After one-hundred issues, I thought Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s signature comics creation wrapped up quite well. Yet there were a couple things nagging at me afterwards. The biggest was wondering just how things would change now that the families of the Trust were no longer pulling America’s strings. As for the other, I wanted to know just what happened to the series biggest and baddest character: Lono. Though not a likeable guy by any stretch of the imagination, it was (almost) never hard to enjoy his presence in that whenever he showed up, it was usually to ruin the day of someone who (usually) had it coming. So when it was announced that we were getting an eight-issue miniseries about what happened to Lono after the series ended, I thought all of my wants would be addressed. While one of them was, I was ultimately a little let down by this miniseries. Whether or not you’ll feel the same will depend on what you believe the essence of “100 Bullets” to be.
Now the reason I, and probably everyone else who made it to the end of the original series, wanted to know what happened to Lono after the final issue is because he got one of those endings where you never saw the body. The man was shot, fell out of a window, and that was that. Where the fates of all of the other characters were dealt with in a definitive manner at the end, Lono’s had a big giant question mark next to it.
With “Brother Lono,” we now know that he escaped to Mexico, wound up at a church with an orphanage while at death’s door and became a Brother there after returning to health. Since that time, he spends his days taking care of the kids there, doing odd jobs for Father Manny, and sleeping odd nights in the local jail when he feels that his old nature is about to get the better of him. It’s that “old nature,” however, that’s going to be needed when his safe haven finds itself in the crossfire between a couple of drug cartels and the DEA.
So you’ve got these various factions gunning for each other with a genuine monster sitting on the sidelines trying not to give in to his desire to just go out and murder everyone involved. That’s probably the title’s biggest weakness as the course of Lono’s character arc will be pretty damn obvious even to anyone who hasn’t read “100 Bullets.” The concept of the reformed killer falling back into his old ways is a fairly well-worn one, and it plays out about as you’d expect here. To Azzarello’s credit, he does a good job of selling the idea that Lono is committed to his new life through little things like the way he interacts with Sister June after meeting her and walking her to the church. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that we all know that the character will return to being the psychopath we love to hate by the story’s end.
As for the story itself, it’s nothing that special either. You’ve got a tale of drugs, violence and death south of the border as the cartel known as Las Torres Gemelas seeks a better distribution deal for its product in the north and works to consolidate its power locally. This leads to bodies piling up where they shouldn’t be -- as the church is “off limits” -- and the DEA making its presence subtly known at first. Tensions escalate as Father Manny gives sanctuary to one of Gemelas’ footsoldiers, an orphan who left the church a while ago, and the blood and bullets start flying from there. Some of the characters, like Father Manny and Sister June, are interesting in the way they either compromise to deal with the situation at hand or find lateral ways to work themselves out of it and into a new one. Most others are cut from the cloth of “violent thug” and are about as compelling. There are a couple of decent twists in the narrative, such as the revelation as to who Las Torres Gemelas really are, yet like Lono’s character arc there’s nothing here that you haven’t already seen before.
What sets it apart from other tales of its type is the style, and this may be the real selling point depending on what you felt “100 Bullets” was defined by. If you felt that the series was embodied by its own style in things like Azzarello’s wordplay and Risso’s art, then “Brother Lono” will feel like a proper homecoming. The writer has always had a thing for a clever turn of phrase, and after his digression into wretchedly excessive futuristic vernacular in “Spaceman,” reading his dialogue here brings a sense of genuine relief. Azzarello hasn’t lost his touch with clever dialogue after all.
Risso, working with colorist Patricia Mulvhill, hasn’t lost a step either with his art. The diverse cast of lowlifes, men and women of the cloth, police and Lono look like they just stepped out of the series proper, while his skill at panel arrangement means that each page looks stylish without being hard to follow. You’ve also got the title’s old trick of having dialogue between characters play out over a scene showing something completely different, or other actions going on in the background. Then you’ve also got the scenes at the end where Lono does revert to type, and they are downright glorious in their over-the-top violence and the return of the character and visual we knew from the series. So if “100 Bullets” for you was an exercise in a particular style and tone, then you’ll find plenty to like here.
We also get a memorably hellish dream sequence a third of the way through when Lono is menaced by visions of zombified versions of certain members of the “100 Bullets” cast (some of whom he actually killed) as well has his own self from the title’s final issues. This particular scene is the only tangible link to the series aside from Lono himself. That said, if you were to take it out and replace Lono with an original character, then the overall story really wouldn’t be any different. My point is that if you’re like me and felt that “100 Bullets” was defined by its characters and the overarching story about the Trust then you’re going to be disappointed here. As the Trust was built up as the secret power behind America, its dissolution really begged the question of what was going to happen to the country now that it was gone. I can imagine Azzarello not really being all that interested in it as its evident that he’s big into the style based on what I can read here, and he’s said in interviews that he loved writing the characters. However, as setting up the Trust as the driving force that gave rise to these things, failing to show the consequences of its removal breeds disappointment more than anything else.
Of course, as Azzarello and Risso have shown that they can still get the style of the series right and now that they’ve brought Lono back to being his old crazy killer self I’d be amenable to seeing where they go with this. Seeing as how he’s spent all this time running away from his past, it’s easy to see how he’d want to head right back into it for answers and to pick up any pieces that might be worth something to him. Even with the issues I had with the story, this is far from the worst one I’ve read where a creator or creative team makes a return to their signature work. I wouldn’t be averse to reading the further adventures of Lono, so long as the next one involves him picking up all of the casings left over from those “100 Bullets.”