Mr. Vertigo Reviews 32: The Leg; East of West, Volume 2: We Are All One; 100 Bullets: Brother Lono

The LegTHE LEG or The Remarkable Reappearance of Santa Anna’s Disembodied Limb
Written by Van Jensen, art by Jose Pimienta
Kickstarter project; book available through Top Shelf

The Kickstarter campaign for this project had a great tag line: “The Leg: The Graphic Novel With a Kick.” Back in 1838 Mexican President Santa Anna lost his left leg in battle, giving it a full military funeral. When Santa Anna was thrown out of office the leg was exhumed, dragged through the streets, and lost. This story is set in 1938, when the Leg has reappeared (clad in a tall leather boot by its cobbler owner). It’s sentient now–no explanation of that surreal state of affairs–and soon embarks on an adventure. The Leg initially sets out to avenge its owner, but then finds itself involved in preventing an assassination attempt on the current President.

What does a sentient leg do, exactly? The story is not so magical that we get a talking leg, and visually it would have been more accurate to entitle it the Boot (but not as catchy!). An omniscient narrator does a lot of the talking, and at first the Leg mainly expresses itself through kicking, although it has some tassels that look like arms, and a pull strap that looks like a head. After it joins up with a young girl running away to the big city, she draws a face on the strap, which gives Pimienta an excuse to give the Leg changing facial expressions. It’s a bit of an artistic cheat, but it allows the Leg to become more of a full character.

Jensen blends Spaghetti Westerns, Mexican history, and folk tales. Pimienta (who responded to the Mexican folklore in the script) provides visuals that are both Mexican and folkloric. The story includes animal spirits, witches, and modern Mexican city life. All of this is rendered in an appealing sketchy style, with lots of expressive color highlighting. Visually it will be right at home at Top Shelf , who will be distributing the printed book.

Jenson’s first published comics work was Pinnochio, Vampire Slayer (originally for Slave Labor Graphics); most recently he has been writing Green Lantern and the Flash for DC. This is actually his first comics script, as well as his first self-published work. Pimienta is a native Mexican, co-creator of A Friendly Game, and an artist on several successful Kickstarter-funded comics anthologies. If this sounds like your kind of craziness you should definitely have a look. There are lots of sample pages on the Web (including the Kickstarter page). Comics Alliance had an especially good joint interview of both creators.

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East of West 2East of West, Volume 2: We Are All One
Jonathan Hickman, writer; Nick Dragotta, artist
Image Comics

At the end of the first collection, Death had just discovered that his son was alive, and vowed to find him. Just before that, Bel Solomon had proposed a plot against the Chosen, and it is that thread that is taken up first. Bel’s treachery is exposed and he barely escapes with his life, then we get the first of many flashbacks. Earlier in his life Bel was involved in a trial that saw the birth of the Rangers, a ruthless force of lawmen that exterminated corrupt judges and politicians (which apparently was most of them). Back in the present Bel enlists the help of the Ranger he tried to help–that’s him on the cover–to eliminate the Chosen and stop the end of the world that they are working towards.

Meanwhile, Death and his entourage have gone to see an oracle to discover the location of his son. He loses an eye in the bargain, but what he gets is directions to someone who can tell him where his son is. That place is dead country, the Grave, and after an epic battle Death is about to get the location…when the Ranger completes his first assassination.

There are other significant plot developments as well. The remaining Horsemen of the Apocalypse have started to consider if Death’s son really is the Beast of the Apocalypse he is being raised as: they will kill him if they decide he is not. But the child appears to be more powerful and more aware than anyone is giving him credit for.

In the world of politics, the President of the Union has instituted martial law to put an end to widespread civil unrest. She seeks an alliance with the Kingdom (who possess great wealth from oil) in secret to shore up the Union’s failing economy. It may not be the End Times, but the world certainly seems to be falling apart. It’s pretty hard to tell the followers of The Message apart from the nonbelievers.

This continues to be very nonlinear storytelling: it constantly jumps between past and present, and between locations.  But the action is propulsive, and Hickman and Dragotta manage to keep all of the narrative balls in the air.

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Brother Lono100 Bullets: Brother Lono
Brian Azzarello, Writer; Eduardo Risso, Artist
Vertigo Comics

The epic series conclusion in 100 Bullets #100 left few possibilities for sequels or spin-offs, as most of the major characters were dead. When we last saw Lono he was shot in the chest and fell through a second-story window into a moat below. Looked pretty fatal, but we all know that Lono is an extremely tough guy, and it turns out that he made his way to the confessional in a church outside Durango, Mexico.

That important piece of back story doesn’t get told until the second issue. As the eight-issue miniseries opens it’s four years later, and members of a Mexican drug cartel are torturing a man to get information about his American buyers. One of the torturers is local drug lord Cortez. Shortly afterwards he meets Father Perez in church and gives him an offering from the drug syndicate Las Torres Gemelas, so we are introduced to the local dynamic. Lono is in a jail cell–apparently voluntarily–and is sent to the bus station to meet Sister June and escort her to the church and orphanage. He introduces himself as Brother Lono, and the main cast is in place.

Everyone who meets Lono can tell there’s darkness in his depths. As readers we already know this, so his big character arc is predictable: what will it take to break through his self-imposed equanimity and release the most murderous member of the Minutemen? Of course there is a lot more going on. The main plot driver is the drug cartel’s drive to expand its territory. This makes the church’s undeveloped land a prime target. At the same time the DEA is looking for a way to get inside the operation. Lono is not the only player with a secret.

100 Bullets is frequently described as “crime noir,” and this installment certainly brings the noir. Bad things happen to bad people…but they also happen to a lot of good people as well. Azzarello and Risso make good use of the rural Mexican setting, which gives the story a different flavor. Azzarello was insistent that this should be called a spin-off rather than a sequel, which is a fair distinction. Lono is the only character from the original series, and no reference is made to the Trust or the conspiracy underlying the series, although revenge is certainly a common element. Brother Lono doesn’t require detailed knowledge of 100 Bullets, but it’s hardly free-standing, since the whole story assumes familiarity with Lono as a character with a history. If you enjoyed 100 Bullets I highly recommend it, even if Lono wasn’t one of your favorite characters. He wasn’t one of mine, but this series completely won me over.

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