Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 5, originally released October 16th, 2013.
Patrick: Here’s a truth about me: I was raised in the Catholic church. Baptism, Sunday School, First Communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation, service, retreats, classes — you name it. If I ever sound like I’m too-cool-for-school now, brother, you should have known me back then. Ironic detachment was my only form of self defense, and I applied it liberally. Here’s an example of how far I’d push it away: I used to say I was giving up Catholicism for Lent. You can smell my shit-eating grin as you read that last sentence can’t you? I kinda still do it — I frequently site that period in my life as useful because now I can recognize Christian imagery in literature. But irony can only take you so far, and there are some concepts so compelling and elusive that they haunt you, no matter how thick your armor. Brother Lono 5 strikes on that most troubling of truths: not only are we all sinners, we are all meant to be sinners.Here’s where I’d usually recap the plot of the issue, but Azzarello’s story resists summary. While being a meaty issue that delves deeply into what motivates Lono, there’s very little incident in these pages. Lono confronts Paulo about his intentions to burn down the orphanage and kill everyone, and then Los Torres come by the orphanage to recruit some of the young girls for a “party” they’re having. That’s really it. Littered between the beats of this story are obtuse scenes that illuminate the series’ characters in the least obvious ways possible. Not only does the story resist simple summary, but the conclusions drawn by the issue are equally tricky to funnel into a single sweeping statement.
But, hey, we’re here to dig — so let’s get digging. The issue opens with Lono in a half-asleep drunken stupor, and hallucinating Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus asks for help, so Lono obligingly take him down off the cross. Only — that’s not what Jesus meant when he asked for “help.” I love this depiction of Jesus, he cracks his back as if being up on the cross has merely been uncomfortable.
I think this exchange is the heart of the issue. In the next panel, Jesus will tell Lono “You’re not that important.” I read this scene a few times before it stopped looking like nonsense — after all, Jesus says “your [job] is to kill me” but then denies Lono the role of his murderer. But it stands to reason that if someone dies for you — specifically for your sins — that you, and your sins, are responsible for that death. That guilt is built right into Christianity. The idea that Jesus suffered and died for me, because I sin was always hard for me — it’s an incredibly heady, emotional concept. There’s no opt in or opt out: the deed is done — you were cursed with original sin and Jesus’ shitty weekend is the ultimate failsafe.
And that’s the sticking point. Lono can’t change who he is, and even if he could, that doesn’t change his relationship with Christ. Lono simply has to be, and to sin, and his bargain with Jesus is complete — there’s no such thing as murdering in His name or acting out His will. In a way that frees him to be the violent badass we expect him to be, but it also doesn’t demand it. Part of what’s so rewarding about Lono’s stand against the cartel at the end of the is that it’s not a move ordained by God. The choice he’s allowed to make is simply that — a choice.
I have kind of a hard time writing about this issue. For every scene I think I understand, there’s like eight for which I have to grasp at straws. We get a weird peek into Craneo’s homelife, and it’s a nauseating mix of swearing at children and jealousy-fucking his wife. But like, there’s the basest tenderness there — he refers to his daughter as “mi corazon” or “my heart.” He also confides that he’s having a hard time being second-guessed at work. I guess the message is that there’s something to relate to in every corner of this world, no matter how repulsive it might seem.
Except Cortez keeping that fetus-in-a-jar. That shit’s just fucked up.
Drew, my friend, what spoke to you from this issue? I noticed that Eduaro Risso uses up a lot of page real estate on details. His slavish devotion to scene painting makes him draw a mariachi dude right in the middle of a page for basically no reason. Again, sometimes I feel like I totally get it — like the goats and shepherd that take the spotlight during the scene wherein Lono’s counsels Paulo.
Lono’s offering guidance: the imagery checks out. But that aforementioned mariachi? Fuck if I know.
Drew: I think I can work my way up to the mariachi. For me, the thesis for this issue comes as Sister June scrambles to explain away her interest in proving Paulo’s guilt.
If I’m not mistaken, this lie (and the large one it is covering up for) preoccupies Lono for the rest of the issue, but it’s the notion of a “guilty pleasure” that carries the issue thematically. I honestly can’t think of a better distillation of Catholicism than a concept that links pleasure with guilt, and Azzarello and Risso punctuate its mention with an image of Jesus on the cross, just to drive it home.
I think the mariachi is a representation of that concept. As something pleasurable, music must also inspire guilt in the face of Jesus’ suffering. Moreover, tonal music is largely based upon early Catholic chants, and our musical system is inextricably linked to notions of imperfect dissonances resolving to perfect consonances. Point is, the mariachi represents both the church and the guilt it represents, but he’s not nearly as important as the images he’s stuck between.
This returns us to that lie Lono mentioned. Inside, Lono is struggling with having been lied to. Outside, June perpetuates the lie. Intriguingly, June’s sin allows her to actually be productive — here, helping feed the orphanage — while Lono’s struggle to stay on the straight-and-narrow keeps him pretty well useless.
That notion of piety separating us from productivity (and pleasure) is illuminated in the scenes we see away from the orphanage. There’s no hint of guilt in Craneo’s tone, and while he seems a bit stressed about Maddon’s presence, he’s clearly enjoying life. Risso fills Craneo’s home with Catholic imagery — there’s a rosette, a painting of Jesus, and his apartment is nearly adjacent to the church steeple (though, in a brilliant touch, it looks like you can’t see it from the window). The point is clear: Catholicism is ostensibly part of Craeno’s life, but it apparently doesn’t drive his action — at least, not as far as torture and murder go — and he seems happier for it. Patrick calls the scene nauseating, but I actually found that scene to be surprisingly tender. (And let’s be honest, who hasn’t casually sworn in front of a baby, just because you can?)
The way this all loops back to Lono is the real thrust of the issue. This series has posited Lono as a man tortured with trying to escape his violent past (and the threat of a violent present), but it’s also drawn him ever closer to needing to use his talents in the name of the church. Issue 3 found him breaking Paulo’s arm to protect Father Manny, and this issue finds Manny testing the waters as to just how far Lono is willing to go.
The way you were before, given the right circumstances…could you be that way again?
In that way, I might suggest that Lono’s stand actually is ordained by God, or at least his closest proxy in Durango. This issue doesn’t focus much on Manny’s fallibility, but I think protecting a group of schoolgirls from a predatory drug cartel is always going to be okay in the eyes of God. Is Manny wrong to nudge Lono towards violence? We won’t know until it’s required of him, but it’s clear that he’s going to need to push past (or at least learn to cope with) some of his guilt in order to act at all. As if all of that ambiguity wasn’t enough, Risso makes it just unclear enough who Paulo is pointing that gun at.
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