Both the writing and artwork in 100 Bullets exemplifies the noir and pulp genres of popular modern fiction. Consistent with noir convention, most of the characters are deeply flawed. As is also common in pulp and noir genres, 100 Bullets frequently portrays stylized and graphic violence.
100 Bullets is notable for creator Brian Azzarello's realistic use of regional and local accents, as well as the frequent use of slang and oblique, metaphorical language in his characters' dialogue.
Initially presented as a series of self-contained episodic stories, 100 Bullets developed into a sprawling crime saga in which all the characters and events were connected.
The core concept of 100 Bullets is based on the question of people willing to act on the desire of violent revenge if given the means, opportunity, and a reasonable chance to succeed. Many of the first issues involve the mysterious Agent Graves approaching someone who has been a victim of a terrible wrong. Graves gives them the opportunity to take revenge by providing a handgun, 100 bullets, and documentation about the primary target responsible for their woes. He informs the candidate the bullets are completely untraceable by any law enforcement investigation, and as soon as they are found at any crime scene, investigations will immediately cease.
Although all the revenge murders enabled by Agent Graves are presented as justifiable, the candidates are neither rewarded nor punished for accepting the offer other than their own personal satisfaction. Several people decline, but others who accept find varied success or failure. The attaché and Graves' "games" are later revealed to be only a minor part of a much broader story.
Agent Graves is the leader of a group known as The Minutemen, a group of seven men (plus one "Agent") who serve as the enforcers and police of a clandestine organization known as The Trust. The Trust was originally formed by the heads of 13 powerful European families who controlled much of the Old World's combined wealth and industry. The Trust made an offer to the kings of Europe by which they would leave the continent and their considerable influence and holdings, in exchange for complete autonomy in the still unclaimed portion of the New World. When England ignored this proposition and colonized the Roanoke Island late in the 16th century, the Minutemen were formed. The original Minutemen, seven vicious killers, eradicated the colony and all of its inhabitants, leaving behind only the cryptic message "Croatoan" as a warning, reclaiming the land for the Trust. Since this time, the Minutemen's charge has been to protect the 13 Houses of the Trust, serving as their force against outside threats and more frequently as police of the internal conflicts between the Trust families themselves. The groups' interactions are often facilitated by a person holding the title "Warlord" for the Trust, who serves as the Houses' liaison to the Minutemen.
Sometime in the late 20th century, the Minutemen were betrayed by the Trust and disbanded after Agent Graves refused to reenact "The Greatest Crime in the History of Mankind" (a re-expansion of the borders of the Trust). The Minutemen retaliated with the assassination of a hooded figure in Atlantic City, and they were then sent into hiding. Most of the Minutemen of that time were "deactivated" by Graves. These former Minutemen had their memories repressed for their own protection and were returned to "normal" lives. These events occurred prior (presumably some years) to the beginning of 100 Bullets.
As the story plays out, many of those who are offered the chance for vengeance by Graves are revealed to have been people wronged by the Trust or its agents, and six are revealed to have been Minutemen at the time of the events of Atlantic City. With his planning, some luck, and the importance of his "game", Agent Graves seeks to reactivate several of his Minutemen and recruit potential new members during the course of the series. With the occasional aid of the Trust's current Warlord, the charismatic and secretive Mr. Shepherd, Graves sets into motion a complicated and deadly plot of revenge against the Trust, which divides into factions, with younger members plotting against the older ones.
The series culminates in the downfall of the Trust and its agents, eventually revealing that the attaché and its contents are a metaphor for the limitless power of the Trust.
There are thirteen trade paperbacks in publication for this series. The titles of the trade paperbacks all seem to be somehow related with their volume number (First Shot, Last Call; Split Second Chance; A Foregone Tomorrow; The Counterfifth Detective; Six Feet Under the Gun; Strychnine Lives; Decayed (a pun on 'decade'; this is the tenth volume)), with four being indirect references (book 7 titled Samurai, for Seven Samurai; book 8 titled The Hard Way, a reference to a roll in craps; book 12 titled Dirty, as in The Dirty Dozen; book 13 titled Wilt, for basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, who wore the number 13 and was famous for scoring 100 points in a single game). Book 11 Once Upon a Crime is also a reference as "once" is Spanish for eleven. The exception to the rule is book 3, which was originally to be called The Charm — as in "third time's the charm" — but was given the title of the collection's largest plot arc, Hang Up on the Hang Low, when it won the Eisner Award. Another interpretation of this seemingly odd exception is that 'Hang Up on the Hang Low' is a coded allusion to Masonic symbology, the upwards triangle placed over the downward triangle, where the number 3 is indicated among other things through this code. As The Trust can also be seen to be a Masonic type allusion, one should also look for other Masonic symbols through the books. The allusion itself may come as well simply by describing the shape of the number 3 itself, composed of an upward hook and a downward hook, where the "hang up" hook rests upon the "hang low" hook. A series of hardcover volumes collecting the series have also been published.
Note: The full title of all volumes listed here start with "100 Bullets: ".
Acclaim announced plans to release a video game based on 100 Bullets. However, following the collapse of Acclaim's publishing house, the game was cancelled. It was intended that the player would be either Cole Burns or Snow Falls (a completely original character) and play in a third person view, with actor Keanu Reeves portraying Cole Burns. The plot was not publicly known, aside from a supposition that it followed the plot of the comic book.
D3Publishing obtained the rights from Warner Bros. to publish a 100 Bullets game in 2006. They intended to make a video game completely independent from Acclaim's aborted vision, but still heavily reliant on input and plotting from Brian Azzarello and releasing it in Q3 2007 - however it was never released.
On June 23, 2011, IGN reported that David S. Goyer, co-writer of Dark City and The Dark Knight, was attached to executive produce and write a TV series based on the comics for Showtime. However, in a June 2013 interview with Ain't It Cool News, Goyer stated that the project got "incredibly close" at Showtime before being turned down due to a multitude of mass shootings across the United States. He called the sudden turn of events "frustrating", further stating, "At one point, I thought it was going to happen at Showtime. It got to the three-yard line."
On April 28, 2014, SciFiNow reported the The Wall Street Journal's release of information regarding upcoming Warner Brothers films based on DC Comics properties. The films that were revealed to be in development included the much anticipated Justice League film; Shazam, Fables, and 100 Bullets were among the other films listed, and are currently in varying stages of production. In August 2015, it was announced that a film adaptation of the novel is being produced by Tom Hardy with the option for him to star in the film. It will be written by Chris Borrelli and distributed by New Line Cinema.
The series has attracted critical acclaim from within and beyond the American comics industry, as "very violent, dark and clever" and "a series of compelling morality tales". In his introduction for the second volume collection Howard Chaykin wrote "Thanks are overdue to both these guys for producing the most exciting comic book in years".
The series won the 2002 Harvey Awards for Best Writer, Best Artist and Best Continuing Series, and the 2003 Harvey Award for Best Artist, as well as the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story, and the 2002 and 2004 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.
At the EmeraldCity Con on March 1, 2013, Vertigo editor Mark Doyle announced that the franchise's creative team have joined forces once again to work on a miniseries. Brother Lono. It was an 8 issue miniseries that detailed Lono's rehabilitated life in Juarez after the events of 100 Bullets issue #100.