Fictional Minds in Comics
100 Bullets, Characterization, and Ethics
The comics series 100 Bullets opens on a rainy street with the words “Bang. You’re dead” (1:5). The premise is simple: an agent offers an attaché case of one hundred untraceable bullets and an unregistered gun to people who have been wronged in life. Equipped with the evidence the agent supplies, they have carte blanche to take their revenge. After the opening statement of “Bang. You’re dead,” the series spends the remaining one hundred issues of its run exploring the moral and ethical implications of firing or not firing that lethal bullet. The series can be read as a negotiation of ethics in the postmodern world. That world is marked by a contingency of moral values—100 Bullets represents this through a wide-ranging conspiracy setting in which individual moral choice is meaningless and through the absence of any reliable moral guidance in the ethical thicket of the fictional world. As the story of 100 Bullets unfolds and as readers accompany different characters’ attempts to deal with this contingency, they learn that in order to establish the identity of a fictional mind and its sense of self, (personal) commitment is necessary. Choices have to be made, even in the postmodern world, and these choices, and the motivations and commitments behind them, are what defines a character. This assessment of moral choices is developed on different levels in 100 Bullets. This chapter explores the ethical dimension in contemporary comics storytelling through 100 Bullets and examines how the series creates fictional minds, establishes symbolic value systems, and projects the moral progress of individual characters in the postmodern world.
In the story “Shot, Water, Back,” a man named Lee Dolan is handed one of the attaché cases. Agent Graves identifies a certain Megan Dietrich as the woman who smuggled child pornography onto Dolan’s comput-