By: Brian Azzarello (story), Eduardo Risso (art)

The Story: Can you really repent when you’re still in the middle of your latest sin?

The Review: Some might say it’s a bit cocky, even foolhardy, to read a spin-off without having ever read the original series it actually spun off from.  What can I say?  Call me a fictional daredevil.  I sort of enjoy flinging myself into unknown situations and seeing if I can get a handle on them just by reading the circumstances.  What’s possibly more reprehensible is the fact that to date, I still have not read 100 Bullets, which I gather is rather seminal comics reading.

So yes, while that fact is enough to make me a terrible person, I must point out that it’s not entirely certain that having read 100 Bullets would necessarily make reading this series any more enlightening.*  The first issue of Brother Lono by and large functions pretty well on its own.  Azzarello steeps us completely in the heartless, violent world these characters exist in, and while he makes some introductions more effectively than others, you certainly have no problem sorting out the relationships among the cast.

From the fairly grisly fates of two men in this issue, it’s clear that Las Torres Gemelas (“The Twin Towers”) does not screw around—only I mean a much more serious word than “screw.”  Many writers, especially superhero writers, like to play around with torture and threats, but Azzarello uses them as they are meant to be used: a highly effective means to an end.  These criminals stretch their victims to the breaking point, going to the most dastardly lengths to extract what they want, only to leave the dissected pulp of humanity behind when they’re done.

With those kinds of elements lurking out in the streets, no wonder some criminals prefer to find asylum in prison.  The peace found within a jail cell is considered “vacation time,” a sort of breezy way of saying that for them, incarceration is about the only solace they can get.  You can see it in the terrified reaction of one man who’s told that his bail has been paid and he must leave.  When a person has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of prison, that’s a pretty rough world waiting for him out there.

Against the chaotic, unpredictable atrocities of these people, the clean-cut and systematic operations of the police just look absurdly ineffectual.  The cops here may not be entirely pure—in fact, they’re almost certainly not—but there’s a vaguely good-natured quality that makes them seem slightly more trustworthy.  Sheriff Cesar’s friendly bluntness with the eponymous Lono might have a twinge of condescension (when asked whom he was lumping Lono with, Cesar replies, “Every mother fucker who ain’t me.”), but that’s a sight better than the kind of finger-snipping punishments the criminals inflict upon each other.

Ultimately, no one can really escape some moral compromises in this bleak, dog-eat-dog world, which is probably why Azzarello seems so intent one exploring the overlap of crime and religion in this series.  Father Manny may reluctantly accept the money offered him by Las Torres Gemelas, but it’s not solely to keep himself in business; it’s to protect the desperate remnants leftover from the Twin Towers’ dirty work.  In that sense, you can see the Towers’ contribution as a kind of charity, probably the most sincere act they deign to perform.

It’s obvious why Risso and Azzarello are creatively made for each other.  Risso’s somewhat loose approach to figure-work seems to parallel Azzarello’s own tendency to meander in his script.  More than that, both share the same sensibility of tone: bleak, grim, with a little splash of paranoia.  There is hardly any redeeming beauty to any of Risso’s characters, and what little there is appears fragile, all the more ready to be crushed.  He seems to take pleasure in drawing large crowds full of individual faces, none of them looking worthy of trust.  Small wonder a recently released convict looks so nervous in those settings.

Conclusion: A solid, harrowing debut that operates quite well as its own beast, though its mileage may vary for fans of the series it spun off from.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I should say, however, that I did some preliminary research (read: Wikipedia reading) on 100 Bullets so I have a modicum of understanding on that work.  That is to say, I’m not a total incompetent.