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

The Story: Holy land, shmoley land—let’s make some drugs!

The Review: Without naming names or calling any particular group to task, have you ever noticed how often the most overtly self-righteous people end up behaving as if they’re none of those things?  One minute, they’ll rant about everything going wrong with the world and the next, they become part of the problem.  Principles without hypocrisy are a rare thing, hard evidence of the difficulty of rising above human fallibility when one is in fact human.

For exactly those reasons, Father Manny’s religious convictions drive far more of the series’ tension than perhaps you gave him credit for.  He may have had to accept certain ugly realities to preserve his church, but there’s no doubt that of all the characters, he has the most sincere desire to do the right thing.  Even though Paulo left of his own accord, and his mistakes afterward are entirely his own, Manny still blames himself for how his adoptive son has turned out and, of all things, begs forgiveness from someone who spits on his shoe.

It’s absolutely crucial to have Manny serve as a spiritual model for the series since without him, Lono would have little encouragement to stick to his own path of redemption.  While never overtly addressed, Azzarello makes it clear just how much influence the little priest has over his hulking congregant.  If Lono’s past as a “smoter” is comparable to Old Testament justice, then certainly just it’s tempered by New Testament forgiveness, Manny’s presence restrains Lono’s violence.  Lono can’t help physically disciplining Paulo, but when Manny’s around, Lono’s smacks and holds are gentler, almost paternal, in a way.

Manny exerts less sway over the other characters, but he pushes their actions in no less significant ways.  Paulo may have his beef with the priest, but the fact that he stays on and keeps a look out for the church hints that he hasn’t entirely severed his ties to his former home, despite insisting that “Paulo’s dead!”  June regards Manny’s intentions with the most cynicism, so appalled by his unwillingness to call the authorities on Paulo that she lets slip her own judgmental nature (“He’s obviously in some sort of gang—maybe connected to the bodies that were found here!”) and begins to turn her suspicion on the church’s operations.  And then, of course, there’s Cortez, who twists Manny’s anger from the last issue to boost his profits.

Against all these conflicting ambitions, Manny’s remains the simplest yet most profound.  In regards to the corpses buried on the church grounds, he observes, “[T]hey were bad men—which led them to become dead men.  It’s too late for them.  But Paulo…?  …Paulo’s alive.”  It’s a black-and-white way of looking at the world, but it also embodies the stakes of this story.  It’s no coincidence that as he speaks, you see the church orphans playing rather wholesomely amongst themselves, in comparison to the children playing in the street, who quickly discovery their capacity for cruelty by stoning an already suffering dog.

I’m not sure I ever want to see Risso draw an upbeat comic book; it would seem unnatural and almost wrong, somehow, like the idea of Joaquin Phoenix in a romantic comedy.  He captures despair, anxiety, fear, and danger better than almost anyone else in the biz.  It’s very difficult to come away from a Risso-drawn issue and not feel a little unsettled or depressed.  Between his stark figures and the sickly lighting, which is always pale and watered down, the world of Durango is one that seems to have no hope for a brighter day.

Conclusion: Now we’ve really got a story on our hands, what with all the different forces gathered in one place and ready to combust at a single spark.  Light it up, I say!

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I suspect that after Cráneo mad-dogged Cesar down, the beleaguered cop probably went off to drink his shame away.