensuring that the crime will never be prosecuted.The initial volumes of 100 Bullets center around the Shades of Conflict Graves' offer yields for the person he approaches; the main conflict is over whether they should indeed commit a murder they know they can get away with in order to obtain a sense of closure. Graves does not judge anyone he approaches for their decision, but simply makes the offer and lets the person choose as they wish. Sometimes these characters will come back, while others have a very minor impact on the overall story.Soon enough, the focus of 100 Bullets expands to include Agent Graves himself, as it is revealed that he does benefit from these acts of revenge. Sometimes it's because he wants a particular person killed for his own ends, and sometimes he just wants to see his unique brand of justice carried out. It just so happens that Graves is the leader of an elite group of badasses known as The Minutemen, who acted as the police force for The Trust, a group of thirteen powerful families that control the United States. Graves and The Minutemen left The Trust after being told that they are no longer necessary by order of The Trust's leader, Augustus Medici. The Trust plotted to kill them all, but thanks to Graves' inside man Mr. Shepherd, The Minutemen were spared and given new lives - along with a healthy dose of Fake Memories and Laser-Guided Amnesia.Now Graves is making preparations to exact his own revenge by gathering his Minutemen once more. At the same time, Augustus is making a few power plays of his own concerning both Graves and the other twelve familes of The Trust...
100 Bullets shows examples of:
Adult Fear: In issue #11 ("Heartbreak, Sunnyside Up"), Graves informs a woman that her 15-year old runaway daughter, who left home when she was just 12, died of AIDs after becoming a heroin addict and spending three years working as a prostitute for an abusive pimp. Even worse, she only found out that she was HIV-positive when she wound up in the hospital after a john mutilated her with a knife—which left her homeless when her pimp cut her loose, knowing that she couldn't make him any money. Then at the end of the issue, we find out that the picture in Graves' attaché was of the woman's husband, who had been molesting their daughter for years, and that she actually ran away from home to escape him.
Arc Words: Croatoa, the word that triggers the awakening of the Minutemen.
Artistic License - History: The word found engraved at the abandoned site of the Roanoke Colony in 1590 was "Croatoan", not "Croatoa". It's a well-documented fact that "Croatoan" was the historical name of a small island off the coast of North Carolina (now called "Hatteras Island"), and most historians agree that the colonists at Roanoke probably relocated there to take refuge with the local Indians when they couldn't support their own colony any longer. The series never mentions either of these facts.
Bilingual Bonus: In the arc where Dizzy goes to see Branch in Paris, this is definitely true (for French). There's also smatterings of other languages throughout the comic — Spanish, Russian, whatever pops up.
Black and Gray Morality: The moral ambiguity makes it look like Gray and Grey Morality at first. Don't be fooled. However, lots of story arcs do go through the whole thing without making a single moral judgment on the characters. Whether or not people get what they deserve, as well as what, exactly, they deserve, is left very ambiguous. The only real moral lesson at the end is: if you live your life through violence and corruption, you'd better be prepared to die by them too.
Black Comedy: As black as it gets. Much of it is in-universe, but then we get "Did you bust a nut when I...?"
Bolivian Army Ending: The final page of the series shows Graves and Dizzy in the burning Medici manor. Dizzy lies in Graves' lap, possibly because of a spinal injury, and points a gun at his head.
Book Ends: The Counterfifth Detective begins and ends with the same internal monologue.
Boom, Headshot: There are many. Wiley in particular pretty much only does headshots. Not a bullet wasted. Every shot has a point.
Buy Them Off: In issue #5, Meghan Dietrich does this to Lee Dolan, a former restauranteur who had his life ruined when Meghan inadvertently got him framed for being a child pornographer. When Lee shows up to kill her, she manages to pacify him by offering him 2 million dollars on the spot. In the end, though, turns the tables and kills him when she finds out that he stole her Trust pin to get to her.
Call Back: When Eight-Ball unexpectedly reappears in issue #28, he's introduced the same way he was in the first issue: chatting about an episode of Jerry Springer in which a guy finds out that his girlfriend is a man.
Cluster F-Bomb: Frequently. It even becomes a plot point in one book — when Dizzy and Wylie run into a pair of contract killers in New Orleans, the killers are able to figure out who Wylie is because they hear him yell "Fuck!" and recognize his voice from when he said it before in the dark. Annoyed, Dizzy says "You might want to expand your 'freaking out' vocabulary!"
Code Name: All of The Minutemen have nicknames referring to their personalities. Cole is known as The Wolf, likely for his predatory smile and alpha male personality. Lono is The Dog, because he's a big, dangerous attack dog who needs a strong hand on a short leash. Jack is The Monster — the biggest, most dangerous of all of them. Milo is The Bastard for his abrasive and obstinate personality. Victor Ray is The Rain, as he falls on the just and unjust unquestioningly at Graves' order. Remi is The Saint, likely for irony. Wiley is The Point Man, because he was a leader among his peers, and because every shot he fires has a point — a killing headshot. Loop is The Boy for his youth and newness to the job. Dizzy is The Girl for the same reasons.
