Review by Ben Kooyman
Bullet Gal, written and illustrated by Andrez Bergen, is a female-centred action/crime/fantasy series constructed using photographic collage. The titular Bullet Gal is Mitzy, a vigilante recruited by the mysterious Lee to join the Crime Crusaders Crew, a crime-fighting organisation based in the city of Heropa. The first six issues of the series chronicle Mitzy’s recruitment, her initial missions, her shifting relationship with Lee and his band of lookalikes, and the escalating hatred of her nemesis Brigit, a gangster’s moll who we discover has her own spectacularly violent origin story.
In my previous review of a Bergen comic book, Black/White, I noted a number of themes and motifs that resurface here, including the aesthetic influence of film noir and Frank Miller on Bergen’s work and the entertaining juxtaposition of noir tropes with Australian colloquialisms and inflections. Of additional interest here are Bergen’s sly digs at super-heroism – Mitzy is adamant ‘No capes… Capes suck’ – and a vaster narrative world and canvas for the author to sketch his story upon. Where Black/White’s short sharp tales necessitated minimal backstory and maximum decontextualized bang for buck, the canvas for this ongoing series is larger and more expansive. Indeed, this expansion of scope is evident visually as well as narratively: where the first issue unfolds using multiple panels per page, the second and subsequent issues routinely deploy whole pages for single images. Just as Mitzy’s world expands following her recruitment to the Crime Crusaders Crew, so too does the storytelling canvas.
Another dimension of Bullet Gal which warrants discussion is its intertextuality. As noted above, the story unfolds through photographic collage, and the selection of images throughout creates thematic resonances and associations which are, arguably, both deliberate and incidental. By way of example, to depict Lee and his crew of lookalikes Bergen frequently uses pictures of actor Max Von Sydow, and this selection of avatar is fitting on a number of levels. For instance, the series gradually creates a sense of paranoia, and this paranoia is intertextually bolstered by Sydow’s presence, given that the actor appeared in one of the signature American conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, Three Days of the Condor. Moreover, the art of the comic is in black & white and Sydow is best known for both his starring roles in the black & white art films of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and for his iconic supporting turn as the doomed Father Merrin in The Exorcist, publicity stills of which are frequently in black & white despite the film’s colour cinematography. Whether these intertextual echoes are deliberate or not is uncertain, but ultimately it does not matter: the fact these associations were generated, at least by this reader, speaks to the intertextual potential of Bergen’s storytelling choice.
Through the storytelling device of photographic collage and Bergen’s selection of images, the writer-illustrator weaves a world that is visually both disjunctive and uniform. The lack of continuity from panel to panel, image to image, means each frame of story must speak for itself as well as advancing the story forward, and whilst some images falter in doing this, others do so quite powerfully. Eras clash in the selected images: pictures of art deco cityscapes and of blimps hovering above retro metropolises mingle with pictures and fragments recognisably newer, along with references to Night of the Living Dead and Charlie Sheen which further mark the tale as somewhat contemporary. At the same time, recurrent images such as those of staircases and weapons create visual patterns and aesthetic glue which hold story and setting, gathered from mismatched component parts, together as a cohesive whole. The aforementioned intertextuality complicates notions of time and setting further, yet likewise creates a cohesion of sorts: images of Jon Hamm as Don Draper conjure Mad Men, a series produced in the 21st century but set in the 1960s, whilst images of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana conjure the 1980s-set and –produced Scarface, the 1930s original that inspired it, and the many modern-day offshoots of Tony Montana in rap music and culture. Such correspondences across eras encourage a logic of malleability and flexibility when it comes to approaching the time and setting of Bullet Gal.
Spoiler alert: By the end of issue 6, the series has taken a turn for the meta, questioning the basis of reality in the city of Heropa. This turn towards the meta is both an intriguing story development and, in light of Bullet Gal’s aesthetic construction from multiple pre-existing and mismatched parts, a wholly appropriate instance of content mirroring form. Count me intrigued to see where Bergen takes this narrative next…
Bullet Gal by Andrez Bergen, IF? Commix,/Under Belly Comics.
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