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

The Story: Serving the poorest orphans of an impoverished city—sounds like a great gig.

The Review: It’s one of those odd quirks of humanity that some of the unrepentant criminals have the greatest dedication to their faiths.  In my line of work, I’ve encountered gang members who have already settled upon a lifetime of sex, drugs, and violence—the trifecta!—and yet will decry harm against a priest, or pray during moments of crisis, or even continue attending church.  It’s this strange intersection of religion and sin that reveals the power of faith.

Azzarello seems intent on exploring this intersection, and unlike many of his peers, who would rather oversimplify that tension into one of pure hypocrisy, he clearly plans to give us a more complicated view of how one might abide by religious principle in a place that has no care for it.  Why else would he choose for his protagonists a priest who takes bribes, a nun who’s beautiful and knows it, and a wannabe monk who must continually put himself in prison to stay straight?

Many of us might question the sincerity and point of Lono’s attempt at a life of faith, especially those of you who’ve seen his grisly exploits in the original 100 Bullets.  This seems to reveal more about ourselves and our own notions of what can be forgiven than anything else.  There’s no doubt that Lono is plagued not only by his past, but by his nature as well; he can’t seem to help going into a bar, checking out the hotties, and stirring up potential fights.  From his wake-up in a jail cell last issue, this seems to be a regular occurrence—so why bother trying?

Keep in mind, though, that Lono, of all people, has little left to lose should he fall back into old habits.  Given the sins he’s already committed, he has good reason to give up the struggle and just accept who he is.  But here’s the thing: he manages to resist.  No one dies this night, though Lono could have easily crushed one overeager idiot’s head in with one hand as he does with his glass of liquor.  So that’s one less crime in this already unforgiving world, one less person’s blood on Lono’s hands; doesn’t that indicate there’s some value in continuing to strive for redemption, no matter how futile it seems, no matter if he gets it or not?

The big question is what could have prompted Lono to do this in the first place.  Father Manny offers just a few preliminary hints, recounting his first encounter with the giant.  “He confessed and I absolved him and he started to laugh.  Then what he said…it offended me…”

“And then, what?”

“I didn’t let him die.”

True to Azzarello, the character development, subtle as it may be, is still far more overt than the workings of the plot.  It’s unclear at this point what the action of the story is about.  You have the Twin Towers continuing to hold sway over the city of Durango, and maybe some ongoing drug deals as part of that business, but where the actual conflict of the story lies remains a mystery.  Who and what will Manny, June, and Lono struggle against?  What are the stakes?

You have to appreciate that Risso is unafraid of drawing people as they are, with all their imperfections, both distinctive and common.  Overbites and underbites abound, as do pug noses and sullen lips, beer bellies, scrawny frames, uneven scruff.  It definitely sinks you into the harsh reality of this world, despite Risso’s crude style.  There’s a flat, muted hue to his colors that makes them appear sickly, as if the ills of this world have infected the very light and atmosphere.

Conclusion: Azzarello tackles one of the most volatile combinations in humanity—religion and sin—and manages to render a compelling portrait, which grasps at some kind of truth about faith in the real world.  His plot could use greater definition, however.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I do appreciate that June is no innocent to the miseries of life.  Having spent some time serving the people of Africa, she’s probably been to the one place more hopeless and grim than Durango.

– San Sebastian, the church and orphanage our cast resides in, is named after the martyr Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier who was also Christian, unbeknownst to Emperor Diocletian, who promoted him to captaincy.  Before he was discovered and things went south (Sebastian was riddled with arrows, managed to survive, then beaten to death shortly thereafter), he converted a significant number of diehard Romans during a period when such faith was deeply reviled.