100 Bullets may have started 10 years ago as a crime story with an interesting hook (what would you do if you were given a gun and 100 bullets, all untraceable?) but it became something huge, grand and complicated in the end. But it always remained true to its themes: who has the power, how do they get it and what do they do with it? 100 Bullets: Wilt is Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s finale for the series. They’ve spent 12 volumes constructing a carefully planned conspiracy, with the final winners being the true ruling elite of the world. The only question was who would win; Augustus Medici or Megan Dietrich, heads of opposing houses of the Trust, or Agent Graves, the wild card with an unknowable agenda.
Before getting too far into the story, I want to sing the praise of series artist Eduardo Risso. Simply put, the man has one of the sexiest and most dangerous lines in all of comics right now. Visually, 100 Bullets has been a visual feast, with each and every line, shadow and figure concealing many secrets while trying to seduce and capture the reader. Like Mike Mignola in Hellboy, Risso creates a world of deep shadows, showing us what isn’t there as much as what is. The final pages of 100 Bullets demonstrate how much of this world we still don’t know because we’ve never seen it. Patricia Mulvihill adds her dangerous hues over Risso’s artwork, giving most of the book a red sheen, like the world just outside of our view is on fire and burning down while Azzarello’s characters continue to play their games. Together, Risso and Mulvihill have brought to life the dangerous world of 100 Bullets.
Much like the artwork, Azzarello figuratively burns his story to the ground with this volume. Without getting too spoilery, there’s no riding off into the sunset with anyone. It’s not like 100 Bullets has every been a book about happy endings so there was no reason to expect one here but Azzarello still manages to make you think that your favorite characters will somehow make it out of this story alive. Whether it’s Dizzy, Lono, Benito, Cole Burns or another character, he never telegraphs anyone’s final fate. You’re gripped into the book, eager to see someone actually win at this game.
As he builds toward his conclusion, it looks like there’s going to be a clear winner in the book, even if the means to victory seem odd. The final battle comes down to Megan, Augustus and Agent Graves and their various factions. The end of the story is never obvious as Azzarello continues to zig and zag with his narrative until the very end. There are even one or two points in Wilt where it feels like there is going to be some kind of detente with little bloodshed but if Azzarello had gone that route, this book would not have been a true ending for 100 Bullets.
From its roots, Vertigo has always been an imprint that’s been about America. Writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Garth Ennis and Neil Gaiman have used their books to explore the idea of America from an outsiders (and usually British) point of view. Their views of America have been mythological, grand and have contained a tinge of optimism. With 100 Bullets and the more recent DMZ, we’ve seen American writers now writing about America and it is very different than the romanticized version in Swamp Thing or Preacher. Azzarello’s America isn’t one made of back roads, hard traveling heroes or the quest for some American truth. His story was about greed, power and authority. Azzarello and Risso’s story has been searching for some great American truth but it is a much harder and colder truth than any of the British or Scottish Vertigo writers looked for. It began with the gangs in the streets of Chicago nine years ago and ends up in a mansion where the elite decide who will rule.
At its core, 100 Bullets has been about the American dream, the promise of prosperity and success for everyone. The dream may assume that each person is out not just for their own prosperity but for the prosperity of everyone but Azzarello and Risso look at the dream when it’s focused on individual prosperity and individual success. Or worse yet, what if the dream and the dreamers are flawed? Is the idea of individual and collective prosperity at the same time an obtainable goal? After 10 years of following Azzarello and Risso’s characters, the only question that really remained what “who would win?” Of course, in the end, the creators remind us that 100 Bullets wasn’t a game and that there would be no winners.
100 Bullets: Wilt
Written by: Brian Azzarello
Drawn by: Eduardo Risso
Colored by: Patricia Mulvihill
Lettered by: Clem Robbins
100 Bullets Vol. 13: Wilt is available on Amazon.com.