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Peeing in Your Shower: The American Crime Epic

Written by Keb Ellis on Monday, August 11 2008 and posted in Features
You may not believe me when I say that 100 Bullets argues against the fact that you can’t mix crime with epic. After all, epics are usually about honour and valour, the highest point in human existence. Epics are usually where men and gods meet and grand battles take place. Crime stories involve [...]

100 Bullets vol. 12: Dirty the seedy underbelly of society and the rejects that dwell in this blood-stained and dishonourable underworld. There is no way these two elements can co-exist.

In previous weeks I’ve looked at the epics Paradise Lost and The Odyssey, in relation to the comics we read today. I’d like to continue this idea in light of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets.

Like I stated earlier: “Crime epic” is an oxymoron. Azz and Risso counter it though. And here’s why:

In terms of the grand scale epic, some epics provide grounding for a believable origin. The Aeneid tells the story of how Rome was founded. 100 Bullets does this too, except replace “Rome” with “the United States of America”. In issue fifty, Victor Ray explains the founding of the Trust, the creation of the Minutemen and ties them into the mystery of Roanoke. The series loves to tamper with elements of history, and Victor Ray simplifies the idea that the United States is not founded on dissent from British rule, but by crime and dishonesty.

It’s a big pill to swallow, but Azz flips the idea of honour and valour in a country’s great foundations. He injects it with that seediness that we find in the dark back alley full of junkies and thugs.

In the spotlight is Agent Graves, handing some poor wretched soul a briefcase and offering them something like revenge. This is evident in many of the story arcs. The second story arc of the series features a down-and-out ex-convict given the opportunity to get revenge on a one of the members of the Trust. While Azzarello panders to the sob story of Lee Dolan, the whole idea of Graves handing him his briefcase is meant to put a scare into the Trust. It’s a move made by Graves on a game board. Agent Graves and Augustus Medici are rival kings battling for control of the empire, this game board. Medici, motivated by greed, wants it all for himself. Graves, motivated by the code the Minutemen follow, will stop at nothing to disallow Medici what he wants.

When you take the idea of war from thousands of years ago and compare it to war today, its core is the same but it has evolved. The Minutemen in 100 Bullets are just as deadly as the Myrmidons of Achilles, as are the weapons they wield. If you give a man a gun and one hundred bullets, he can take out one hundred men. The battles of 100 Bullets aren’t thousand-man grand battles, they involved only a few men, the deadliest of men, and they’re usually just as bloody as any other.

What I find interesting is that Azzarello bases the soldiers on old stereotypes, as killers, but he makes them criminals. In contemporary society, we view criminals as bad people, but in 100 Bullets they’re just typical soldiers. Nothing really separates Cole Burns from Achilles other than the fact that Burns has done time.

Is this series by Azzarello and Risso the answer to the contemporary epic? It is and here is why: There are no great epics in American literature. Sure there are epically grand tales, but none really do go on at great lengths to establish a founding myth for America as a great country. Coupled with the war for power between two great men, it isn’t hard to conceptualize. The series takes old epic ideas and adapts them to contemporary means, making it the epic of our time.


Posted originally: 2008-08-11 17:05:34

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