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

The Story: This’ll make the kids think twice before they ever eat vegetables again.

The Review: One of my creative writing professors used to tell his classes that every story is actually two stories: one about what happens—the plot—and the other about what it means—the message.  With most stories, it’s usually easier to catch on to the plot first, whereas the message reveals itself over time.  Some writers get so fixated with the ongoing action that they neglect an overarching purpose entirely, what I call a lack of direction.

The unusual thing about Brother Lono is we have a case where we already know what the series is leading up to—Lono’s redemption, if such a thing is possible—but we still don’t know exactly what plot will get us there.  Azzarello spent the first two issues establishing the bleak setting and the equally grim cast of characters, giving us a very general sense of the story’s tension.  We know life is essentially a drag in this part of Mexico, and the Twin Towers are behind it somewhere, but nothing more specific than that.

Given little other guidance, your first inclination is to assume that at some point, the story will set Lono on the road to confronting, maybe even toppling, the Twins.  Although the first issue declared the Twins’ dedication to Father Manny’s parish, it did so with a sense of fickleness, making it easy to believe the Twins will eventually lose their regard for the priest and his haven.  Azzarello seems to play right into your expectations once June and a few orphans find a grisly scrap of the Twins’ handiwork buried in the future site of their school garden.  It’s a devastating discovery on a lot of levels.  It proves that the church can’t keep out the world’s evils, and that the hope Manny wishes to foster there is but an illusion.  How can you hope to plant something new when old sins are still poisoning the soil?

Cesar rightly points out that a body dumped on holy grounds sets a new, uncomfortable precedent for the Twins, but we soon realize that this goes beyond even the Twins.  Cortez plays it cool to a furious Manny, but blame soon travels down the chain of power to Cráneo, a middleman, who then transfers the fury to one of his lowlies, Pico.  It’s all done out of sight and hearing, but it does show that Manny can assert some power against these arrogant lowlifes.

While Pico may rank just above a cadaver in the grand scheme of these criminal operations, he turns out to be the fulcrum upon which the story begins to tip towards specificity.  Once he reveals his identity as a former orphan, you see how the worlds of crime and religion feed on each other, producing a cycle of despair where the victims of violence grow up to perpetuate it.  Whether Pico buried the bodies on the orphanage on purpose or by mistake, he has broken the usual pattern of events in Durango, which could be the prelude to a change in the cycle.

Perhaps this change will extend to Lono as well.  Despite making some changes in his lifestyle, peace, let alone salvation, continues to allude him.  Cesar, who’s quickly proving more perceptive than you thought, observes that Lono has “found [God], but I don’t believe you trust Him, either.”  If that wasn’t enough of a struggle, a disembodied, unidentified voice stalks Lono throughout the issue, undermining his efforts to stay committed to his new path and egging him on when he begins to deviate.  As Lono is about to shut down Pico, Manny insists, “You’re better than that,” while the voice contradicts, “No you’re not!…”  This is an old conflict, dating as far back as Cain and Abel: can anyone really ever wash the blood of murder off their hands?  And if they can’t, why bother to try?

Risso demonstrates on this issue that his forte is violence, and he makes no effort to whitewash it or give it any grace whatsoever.  In most mainstream comics, artists will go out of their way to avoid showing death directly, or if they must, they’ll try to make the deed and aftermath look as dignified as possible.  People who die under Risso’s pen do so as people in the real world would: grotesquely, horrified, struggling feebly against the inevitable.  Risso’s not the most striking artist, but his work sure is memorable; it’s pretty hard to wipe the image of a yapping chihuahua’s head exploding from a direct headshot.*

Conclusion: The story finally gets its plot moving in a coherent fashion, but you’re still frustrated by the shortage of specifics.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Let’s be honest here: didn’t a little, evil part of yourself delight in seeing the little yapper’s brains blown out?  For anyone who ever had to confront one of those irritating fuzzballs at their least favorite aunt’s house, this is something like a dream come true—although personally, I’ve always had more satisfaction imagining myself sending one airborne.

– So—a gun in the back of June’s pants.  Investigating agent disguised as a nun, or nun who’s seen too much to not take precautions?  Either way, I’m cool with it.