Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 2, originally released July 17th, 2013.
Drew: What is it that defines us? Is it our thoughts or our actions? Can moral men have immoral thoughts? This is the stuff of middle-school philosophy debates, but it becomes a bit more practical when we talk about self-improvement. What does it mean to change? Is it our thoughts or our actions that change? Is the past we’re coming from a set of actions, or something more fundamental to our being? When I interviewed Brian Azzarello last month, he said that Brother Lono is “the story of a man trying to not be himself,” and issue 2 begins exploring exactly what that might mean.
The issue confirms that Lono is working for the Catholic mission in Durango, and that he has ever since he collapsed in the chapel over three years ago (from wounds he sustained at the end of 100 Bullets). He’s taken some kind of vow of celibacy, but that doesn’t stop him from quietly ogling the women at a bar in town. Lono is able to talk himself down from acting on any of his sexual or violent urges, but promptly heads over to the local police station to lock him and his demons away from the world. Meanwhile, Las Torres Gemelas’ right-hand man, Cortez, sets to killing Butler for suggesting that he might do business with other suppliers.
The gruesome death of Butler at the hands of Las Torres Gemelas taps into the jet-black tone of the first issue, but I’m struck by the optimism introduced here. It seems Lono has successfully made an honest living for himself over the past four years. Of course, he only does so by actively keeping his actions in check. His inner monologue is pure self-flagellation — he bullies, mocks, and sneers at his own hopes of controlling himself. In a striking window into his own subjectivity, we see that Lono can’t help but picture these women naked — even if he doesn’t want to.
Knowing that Lono can’t turn it off colors the opening scene, where he comments that June doesn’t “look like a nun.” This is a man plagued by temptation, but doing everything he can to ignore his basest desires.
If it depresses you that such willful hopelessness is what counts as optimism here, I think that’s the point. Moreover, it’s clear that Lono will be pulled into the mix against Las Torres, suggesting that when he falls, he’ll fall hard. Intriguingly, Azzarello ties both Lono’s self-control and guilt to Catholicism, adding a layer of complexity to the “just when I thought I was out…” set-up.
Indeed, the series as a whole is shaping up to be a rather profound — but characteristically bleak — meditation on faith. Between the booze, flesh, and violence Las Torres obviously represent sin, but I think more specifically, succumbing to temptation. The piety represented by the orphanage isn’t without temptation, and Lono is struggling to keep to the straight and narrow, checking himself into the drunk tank to avoid doing anything he might regret. Curiously, even the most pious, Father Manny and Sister June, are not without crises of faith, listening to how each other came to the church as some kind of validation. In this world, the closest you can get to God is loneliness and uncertainty.
The truly depressing part, though, is the sense that this has all happened before, and will all happen again. This isn’t the first time Lono has relied on the jailhouse to keep him from temptation, and his entire exchange with the sherif — from finding a bed to commenting on the most recent cartel slayings — is palpably routine. Lono is in a constant state of guilt — which is basically Catholicism in a nutshell.
I’ve never been a big fan of crisis of faith stories, but the crises here lie less in belief and more in morality. Is it enough for Lono physically restrain himself from sex and violence, or does he need to stop wanting them altogether? Is he moral for his actions, or immoral for his thoughts? These are heady questions, and while I can guess what Azzarello and Risso might have to say about them, I can’t wait to see how they say it.
Patrick, I’m curious if you found as much to enjoy in this issue as I did. It may be rich in tone and themes, but there’s still no plot to speak of. Also, Risso’s art has really grown on me. I know you were chiding him for his leering treatment of June last month, but given how important her appearance is for Lono, I’m wondering if you feel any differently. I actually think his grindhouse-via-Tex-Avery aesthetic is a perfect match for Azzarello’s black humor. Oh, and what do you make of this issue’s title, which roughly translates to “you kill your past”?
Patrick: Actually, the way the verb “to kill” is translated there, the title more accurately reads “your past will kill (you).” I think it has less to do with Lono actively suppressing his urges for violence et. al and more to do with what the consequences of not controlling those urges would be. Lono’s obviously going to some pretty great lengths to keep himself from being anything near the monster he was in 100 Bullets, but it means spending his days at an orphanage and his night in self-imposed jail.
And to address your second question (or rather, your first question-esque statement), I also have a newfound appreciation for Risso’s art that goes well beyond his ability to gross me out. Those panels you posted above with Lono’s X-Rated Vision (stellar turn of phrase by Azzarello, by the way) pretty much sums up the utility of the overly-sexualized style I was criticizing last month. We see Lono’s world that way because that’s the way Lono sees it. I love that he knows it’s wrong, and he’s trying to stop. I don’t know if that’s struggling to justify something or whatever, but it makes all the difference in the world to me, turning this liability into one of the series more oblique assets.
One of the greatest things about being able to relax on the subject of Risso’s art is that I’ve been able to notice just how smartly he doles out additional information. Risso will left the camera drift away from whatever conversation the characters are having to imbue the scene with a little extra information. It’s never anything crucial, but he does such and excellent job of painting a more complete world. Like during Cortez and Butler’s conversation about Midwest opportunities, there’s a cutaway to the security posted at the outer wall of the compound.
This doesn’t imply that Butler is noticing the security at this time, and neither does it foreshadow any action from these guys (not for this issue anyway), but it does help to flesh out the scene. And when the scene in question is crime-lord’s drug palace, yeah, I might need some of those details, please.
Risso kind of does the same thing later in the bar. When Lono’s trying his damnedest not to get into a fight, the camera drifts over to the billiards table, where we see that the same dude that was behind all that gruesome torturing in the previous issue is having a night out with his friends.
It’s a cool effect, and I hadn’t even noticed that that was the same dude until I saw him again on the next page and flipped back. Again, he doesn’t take any action or become an active player in this story in any way, but knowing that he’s there turns the bar from a “rough” place to be to “the most dangerous place to be” pretty quickly.
I’ll close out with a question about the way Lono describes the three kinds of people in Durango. He lists them as 1) those that do what they can to survive; 2) those that think that’s what they’re doing; and 3) orphans. Which does Lono view himself as?
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