Continuity Creep: As the series goes on, it gradually starts to become clear which of the Victims of the Week are actually key players in the overall Myth Arc. As former Victims of the Week start to make return appearances, and Call Backs to previous issues become more frequent, the story arcs becomes less about meeting the latest recipient of the attaché, and more about the ongoing conflict between the Trust and the Minutemen.
Development Hell: Acclaim tried to make a video game version before they went bankrupt, and another developer is trying to without any known release date.
Dissonant Serenity: Victor Ray, better known as "The Rain", is able to keep his emotions in check and can execute his mission with utmost efficiency. One time he was able to give off a lecture about the origins of The Trust IN THE MIDDLE OF A GUNFIGHT without even breaking a sweat.
Dramatic Irony: The deaths of the Rome Brothers. Ronnie was on his way to the hospital to see Remi, who was there recovering from both hands being amputated. Remi believed that their mother had died of a heart attack, which he never got the chance to learn was just "the agita." Ronnie, knowing their mother was okay, was likely going to use the information to comfort Remi and maybe try to give him a reason to live. But Ronnie got in a car accident on the way, and was brought to the very same hospital Remi was in. As Ronnie was being wheeled inside on a gurney, likely a quadriplegic, Remi jumped off the top of the building. Ronnie's eyes open in shock as he sees his brother about to hit the pavement.
Erotic Eating: Cole's girlfriend, Sasha, does this with a popsicle in issue #9. A suspiciously phallic-looking popsicle.
Fire/Water Juxtaposition: The very first page of issue #1 is a flashback sequence showing Dizzy standing in the rain with a gun to her head, and the scene immediately after it shows a nude Dizzy taking a shower in prison. The final page of the final issue shows Dizzy pointing a gun to Agent Graves' head in the burning Medici Manor, possibly about to be burned to death.
Friend to All Children: Before rediscovering his old memories of life as a Minuteman, Cole Burns makes a living selling ice cream to the kids in his neighborhood. Sure, it's just part of a scheme to sell stolen cigarettes for the Mob, but the children genuinely like him, and he takes his duties as their resident ice cream man surprisingly seriously. Before leaving with Graves to start his new life, his last act is to make sure that the replacement ice cream man knows all the kids' names and their favorite ice cream, and to make him promise to give them free ice cream on his first day on the job.
Funetik Aksent: Used quite effectively to show accents of the Urban, Southern and Louisiana variety.
Gambit Pileup: Where to start? Besides Graves and Augustus, some of the Minutemen have plans of their own, as do the smaller families within The Trust.
The Gambler: An entire story arc is devoted to a dice throwing conman named Chucky. Another involves a man named Hank who tries to save his sick wife by winning enough money in a poker game — and later, seeks revenge on Benito when he raises the stakes too high and forces him out of the game. Benito Medici loves gambling and has extraordinary luck. Branch also loves to gamble but his luck comes and goes.
Good Old Fisticuffs: Milo is an exceptional fist-fighter and can put down trained fighters twice his size with just a few punches.
Guns Akimbo: Minutemen have done this on more than one occasion, with deadly results.
Hufflepuff House: With thirteen houses in the trust, it's only natural that some get less page time than others. One house head, Constance Von Hagen, went unnamed until the issue in which she died, and even then it was only her first name. Her surname was up to speculation until Word Of God confirmed it.
Human Shield: Victor Ray doesn't shy away from using them even if it's a body of a dying partner.
Book 3 (the only one to break the tradition) was originally going to be called "The Charm", as in "Third time's the charm", but it was instead named after the collection's main story arc ("Hang Up On the Hang Low") after it won an Eisner Award.
Book 4 is "A Foregone Tomorrow".
Book 5 is "The Counterfifth Detective" (a play on the word "counterfeit").
Book 13 is "Wilt", a reference to the basketball player Wilt Chamberlain (who had "13" on his jersey, and is famous for being the first NBA player ever to score 100 points in a single game).
Improbable Aiming Skills: Best exemplified by Wylie Times, "The Point Man"; every shot he fires has a destination and will hit its mark. However points also go to Victor Ray for purposefully shooting someone ABOVE the heart.
Intrepid Reporter: Branch - He goes out of his way to find out about Graves and his bullets and is forced to flee to France after getting his hand broken by Lono.
Kick the Dog: Members of the Trust and the Minutemen are all guilty of this at different times.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Normally shooting a naked unarmed woman does little to endear the character to the audience. Though given that it's Echo Memoria we're talking about...
Kill 'em All: Only Loop, Victor, Will Slaughter, survive the series. Dizzy, Graves, and Lono may have a chance by the time of the Bolivian Army Ending. Many of the other characters are killed off in the final issue, which may have been what Graves wanted all along.
