100 Bullets began as a comic with a schtick: Mysterious wrinkly secret Agent Graves hand delivers a suitcase to a hapless lowlife containing a gun, 100 untraceable bullets, and the missive to “do with it what you will” in seeking vengeance . It was pure pulp and Brian Azzarello’s scripts paired with Eduardo Rissso’s art were a credit to the genre. However, as the series progressed, the pulp short stories of earlier issues were woven together into a sprawling crime saga. Here are our picks for the best issues of the landmark series.
Even as the series morphed in to a transcontinental epic, it remains a story about nasty criminals doing nasty things. In this issue, Cole “The Wolf” Burns returns to his girlfriend and attempts to sync up his brief stint out of the crime world with his return to his place as an enforcer of the minutemen. It doesn’t work out, nor does the heist told analogous to Cole’s story. What makes this particular issue great is two fold. First, the rare occurrence of a female character’s refusal to tolerate her criminally deviant man is small moment but important. Second, we just love the heist storyline in this issue that involves a crew of bubbling criminals who don animal masks to stick up a bar. It’s nigh impossible to close the issue without acknowledging that Cole Burns is one of the coolest motherfucker’s in fiction.
2)#37 On Accidental Purpose
In another issue during the run that focused on a single character, Dizzy “the Girl” Cordova returns to Chicago, unsure of her path with Mr. Shepard and seeks a connection to her past. In one of the more emotionally wrenching issues, Dizzy realizes that for better or worse, she’s moved beyond the settled-down girls from her old crew and what was left of her unreliable family. There mastery in Azzarello’s dialogue in this issue, which we personally felt was a little hokey in Dizzy’s first arc(also the first arc of the series), deserves as much attention as Risso’s art.
3) #50 Pray for Reign
100 Bullets as a series is one of the greatest for many reasons and the selections on this list were made not only for their individual superlativeness but because they showcase a characteristic of the storytelling that sets the comic as a whole apart. In this case, Pray for Reign displays the masterful ability of Azzarello to tell several stories not only at once, but in the span of 22 pages. We are dropped into a scene very similar to that in Reservoir Dogs: A caper has gone very badly and the crew of assorted scumbags meets at a bar to wait for the shit to continue to hit the fan. One criminal then tells a story of one of the most influential crimes in history that occurred hundreds of years ago. The story, of course, is the crux of the current saga and the teller turns out to be one of the last minutemen. It is a perfect bookend to the end of the first half of the series and the start of the next. As always, how about that art?
4)#21 Sell Fish & Out to Sea
In which the introduction of one of our favorite characters Jack “The Monster” Daw occurs. Seriously, 100 Bullets has some of the most memorable character introductions in any comic that we’ve read. For a series in which the art is like 90% Cheshire smiles, it never gets less chilling to see hulking Jack’s evil grin shine through the darkness at some poor sap. We’ve had some depressing victims of Grave’s little game, but is anything more tragic than knowing you are the one that ruined your own life? Jack Daw’s addiction to both heroin and his own destruction remains one of our favorite story lines right up until issue 100.
5) #26 Mr. Branch Tells All
This issue is all about the art, as several guest artists like Jim Lee and Lee Bermejo contribute pages, though happily, none equal Risso’s perfect command of the content. 100 Bullets loves showcasing some impossibly endowed ladies, but this is one issue that we can say is straight up sexy in its dark colors and in the flawless form of Echo Memoria. Plus, we are gifted with some major exposition as Branch ties together the workings of Agent Graves and The Trust.
6)#95 Chapter Seven: Ducks
Relationships between brothers are explored throughout the run of the series, often in one-shot characters but also in several of the series main players. The most memorable is probably that between Remi and Ronnie Rome. These two exemplify begrudging familial love as both believe that they are the better man and son and equally plagued in having a brother like the other. In this issue we see Ronnie Rome dutifully attempt to visit his brother in the hospital, but like most who have relations with a minutemen, he is ultimately done in by his devotion to his brother. When Victor laughs at the demise of the Rome brothers, we see the tragedy of this story: these minutemen are truly tainted and irredeemable men.
7)#58 Coda Smoke
This here issue ranks high just because it is the pinnacle shocking moment in a series full of them. In one of the more tragic accidental shootings, Dizzy is triggered to eliminate her friend and mentor as always, part of the larger scheme of the series. In a shot that will ring through the rest of the story, the fate of Mr. Shepard is settled at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.
8) #55 Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down
Something else mindblowingly good in 100 Bullets? It is an epic saga that takes place across America (with occasional stops in Mexico and Europe) and each local is rendered near flawlessly. From the mood to the colors to the architecture, everything feels so real you can almost taste it. This is particularly notable in series where 90% of the action happens in bars…and each bar is completely unique and looks like it just belongs in wherever it is set! We wanted to make sure we highlighted these accomplishments on our list and this issue ultimately beat out a Benito-focused story in Atlantic City and any of the ones set in Miami just because it focuses on our main dude Wylie “Point Man” Times. New Orleans at its best.
9) #100 A House of Graves
If we ever had to give evidence that 100 Bullets needed its own television series, we toss any tv executive a copy of this last issue, because hot damn is this an ending of legendary status. This is not actually one that I can even discuss without going through the 99 issues that came before it because it is faithful to what demands to be called a saga. Dynasties end, killers retire their guns, and monsters live. For every finale that let you down, there will always be this issue of 100 Bullets.
10) #27 Idol Chatter
Wed’ like to point out that the issues on this list were ranked in no particular order…except for this one. This is it, the masterpiece in our not-so-humble opinion. The tragic story (and there are many in this series) of young love turning into old regret and vengeance. It is perhaps one of the best moments where it is explicitly and deftly shown that revenge doesn’t heal loss and that love can’t be rekindled at the end of a smoking barrel. We are given history, intrigue, mystery and sex in this strange one-off issue, as maybe the least sports literate of us exclaim in shock and realization at the ending. And we’re so grateful that it happened. RIP Marilyn, RIP # 13.
What do you think? “What about MILO? Or Meghan?” you scream. Hey, we had to edit it down somehow! Let us know what your favorite issues were and if they made the list!