Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 3, originally released August 21st, 2013.
Patrick: For a couple of months in Chicago, I worked as a barista at Argo Tea. It’s basically a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, with its priorities reversed. As a barista, you don’t have a lot of room to make any substantive decisions during the day — in fact, most of the time you’re just trying to keep up with orders and not fuck up all the drinks. Occasionally, drinks do get fucked up and customers get mad. If you’re lucky, the customer just asks you to fix the drink and that’s that. But if they’re feeling particularly entitled or vengeful, they can contact corporate to complain. That’s when the avalanche starts, as the complaint trickles down from corporate to the store manager to the shift leader and back to you, the lowly barista. With each level of authority the complaint is filtered through, there’s more and more residual anger and blame built up until a simple mistake suddenly appears to be a blight, symptomatic of complete institutional incompetence. That’s an incredibly low-stakes example of what Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso explore in issue 3 of Brother Lono.
The fuck-up is as follows: after being tasked with cleaning up after a routine murder-shakedown-murder scenario, Pico buries the bodies in the garden of the orphanage. When Sister June and the orphans discover the body the next morning, everyone is shocked that the cartel would cross that line — the orphanage is sacred ground. So, Father Manny boldly visits Butler’s drug compound, demanding an answer to the ever-pressing question: “what the fuck?” That message filters through the more brutal layers of Las Torres Gemala’s management structure, and by the time it gets back to Pico, it’s blown out to epic proportions. Scared and despondent, Pico gets piss-ass drunk and wanders on to the orphanage grounds with a machete in-hand.
When Father Manny confronts him, Pico’s babbling incoherently, fully mangling the aphorism “the early bird catches the worm.” But Pico’s cogent enough to remind Manny that he should recognize him. Turns out, Pico was once called Paulo, and he lived at the orphanage until he was 15 years old. But Pico spits:
The encounter gets violent as Pico turns his machete on the good father. Luckily, Lono emerges from the bushes in time to disarm, disable, and murder the attacker.
This whole issue has a thread of accountability, responsibility and blame, and no one is a clearer example of being a victim of these cycles of deflected blame than Pico. There’s the very literal way in which management at Las Torres failed to provide him with enough guidance to make a smart choice about disposing of those bodies (and the shit storm that comes back to him as a result), but there’s more abstract blame bubbling just below the surface. Father Manny failed to provide any other options to this kid who would eventually fall in with the cartel.
There’s also a pervasive attitude in the town that allows all of this violence to go relatively unchecked. Outrageously, it’s only when a body is unearthed on the orphanage’s grounds that shit gets real. By deciding to enforce some level of decorum where the orphanage is concerned, the authorities (both the police and the cartel) are acknowledging that what’s happening is fundamentally wrong. Cesar even says that in ditching the bodies on sacred land, “the devil [stopped] following the rules.” But these are rules that lead to the environment where a 15 year old Paulo has no home outside of the orphanage but a life of crime. Every part of the system (even that system held in place by the cartel) failed this kid.
Which makes me incredibly nervous for Lono. Lono has a pretty good system in place right now that keeps him from following his base urges to kill and fuck everything that moves. The police, the orphanage, God — all of these are fallible systems that could buckle under the sheer weight of Lono’s true nature. I love that Azzarello has gifted Lono with such stunning powers of self-reflection that he’s able to articulate these concerns throughout. Lono corrects Cesar twice in rapid succession early in the issue. Lono clarifies that it’s not that he doesn’t trust himself, it’s that he knows himself. Then he goes on to say that he wasn’t driven to religion, but was luckily to find it.
The issue ends with Lono embracing his violent nature, and it starts off as a bit of a stand-up-and-cheer moment. The page breaks right as Pico lunges at Manny with the machete, and knowing this series, I feared the worst. Flip the page and the rescue plays out — the first panel looks damn heroic. But by the second panel, Lono’s savagery snaps to the fore.
And on the opposite page, Lono has given in to his demons and snapped Pico’s neck. It’s the first time we’ve seen Lono slip up, the first time his systems have failed him. Interesting to note: this is the panel Risso decided to sign.
Drew, it looks to me like Azzarello is sculpting the perfect sociological landscape against which to explore Lono’s psychology. Neither of those -ologies are super inviting places to spend our narrative time, but the depth of character being explored here is pretty remarkable. As the ugliness of the series gets more personal, and less generically horrible (as in issue 1), are you finding more to like about the series or just being turned off by its darkness? Also, what do you think of this chunk of narration?
Azzarello giving himself licence to be a cagey motherfucker? Drew: Oh, without a doubt — not that he ever needed it. There’s no doubt that Azzarello prefers to keep it close to the chest, but I’m more interested in what that narration means for Lono. As we saw in issue 2, that narration is essentially the devil on Lono’s shoulder, tempting him to all of the sin he has sworn off since the end of 100 Bullets. Before, it was taunting him with beautiful women, but now, it seems to be taking a more philosophical approach. That mysterious ways comment is dripping with sarcasm, telling Lono that God must truly work in mysterious ways to take such a murdering, raping sinner like Lono under his wing. As the sequence becomes more hallucinatory, Lono confronts his own living corpse (as well as that of Cesar), suggesting that his soul may already be lost.
Strangely, that sequence ends with Father Manny waking up with a start — was this all his nightmare? We’ve seen those voice over boxes before (and later in the issue) as the part of Lono that tempts and berates him, so I’m disinclined to believe that those could be part of Manny’s dream. Is it possible that the text is Lono’s inner monologue, but the images are Manny’s nightmare? I’m inclined to accept that as the most likely reading, but since all of the images there are in Manny’s head, we’re left with a totally unmoored diatribe from Lono’s inner demon. Without tying that monologue to a specific point in time, it hangs over the whole issue, becoming an existential question gnawing away in the back of Lono’s mind. Perhaps it chimes in as Lono considers the discovered bodies, or perhaps as he Kills Pico with his bare hands.
It’s that moment that’s the true tipping point — there’s no going back, both for the story, and for Lono’s soul. He finally gave into the voice in his head, accepting that he might not be better than killing, after all.
Was it necessary? Maybe, but things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get any better. Not messing with the church might have been one of the gang’s unwritten rules, but I’m guessing a dead one of their own throws that rulebook out the window.
Who knows, though? Like Patrick’s personal anecdote, the system here seemed designed to dump on poor Pico — who will really be there for him now? It’s easy to assume the cartel has some loyalty to him, but as we’ve already seen, they also have a great deal of loyalty to the orphanage. If the news that he had dumped several bodies on the church grounds got him threatened with a pool cue, I can’t imagine his bosses would have been too pleased with the thought of him raising a machete against a defenseless priest.
Of course, the real stinger of the issue is the last panel, where it’s revealed that Sister June is packing heat.
So she’s definitely the DEA agent Los Torres were looking for in issue 1. Pissed drug cartel or no, that’s going to add some pressure to the situation.
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