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"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...
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Trust were the real founders of the United States.
- Alternate History: In 100 Bullets, Graves is partly responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy after he gave Joe Dimaggio a chance to avenge the death of Marilyn Monroe.
- Anyone Can Die
- At any time, but especially in the final arc.
- Most shockingly, Wiley's death.
- Arc Words: Croatoa, the word that triggers the awakening of the Minutemen.
- Badass: The Minutemen, Crete, Mr. Hughes.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: Most of the cast, but especially the Minutemen in their matching black suits.
- Badass Longcoat: Shepherd and, eventually, Lono.
- 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.
- Bottomless Magazines: Subverted.
- Butt Monkey: Branch.
- The Butcher: Remi Rome.
- 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.
- Cast Herd: Averted.
- Chekhov's Armoury: There are so many hints and things dropped throughout the series, if you're rereading it.
- Like the Trust-pin Megan has in issue #4, a good long while before the Trust is even discussed.
- Or Remi's saying "Anything in my hands is a deadly fuckin' weapon, Cole!"
- Chekhov's Gun: Augustus' pet alligators, who eat Jack and Crete alive in the final issue.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: When you see Graves smile, it's usually bad news for someone else. And Lono: his smile is sometimes the only thing you see, in the dark.
- The Chessmaster: Graves never leaves anything unaccounted for, same for Augustus Medici.
- Chick Magnet: Cole Burns, Wiley Times, Victor Ray and Benito Medici (except to Megan, who loves to play with his obvious lust for her).
- Click Hello
- 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.
- Combat Pragmatist: Victor Ray
- 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.
- Cryptic Conversation: Often occurs between members of The Trust and/or The Minutemen.
- 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.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: The Rome Brothers.
- Face Heel Revolving Door: It can get extremely difficult to tell who Shepherd and Lono are working for.
- Both Fan Service and Fetish Fuel.
- The Fettered: Agent Graves. He has a very strict moral code based on personal ethics, and he made sure that all the Minutemen he had a part in creating had a similarly rigid code of honor. Even Lono, Complete Monster that he is, has a thing he won't do.
- Funetik Aksent: Used quite effectively to show accents of the Urban, Southern and Louisiana variety.
- Femme Fatale: Megan Dietrich and Echo Memoria.
- 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.
- The Gunslinger: The Minutemen
- Handguns: The preferred weapon of the Minutemen.
- Hidden Agenda Villain: It'd be easier to list the characters who don't qualify.
- 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.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: With one exception, the title of each of the collections is based around its number. Book two is "Split Second Chance", while book ten is "Decayed" — sounds like decade. Some titles don't actually contain the numerical pun, but instead are cleverly part of a phrase that would usually include that number, such as "Samurai," the seventh book, after Seven Samurai; "The Hard Way," the eighth, after a dice roll in the game of craps that involves rolling an eight; and the twelfth book, "Dirty," after The Dirty Dozen. Book eleven is titled, "Once Upon a Crime," which at first doesn't make sense — unless you know Spanish. The title of the thirteenth and final book, "Wilt", is a two-in-one; Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain not only has 13 as his jersey number, but is famous for having scored 100 points in a single game. The only book to break this tradition is "Hang Up on the Hang Low" (it would otherwise have been title "The Charm", as in "Third time's the-"), which was named after a Story Arc contained in the book; the story in question had won an Eisner Award.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Best exemplified by Wylie Times, "The Point Man"; every shot he fires has a destination and will hit its mark.
- 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.
- Jerkass: Lono, Remi, and Cole on occasion.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot
- Karma Houdini: Lono possibly pulls one of these. It's unclear if he survives being shot by Dizzy and falling out of a high window. Consider what he survived earlier in the series, it's entirely possible that he does.
- Kick the Dog: Members of the Trust and the Minutemen are all guilty of this at different times.
- 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.
- Knight Templar: Agent Graves.
- Kryptonite Factor: The only thing that grosses Lono out is anal sex. As he puts it: "We all got our Kryptonite, Jack...shit on the dick is it for me."
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Minutemen are completely unaware of their previous lives and are essentially normal people until they are activated.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: It's a huge Ensemble Cast.
- MacGuffin: The painting.
- 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.
- Man On The Grassy Knoll: In an issue that offers us a first look at Graves in his earlier days as a Minuteman, we also see him visited by a retired baseball player whom he offered one of his infamous opportunities; Whilst no names are named, the baseball player is heavily implied to be Joe Di Maggio as the the man on the grassy knoll, taking revenge by assassinating John F. Kennedy for the murder of Marilyn Monroe.
- 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 RemusRonnie and Remi Rome.
- Mercy Kill: Wylie shoots trumpet player
GabeMartin 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.
- Myth Arc
- Never Found the Body: Lono, in the final issue.
- New Meat: Dizzy and Loop.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In Hang Up On The Hang Low.
- The Obi-Wan: Mr. Shepherd to Dizzy.
- Offhand Backhand: Lono walks out a door and casually kills a guy who is waiting for him with a gun. Lono simply crushes his trachea with one blow.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Wylie's shoot-out with Mikhail "Coochie" Kuchenko and his gang in the desert.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Cole Burns was shot in the arm but it did not faze him. Later he fished the bullet out in the shower.
- Passing the Torch: Shepherd to Lono.
- Private Detective: Milo's job in his "regular" life after he was deactivated as a Minuteman.
- Private Eye Monologue: Used heavily in the fifth volume, starring Milo.
- Psycho for Hire: Lono.
- 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').
- Scary Black Man: Nine Train is this trope.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Loop does this at the very end of the series.
- Shout-Out: The Minutemen are a gang of seven badass career criminals dressed in identical black suits and ties, who disband suddenly when they're involved in a crime gone wrong. Sounds familiar.
- Slasher Smile: Lono and Remi Rome.
- Smoking Is Cool: Many characters look cool smoking, especially Shepherd.
- 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.
- 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. Whilst Joe Di Maggio 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 Di Maggio's that were in Dallas that day. Graves also adds that whether Di Maggio made the kill is beside the point, given he still got what he wanted, in the end.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Trust no longer need The Minutemen during such a peaceful era and decide and try to kill them off. This ends... badly.
- You Got Spunk: Lono shows a more twisted variation of this trope after a woman spits in his face.