Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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One of the tasks I set for myself in November was to finally read all of 100 Bullets. One hundred issues of crime comics about the secret history of the greatest swindle in the history of the United States, collected in five hardcover volumes. I’d tried reading the series before, but found myself getting lost. The plot is, to understate things, labyrinthine. There are hidden alliances and triple-crosses, secret societies and invisible soldiers. And it’s also really, really good.
100 Bullets starts out simple. The day Dizzy Cordova is released from prison, she meets the mysterious Agent Graves. Graves gives her a briefcase with a gun and a hundred rounds of untraceable ammo. It also contains a dossier of information on the people who ruined her life: a pair of corrupt cops who killed her husband and child when she was in prison. Graves gives her the briefcase and walks away, letting her come to terms with the information and how it affects her attempts to get on with her life. Throughout the series, Graves appears to a number of other people, with the same offer. Take the briefcase. Look at the dossier. Make up your own mind. He’s not giving them orders, but rather an opportunity. What they do with it isn’t his concern. Or so he says.
After a few stories, it becomes very clear that not only does Graves have a motive (mysterious as it may be), he’s not just picking people at random. There’s a secret war coming, and Graves is gathering an army. I won’t spoil who he’s going up against. But it’s a war that threatens to tear American society to pieces. And not all of Graves’ soldiers see things his way.
100 Bullets is not an easy comic to love. It’s a book about bad men doing bad things. About the darker side of human nature. About how what people will go to protect the things they love, and how far they’ll go to atone for the mistakes they’ve made. The characters are almost all bad people, and all of them have brutally awful things happen to them. The few good characters in the book get off even worse. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure, and there was a time I thought that it might not be for me. There are points in the story where writer Brian Azzarello’s reach nearly extends his grasp. A hundred issues is a lot of real estate for a story to take up, and there are times where I wondered if he hadn’t lost the plot. But it all comes together in the end, like a trap slowly winding shut. And when things start getting bizarre and/or confusing, the art more than makes up for it.
Over the series run, artist Eduardo Risso never hits a false note. He’s endlessly creative with the comics page: foreground and background figures are always in sharp relief, shadowy inks creep over every page, and there are perspectives and angles that I’ve never seen before. In one of his panels, the reader realizes that they are looking up at the scene from the bottom of an ashtray. That’s the kind of brilliant artistic choice Risso makes repeatedly over the course of the series, and he makes them all look easy. Patricia Mulvihill doesn’t become the regular colourist until issue #15, but when she does the book becomes electric. Her colours always strike the perfect tone for every scene, and add real texture to Risso’s linework. And the unsung hero of the book is letterer Clem Robins, who transforms Azzarello’s script into visual art. He takes the twisted dialogue and blackly comic wordplay and arranges it on the page so that it flows perfectly with the figures and panel layouts. (Dave Johnson’s painted covers, though not strictly part of the storytelling, are visually striking and add heft to an already art-forward series.)
100 Bullets is one of the best examples of a team of creators coming together to make incredible comics that I have ever seen. It’s bleak and unforgiving, but there’s real beauty in it. There’s a gut punch in every volume, including one so hard it makes me tear up just thinking about it. If reading the whole series seems like an insurmountable task, I’d still recommend giving the first volume a try. Dizzy’s first story works perfectly well on its own, and who knows? It might just be the first taste that gets you hooked.
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One of the best new podcasts that I’ve heard lately is Switchblade Sisters, from Maximum Fun and L.A. Weekly film critic April Wolfe. Switchblade Sisters is a look at exploitation and genre filmmaking from a female perspective. Each week, Wolfe sits down with a female filmmaker to talk about one of their favourite genre films, as well as their own experience making movies. The first episode, with The Big Sick co-writer Emily V. Gordon, was a firecracker. The two discussed the brutal and fascinating Bone Tomahawk, and dissect it in such a way that I ended up liking the movie more after listening to the podcast (and I already liked the movie a hell of a lot before). If you’re looking for a new podcast and are interested in moviemaking, this one is right up my alley and maybe it’ll be up yours too.
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That’s going to wrap things up this week. Until next time, don’t be afraid to get a little grime on you. (But wash it off before you go to bed.) I’ll see you in seven days.