Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 4, originally released September 18st, 2013.
Why do you fight? Is it for the thrill — or the victory? There is a distinction. You know this, don’t you? Have you ever stopped fighting long enough to ponder the question? Is it to win… or to live to fight another day? Is okay, it’s for the thrill. The rush. The joy found not in winning… but in beating.
-Cortez, 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 4
Patrick: Brother Lono poses a host of interesting questions: ranging from “dear God, what the hell is wrong with him?” to “no, seriously — why are these people so mean?” The answers are seldom easy, and they’re never pleasant. While this issue mostly moves the plot toward the cartel taking over the Mission and Sister June’s DEA cover being blown, there’s a strong thematic undercurrent of why these people behave this way. The answer is just as ugly as the actions, but then, I’d expect nothing less of 100 Bullets.
The morning after Paulo’s drunken assault on the Orphanage, Lono sets the bones he had broken the night before. Father Manny steps in and tries to offer Paulo the spiritual equivellent, but Paulo won’t hear it. Meanwhile, Maddon, Cortez’s American partner in the drug trade, pays Cortez a visit and demands that they step up production by any means necessary. When Cortez insists that there’s no easy way to increase production, Maddon shoots back with my favorite line in the book.
Like Hydro Pump against a Charmander, it’s super effective, so Cortez informs Father Manny that the Cartel is moving on to the Orphanage’s land. This appears to be the final straw for Sister June, because she calls back to her commanding officer, confirming for both the audience and an eavesdropping Paulo, that she’s a federal agent.
We also stop to check in on Craneo and Cesar, but mostly just to show that their lives are continuing much the way we would expect. Craneo gets close to picking fights for no reason and Cesar is testing how visible he can be around Cartel events. Nothing much happens in either of their appearances, but the theme of attempting to assert dominance is clear. Nowhere is this upsetting mindset more explicit than through a story that weaves its way through the background of several other scenes — that of the three little boys and the stray dog.
These three kids chase the dog through the streets, pelting him with rocks until they eventually kill him. They’re not motivated to do so for any reason beyond hurting the dog. Plain and simple, they’re the embodiment of everything that’s going on in this town. There might appear to be more nuanced goals at play — like expanding the reach of drug empires — but it’s all about making sure you’re not leaving money in the other guys’ pockets.
That actually casts Lono in a much more favorable light. I know I have a tough time with the character, and last month’s issue had me pulling back even further. But that’s not fair: Lono may be a monster, he may have horrifically violent tendencies that he’ll never be able to fully suppress, but he has decided to atone for his sins. It’s such a subtle point, but the difference between being compelled to right his wrongs isn’t nearly as interesting as Lono making the choice to be a better man. Through a thoroughly gruesome fantasy sequence, Azzarello and Risso show us what’s inside Lono.
Yikes, right? That’s Lono behaving like everyone else in this world. But most interestingly, that’s part of the monster he’s rejecting. We don’t get to spend a lot of time with Lono in this issue, but it’s notable that the most significant thing he does in this issue is not act. Father Manny identifies the quality as “old testament justice […] tempered with forgiveness” but we’re sorta left in the dark as to how Lono feels about it. Is Lono dispensing forgiveness or seeking it?
Drew, this is two issues in a row of murdered dogs! I once wrote a sketch for a class about two people at a dog’s poorly attended funeral. My execution didn’t match my vision, so it bombed in the room, and I got the generic note: stay away from dead dogs — people don’t like to think about dead dogs. I still believe in the idea of the sketch — but that’s neither here nor there — the point is totally valid. Do you think Azzarello and Risso are killing dogs specifically to trigger that base reaction from their readers? You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first issue that’s absent any violence against human beings — what’s that about? Also, what the hell has Cortez got floating in green goo?Drew: I’m not sure we have enough info to conjecture on the fetus/baby Cortez has in that tank, but my best guess is one of Las Torres Gemelas. I’m not sure that makes any sense, so I won’t delve any further into it now, but there you go.
As for the violence against dogs, I will suggest that watching kids kill a defenseless dog is WAY sadder than the prospect of a dog funeral. We tend to view all deaths as inherently tragic, but a dog being euthanized in old age, or even getting hit by a car at least falls within our schema of normal dog deaths. Someone killing a dog — a creature more or less bred to seek our love and affection — is a breach of decorum, something we rather specifically associate with psychopathy. It’s especially abhorrent when done by kids, who we not only expect to be less violent, but also to empathize more strongly with animals. That whole runner emphasizes the loss of innocence in Durango, and offers a sharp contrast to the soccer-playing kids we see at Manny’s orphanage.
Of course, the violence of the street urchins may only presage violence against themselves. Maddon releases his pet iguana (which he hilariously refers to as a dog at the start of the issue), and while we can anticipate how the kids will react, it’s less clear what he intends to do with his knife.
The scene cuts away before anything happens, but I’m a little worried for those kids. This issue’s title, “El Monstruo del Norte,” or, “The Monster of the North,” may refer to Maddon, even if we haven’t seen him do anything particularly monstrous yet. (Obviously, the title could just as easily refer to Lono, or even Sister June, but I’m less concerned about their willingness to murder a bunch of kids.)
Speaking of monstrous acts, I was thrown for a bit of a loop to see Pico still alive in this issue — Patrick and I both thought Lono snapped his neck after breaking his arm in the cornfield. Looking back, it’s clear that the “snap” sound effect we thought was Pico’s spine was actually Sister June moving through the field, but I think Azzarello and Risso meant for some level of confusion. Lono’s violent tendencies have manifested as increasingly vivid hallucinations, and I think the maybe, maybe not quality of that moment bridges the gap between the nightmarish zombies we saw in the previous issue, and the finger-biting daydream we see here.
Actually, the finger-biting seems to establish a parallel to Maddon’s arrival, where he snaps a banana off of a hand and starts chomping. What Lono only imagines doing, Maddon does, but metaphorically. It’s an oblique way to compare these characters, but one that highlights their stations in society. Maddon has the power to act symbolically to get what he wants, while Lono’s relative impotence forces him to inaction. That assessment ignores Lono’s desire to avoid sin, but I think it speaks to the way he actually feels about his passivity. More importantly, his morality may not matter when protecting a church full of orphans from a violent drug cartel, at least, it won’t matter nearly as much as asserting his dominance will. He acts meek because he wants to be meek, but what happens when he needs to be strong?
We’ve already seen a hint of what Lono is still capable of — even without killing Pico, he did break his arm rather brutally. The old Lono might have left it at that, or worse, but the new Lono attempts to atone by then fixing Pico’s arm. That ability to atone for past sins is one of the primary features of the Catholic church, but while God’s forgiveness may know no bounds, you can only do so much damage to a human before they can no longer grant you forgiveness. Of course, Lono has plenty of deaths to atone for already. Will that make killing more or less easy for him, if and when the time comes? I’m not sure, but Azzarello has me glued to my seat in anticipation.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?