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All Out of Bullets

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The state of DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1999 was basically the same as it had been for years. You had your old DC properties given an esoteric make-over, usually by a writer from the British Isles, you had your avant-garde horror or action-adventures stories, and you had a passel of spin-offs from the Sandman and Swamp Thing series.

But Vertigo had begun branching out into the true crime genre. There was Scene of the Crime, a miniseries featuring an early pairing of Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and Sean Phillips. There was also Peter Milligan’s miniseries revamping of DC’s espionage hero, Human Target.

The trend actually began in 1998 with another miniseries that Vertigo-ized another classic DC character, the private detective called Jonny Double. It was a tense crime drama rife with femme fatales and double dealings. It was moody, atmospheric and quite unlike anything else on Vertigo’s docket.

You can only find Jonny Double in the back issue bins, for the trade paperback is now out of print, but its influence is felt even today. For Jonny Double was the first pairing of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, and it set the stage for the masterpiece known as 100 Bullets.  

Azzarello and Risso brought us 100 Bullets in 1999, a year after they completed Jonny Double. Now, 100 issues and almost 10 years later, the historic series is coming to an end.

And if you don’t think 100 Bullets is historic, then you have another thing coming. Its success changed the face of Vertigo forever. It proved that genres other than reinventions, horror and esotery could find a home at the imprint. Without 100 Bullets, we wouldn’t have The Losers. We wouldn’t have DMZ. We wouldn’t have Scalped.

100 Bullets first arc featured an Agent Graves visiting a just-released-from-prison Isabelle “Dizzy” Cordova, who is mourning her murdered husband and infant son. Graves presents Dizzy with a case containing evidence as to who killed her family, a gun and 100 untraceable bullets. The storyline dealt with her wrestling as to whether or not to seek vengeance or just go on with her life.

If the series continued along that vein, with different people each arc debating whether or not to use the contents of the case to get revenge, it would be a darn interesting series.   But the creators used that first arc as a swerve, and quickly began to weave a conspiracy mystery out of the series. It was a tale of intrigue about the families that ruled the world and the men who used to work for them.

The subject matter was an excellent fit for Azzarello and Risso, and the two men were an excellent fit for each other. Azzarello is a hard boiled writer with an excellent ear for dialogue and a mind for complex plots. And Risso is a master of shading and blacks who can create mood better than just about any artist in comics. Put both of them behind distinctive and stylish covers by Dave Johnson, the wonderful palette of Trish Mulvihill and the unique and decisive lettering of Clem Robins and you truly had a machine that worked on all cylinders. This was a dream team and what they produced was one of the best comic books in history.

The series may be ending, but it will (hopefully) always live on in trade paperback form.  If you have let these 99 previous issues go by with out a second look, do yourself a favor, pick up the first trade. If you are a fan of good writing, crime noir or creators working at the peak of their game, you’re guaranteed to be hooked.

The rest of us will celebrate the greatness of 100 Bullets and hope the team can be reunited soon for another masterpiece sometime in the future.

Also out this week:

Rampaging Wolverine #1:

Marvel’s desire to push Wolverine’s exposure to critical mass causes them to look for new ways to get their character out there. However, their newest way is actually an old way.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel Comic fans had another way to get their comic book fix. The company put out oversized, black and white magazines featuring their characters. They put out mostly genre titles such as Dracula Lives!, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and Savage Sword of Conan, but they also featured one of their biggest heroes of the day in Rampaging Hulk.

That last one is what Marvel is referencing with this title, which features 48, advertisement free pages of black and white pages devoted to their favorite Canadian.

Various (W), Various (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #1:

There are few horror writers as influential as H.P. Lovecraft. There are not many authors in any field that have an entire sub-genre named after them, but Lovecraftian horror is one of the most popular styles of horror and is still going strong today.

And his cosmic brand of horror is no stranger to comics. Boom! Studios has devoted numerous series to the author and his most famous creation—the Cthulhu Mythos. But Lovecraft’s life is interesting enough to field a comic of its own, and it plays a role in the latest offering from Image.

This series is part a biography, part homage to the cosmic horror Lovecraft is famous for. If you are a fan of the author or part of the cult of Cthulhu, then this series is right up your alley.

Mac Carter (W), Tony Salmons (A), Image Comics, $4.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Hollow Eyed Mary:

When it comes to the future, cynicism rules. Almost every tale showing a glimpse of the years ahead seems bleak and dank. No ideal futures with flying cars and universal vaccines can be found nowadays, just ones with cannibals, telekinetic hitmen and racist teenagers.

The latter can be found in this original graphic novel. A serial killer responsible for what have been called “The Bloody Mary Murders” is on the loose. The prime suspect is a single mother struggling to make ends meet. All evidence points to her, but unfortunately she is innocent of the crimes. However, though she might not be the killer, she might be holding some information as to who the culprit is. But who will believe her when she says that the real inhuman killer might not be human at all.

Andre Duza (W), Rudolf Montemayor (A), Devil’s Due Publishing, $14.99. Original Graphic Novel.

Phantom: Generations #1:

One of the interesting qualities of the Phantom’s back story is the legacy of the character. He is called “The Ghost Who Walks” and is considered an immortal. But actually he is a family of adventurers who pass the costume down from generation to generation. All in all, there have been 21 Phantoms.

This series is a one of a kind “maxiseries” which is a collection of one-shot stories dealing with each of the 21 Phantoms. Each stand alone issue features a different creative team consisting of some of the finest creators working in comics today who provide their own unique look at one generation of the purple clad crimefighter. This series is perfect for fans of the comic strip or readers who don’t want a long term commitment.

Ben Raab (W), Pat Quinn (A), Moonstone Comics, $3.99. Twenty-One Issue Miniseries.

Overlook #1:

One of the fundamental systems of any economy is the barter system. You have something I need, I have something you need, so we trade.

Mickey “the Nickel” Nicholson needs someone killed and is not able to do it himself. So the prize-fighter turns to a local crime boss in order to barter. Mickey will infiltrate Overlook’s dirty, underground boxing organization to try to get the mobsters stolen money back. He’ll also kill the mobster’s runaway wife in the bargain. In return, the mobster will wack one person of Mickey’s choosing. But things are never truly that simple.

This is another entry into the crime genre, this time from Shadowline. If you have a few bucks left over after buying the last 100 Bullets,  maybe you can give this one a try.

Joshua Williamson   (W), Alejandro Aragon (A), Image/ Shadowline Comics, $3.50. Three-Issue Miniseries.

Fables #83:

Crossovers in the Vertigo Universe are all but unheard of. Granted, there has been one (and only one as far as I can tell) crossover in the imprint’s history, 1993’s Children’s Crusade event. But another big crossover begins this week.

Vertigo’s highly successful Fables series’ is about to undergo a 9-part crossover event. The storyline begins here and moves on to Jack of Fables and then continues to a brand new miniseries—The Literals.

The world of the Fables is in turmoil as they have just discovered that there is a power out there that could end their existence with a stroke of a pen. They do what anybody faced with total annihilation would do, they fight back. But could that be the worst thing they could possibly do? Signs point to “yes.”

Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (W), Mark Buckingham (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY and is expecting his first child with his wife Jennifer. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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