January 8, 2009

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100 Bullets Volume 3

Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Eduardo Risso
Vertigo

Since I was intrigued enough by Volume 2, I decided to keep going with 100 Bullets. While I don't think I'll ever come to like this series anywhere near as much as most other people I know, I do want to see what Agent Graves is really up to.

The problem is that I am apparently going to have to get through multiple volumes of Azarello's racist depictions of the inner city in order to do so, and I'm just not sure I can manage it. We're right back in the ghetto again, as a Philadelphia youth growing up without a dad is given a chance to get his revenge on the man who fathered him and left him high and dry.

Instead of listening to his trying-to-do-right mother, the son (given the idiotic name Loop) goes off to be a mob bag-man for a white gangster. Life is good until there's a chance to rip off the old guy. This of course goes bad, and gangster straight out of the Godfather or something gets to lecture the black kid about honor amongst thieves, something it seems we are to believe Loop and his father lack.

Am I reading too much into this? Apparently. Other review sites give this book a lot of praise, or at least 4 and 5 star ratings, and it's won a ton of awards. I did some Google searching and I can't find any articles talking about the racial issues I see with this series. The only thing I found was a message board post, where the poster in question was told, essentially, that not only was he wrong, but that the characterization of Loop was that of a positive character!

My problem is not that black people are being shown committing crimes, it's the fact that they're so stereotypical as to be laughable. I'll wince, but I can handle a stereotypical portrayal in context, like reading 1970s Power Man or 1930s pulps. (Just because I love the Marx Brothers doesn't mean I don't think the Headstrongs joke in Duck Soup is abhorrent, or, a bit more on subject, that when Robert Howard goes off on a typical-for-the-time racial villian trope I don't think "you were better than that.") I can even deal with it if you're trying to write in the *style* of an old stereotype.

But to publish a comic that shows an unapologetic poor portrayal of African Americans in this day and age--and worse, have people think it's good!--is amazing to me. The very fact that this is seen as "realistic" to a lot of the folks I read reviews from tells me that we're not as far removed from the days of Willie Horton commercials as I'd like to think we are.

The rest of the story is major spoiler city, so I won't go over it, beyond the fact that you really shoudn't mess with Agent Graves. I'm gonna give this series one last try, but I think the problems are just too high for me to want to continue any further than that.