Writer: Ghezal Omar
Artist: Mingchen Shen
Artillery Network, 2019
The comic draws upon the adult, sexualised themes and tight, compelling characterisation of 100 Bullets, even down to the title, which sounds like one of writer Brian Azzarello’s word plays.
The story begins with Rhett, a minor player. Rhett is a broker for bounty hunters like Sexx Pistol. Sexx is an improbable and ridiculous name which we safely assume is a pseudonym. Again, we are reminded of 100 Bullets – Sexx Pistol might be at home amongst characters with names such as Agent Graves, Will Slaughter, and Cole Burns.
Sexx lives in Las Vegas and is twitchy enough to keep a pistol nearby even when gardening. Her former partner Dylan died from a gunshot wound in a previous caper, and on the face of it Dylan’s death seems to have taken the wind out of Sexx’s sails. Sexx is tired and happy to tend her flowers.
Sexx deserves considerable thought as a character. She is attractive but is a vicious fighter, happy to gouge an eye in a brawl. One scene demonstrates that she has trouble distinguishing between pain and pleasure, or that she associates one with the other: after being cauterised for a gunshot injury, she has sex with the stranger who wielded the hot knife. She may be the protagonist in the story, but it becomes clear that she is untrustworthy, engages in brutal violence, and out to get what she can. “Fuck, you are scary when you’re mad,” says Cyndi, one of the lead characters (and more on her below), to Sexx during a car ride. Sexx is a complex character, but not a particularly sympathetic hero to the tale.
There is something extremely curious in play in this title, from a feminist perspective. There is an abundance of nude or scantily-clad women who parade about for the entertainment of men. Sexx stands apart from them. She commands a degree of respect of, and considerable loyalty from, her old colleague Kash. She is at least an equal in terms of ingenuity, relentlessness, and ruthlessness to any male character in the story. “Who need a gun when you got a maxi pad and hydrochloride?” she mutters to herself after she incapacitates a thug. There is a raw power to her, related to her femininity. Dylan is the same – a force of nature brought down. On the other hand, Cyndi’s greatest desire is to have breast implants to improve her ability to please men. Perhaps the conclusion to this apparent quandary of interpretation is that the personalities carry the text, over-riding any underlying message of female empowerment.
Rhett gives Sexx a lucrative job offer in which she teams up with Kash. Kash and Sexx track down their target, named Bastian, to a commercial laundry, where they charge in clad in bullet proof vests and tote automatic weapons. There is a sudden tension within this scene which is palpable in the dialogue: the conversation shifts from chatter about coffee to the tactics of interception. It is very well done.
Bastian turns out, by any definition, to be a creep. Bastian is the sort of personality who gets by on a combination of his handsome looks and propensity for sudden violence. In an early scene, without thinking and stressed, he slaps his girlfriend Cyndi and pushes her out of a speeding car – unfortunately for him, taking with her the bag of money Bastian has collected from the drycleaners. Bastian later beats to death a bondage and discipline prostitute in order to obtain one piece of the jigsaw. He is friendly with the Hells Angels and passes time at cockfights. There is nothing even vaguely likeable about Bastian.
Cyndi O’Hara is cute and relies upon being both harmless and cheerful in an effort to charm her way out of her predicament. Is it a charade? When Cyndi calls Bastian after being hit by him and dumped out of the car, she unleashes poisonous expletives. There is admirable characterisation in how Ghezal Omar, the writer of this title, paints Cyndi. Cyndi is a recognisable type of person, female or male: attractive, glib, and charming when required. Cyndi is the most likeable character in the title. Even Sexx begrudgingly likes her. Cyndi thinks Elvis is alive and Paul McCartney is dead, replaced by an imposter. She relays these theories with clear blue eyes. But Cyndi ends up being the person who helps puts the jigsaw together.
Bastian finds himself in some trouble with his keepers, Lance and Jones, who are eventually revealed to be dirty police officers – Jones in particular is bestowed by Ms Omar with some unique ruthlessness. In the meantime, Sexx and Kash have visited a drug dealer called The Butcher (or just plain “Mickey”) to obtain something akin to speed, to optimise their combat performance when they confront Bastian and his colleagues.
Kash is a collateral but very interesting character. Kash knows that as he lives by the sword, he will die by the sword: his career choice has doomed him. Kash sees Dylan’s death as terrible but inevitable, and counts down the moments until he follows Dylan into death. By the third act, Kash has taken a shot in the abdomen and performs a Thermopylean rearguard action. Kash is a thug, but has a degree of self-awareness and pessimism that sets him apart from the other male players in the story
Lurking in the background like a patient but hungry wolf is Lyndon Baines, the principal antagonist. Baines has the veneer of respectability we see of organised crime leaders in comics like Thief of Thieves and 100 Bullets, and the motion pictures Payback and True Romance. The indicia as ever is a sharp suit. Baines’ seemingly limitless minions clutch at the main characters by the third act.
A quick word on the art. Artist Mingchen Shen uses clean lines and shading reminiscent of charcoal sketches. It is a very aesthetically pleasing style. When a character is shot – and there are several gruesome headshots with pieces of bone and face splattering about – the blood is a burst of sinister black. And the action scenes are dynamic and engaging, often devoid of dialogue, entirely carried by the art.
.357 Magnum Opus is ready made for a motion picture. We repeatedly mention 100 Bullets in this review. This is perhaps the best crime comic we have read since 100 Bullets. The title is available on Comixology ttps://store-images.comixology.com/357-Magnum-Opus/digital-comic/911411 .