Among all the truly bad, violent tough guys from comic books, one of the worst was Lono from the Eisner-winning Vertigo series 100 Bullets.
But in June, creators Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso will examine whether some as "despicable" as Lono can be redeemed, as they return to the world of 100 Bullets with the eight-issue sequel, Brother Lono.
Consider the Wikipedia entry describing Lono: "A dangerous, larger-than-life beast of a man... Lono is generally presented as the series' most irredeemable character."
Irredeemable? That sounds like a challenge for a writer like Azzarello.
When the story of 100 Bullets ended four years ago, Lono had been shot multiple times and even fell out of a window, but apparently survived. (Of course, that's not surprising, because Lono always seemed to live through even the worst injuries during the 100 Bullets series.)
As Brother Lono picks up the character's story, Lono is in Mexico, apparently "working on the side of the angels" and living at a monastery. But life gets violent very quickly, as Lono gets caught up in the trouble surrounding a local drug lord.
On Brother Lono, Azzarello and Risso will be reunited with the entire creative team from the original 100 Bullets run, including Azzarello, artist Eduardo Risso, colorist Trish Mulvihill, letterer Clem Robbins and cover artist Dave Johnson.
The decision to return to the universe of 100 Bullets came when Azzarello and Risso were in Spain for a comic convention that was celebrating the series. According to the writer, Risso turned to him in a cab and said he wanted to do more 100 Bullets. They sketched out the whole story while there in Spain.
Azzarello and Risso just finished up another acclaimed series for Vertigo, Spaceman. The writer is also currently writing Wonder Woman for DC.
Newsarama talked to Azzarello to find out more about the story of Lono's redemption.
Newsarama: Brian, the last time we talked about Brother Lono, you weren't revealing much about the story. What can you tell us now about what happens to Lono?
Brian Azzarello: He's in Mexico, and Mexico is a very violent place, and Lono's a very violent man.
Nrama: And he always was.
Azzarello: Yeah. But he's not the worst person in this story, by far.
Nrama: But there are also good people in the story, right? Because he's in a monastery.
Azzarello: Oh yeah. There are good people surrounding him [in the monastery]. But there's bad people surrounding everybody else.
What we're exploring is, can a bad man be good?
Nrama: So you're making him a multi-faceted character.
Azzarello: Yes. Well, you know, when I create characters, I don't create heroes or villains. I create people. And we're not black and white. We're gray. At least I am. So that's the kind of character I create. There are a lot of different shades of gray.
I mean, I tried to make Lono... in 100 Bullets, Lono was arguably the most despicable and the most violent.
At the same time, amongst readers, he was the most popular.
Nrama: Why do you think that was?
Azzarello: I don't know! That's something, as a reader, you have reconcile that within yourself, man. I have no idea.
Nrama: Yeah, but you have to reconcile it too, because Lono is the one character you wanted to return to.
Azzarello: Yeah. But that's because Eduardo wanted to return to that character.
Nrama: Oh, sure. Blame it on Eduardo.
Azzarello: Sure, he's not here to defend himself. Why not?
I think in 100 Bullets, that story was about the history of violence in America, pretty much. And the toll that it takes on an individual, or on a society.
And I think with Brother Lono, I think what we're approaching is, what does it mean to be true to yourself? And can you change? Or should you change?
Nrama: It sounds much more personal.
Azzarello: Yeah. But it's still gory. It's so gory. Oh man, there's stuff in there... It's really gory.
Nrama: OK, so who else is in the book? Can you give us an outline sketch of some of the characters in Brother Lono?
Azzarello: Well, let's see, we have a sheriff and a priest and a nun, and a drug lord and some henchmen. Very violent, violent henchmen.
I'm having a good time writing these characters and getting into their heads.
The nun in particular, she's been interesting. She's an American nun who's working in an orphanage where Lono is. It's a church orphanage.
And there's a Mexican sheriff, who, you know... right now, I think in some parts of Mexico, that's got to be the most difficult job in the world. Right now. How do you do that?
Nrama: Now that you've written most of the story, what's it been like working together with the whole team again in the world of 100 Bullets?
Azzarello: Oh, it's been great getting together. It's so comfortable.
And you know, even after 100 Bullets, we still worked together. We did the Batman, then we did Spaceman, and when we're done with this, we'll do something else at some point.
But it's been fantastic. I was doing corrections today on #3, and just to see what's being done — the choices we've made, stylistically, with this series is exciting for me.
We're taking some chances.
Nrama: So can we expect the same type of story as what we saw in 100 Bullets, or is this completely different?
Azzarello: You know, it's different. We're telling a different kind of story here. Both my approach to it and Eduardo's approach are different.
It seems like, every time we work together, we take a different sort of road into the story. And we're definitely doing that here.
Nrama: Can you describe that road at all? Can you give an example of what you mean?
Azzarello: This road is pretty bumpy, and it's not paved.
The best example I can give is, 100 Bullets has been compared to jazz. People talk about it and say, "Oh, it's like jazz." You know? There's a certain rhythm to it, both visually and linguistically, and just the way we approached that thing.
And I think that's a huge compliment, and it's true, I think. When it was first said to me, I thought about it, and I said, "Oh, I guess we are kind of doing it that way."
This is mariachi death metal.
We really are taking a different approach to storytelling in this, and it's exciting for us to be doing it this way.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Eduardo's artwork on this?
Azzarello: It's more direct than what he's done in the past. I think with 100 Bullets, one of the things that was really evocative about it was that a lot of the violence happened off panel. You saw the results. That was more in tone with the series itself.
But with Brother Lono, the violence is right on panel. It's very visceral work from him. There's a real sort of, you know... it's meaty. And I don't mean that in a pleasant way.
Nrama: There are other characters from 100 Bullets who lived. Are there other ideas dancing around in your head, and now that you're back doing Brother Lono, has it renewed your interest in returning to that stuff?
Azzarello: Oh, I don't know. I just need four more years. It's been four years since the last one. Maybe in four years from this one, we'll see. There are plenty of characters we could tell stories about, but right now we're telling a story about this one.