Dizzy's and Graves' fates are tied to each other, and left ambiguous at the end. Dizzy can do her job as a Minuteman and kill Graves, but if she does so, she will be unable to escape the burning mansion due to her injuries. The fact Graves put himself in the place where Dizzy would have to make this decision is particularly interesting, since it means Graves is giving her another one of the choices he's so obsessed with: do her job or save her life.
Made of Iron: Jack and Lono. Both take tremendous amounts of punishment. Jack once took three blows from a bat to the back of the head, before finally choosing to turn and headbutt the bat-wielder into submission. During a bare-knuckle boxing match between the two in Volume 10, Victor Ray's explains why to Loop: "It's pain, versus no pain. Fer one of 'em? Pain is all he ever feels. While the other...can't feel, 'cause his head is fucked." Even Victor is not sure which is which.
Mafia Princess: Subverted twice by Benito Medici - he is a Mob Prince and is well aware of his Father's activities, though he chooses to distance himself.
Rose Madrid is the normal female example, daughter of Trust member Anwar Madrid.
Meaningful Background Event: Many story arcs have either background events or subplots that do not relate to the main story, but often express sublime messages and themes that help enrich them.
Meaningful Name: Agent Graves is no stranger to getting people killed while Agent Shepherd guides and nurtures Dizzy. There's also Romulus and Remus Ronnie and Remi Rome.
Mercy Kill: Wylie shoots trumpet player Gabe Martin after he loses his jaw in a bear trap.
Mr. Exposition: Branch - Whenever he's being featured expect A LOT of background information.
Ms. Fanservice: Sexualization is present throughout the entire series, but Meghan Dietrich takes the cake.
Word Of God is that he survived. The upcoming miniseries Brother Lono will follow his post-Minutemen life.
Never My Fault: Occasionally a source of conflict for recipients of the attaché, who often become fixated on revenge because they're convinced that they can pin all their problems on one person, and are unwilling to acknowledge that they're just as at fault for the state of their lives as the people in the attaché.
Chucky Spinks, the dice-throwing con man introduced in the third story arc, wants revenge on his childhood friend Pony (now a big-time bookie) for getting him sent to prison for seven years. But his revenge fixation really takes off when he also tries to blame Pony for stealing his girlfriend and getting him barred from craps games by spreading word that he's a hustler. The truth is that Chucky's girlfriend left him of her own accord because he's a terrible boyfriend, and that Chucky's too cocky to realize how obvious his scam is.
Jack Daw initially tries to blame his heroin addiction on everyone from his family, to his ex-girlfriend, to his previous bosses, and can't accept that he wound up homeless, friendless and jobless because he's too selfish to think about anyone other than himself, but too unmotivated to know what he actually wants out of life. At the end of his introductory story arc, it turns out that the picture in the attaché was a picture of Jack himself, essentially prompting him to commit suicide.
Pungeon Master: Milo Garret, both in his hard-boiled narration and in conversation.
Punny Name: Agent Graves's first name is Phillip, as in Fill up Graves. Then there's Cole Burns ('Coal burns'), Jack Daw ('Jackdaw'), Victor Ray ('Victory'), and Echo Memoria ('Echoic Memory').
Red-Headed Hero: While he's certainly not a hero, the red-haired Wylie Times is probably the most sympathetic and likable of the Minutemen, and he's stated in-universe to be the most proficient in battle.
Spanner in the Works: What the Minutemen ultimately become. They end up completely ruining every single person's plans without ever figuring out why or having a goal of their own.
Suicide by Cop: Milo, after not liking his Minuteman era memories purposely provokes a fight with Lono who shoots him dead.)
Sweet Tooth: Agent Graves is often seen eating pies, cakes, sweet drinks and popcorn while plotting.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The Minutemen are not exactly buddy-buddy with each other, or with Agent Graves. About the only thing most of them had in common is a rigid and personal moral code which they do not share with the others, so this is probably to be expected.
Tomato in the Mirror: All but one of the Minutemen aren't even aware of their true nature when they are first introduced.
Unwitting Pawn: various members of The Trust. Graves in the second to last issue.
Vengeance Feels Empty: Frequently, recipients of the attaché find out the hard way that getting revenge does not, in fact, magically make all of your problems vanish.
Vigilante Man: Victor Ray kills criminals in his spare time to balance out the awful things he does on Graves' behalf.
Villainous Breakdown: Not an example of the villain, but Lono loses much of his cocky attitude and smug demeanor after being run off the Medici premises by Benito of all people. He later starts ranting at his fellow Minutemen, screaming at them to just shoot each other and get out of his way. Then he is possibly killed by something he survived easily earlier in the comic.
Who Shot JFK?: Dealt with in one issue that also partially introduces Milo. While Joe DiMaggio is stated to be the man on the grassy knoll, he is not directly stated to be Kennedy's killer. Instead, Graves suggests he could have fired the killing shot, but there were also other people operating for reasons separate to DiMaggio's that were in Dallas that day. Graves also adds that whether DiMaggio made the kill is beside the point, given he still got what he wanted, in the end.