Dirty is a rare beast. It’s a slightly, and we should stress that ‘slightly’, sub-par 100 Bullets graphic novel. It’s the lull before the storm where we take a look around at the cast before the big finale. Some are surplus to requirements, and off they shuffle. Others barely survive as death almost comes calling from the most surprising of sources.

In one respect Dirty tops every other book in the series. There’s not another volume where the sheer visceral horror of the crimes committed matches this. In analysing why, as more than enough ghastly scenes have been depicted in the past, it’s because children are affected in each case.

The best story presented here is the opener. Those heading the Trust’s families are relatively secure with regard to their security, and this applies to Sigmar Rhone, not seen as anything but a background figure until now. He’s a polarised individual. On the one hand there’s the devoted family man who genuinely loves his wife, on the other he’s a priapic old goat who satisfies himself frequently and with the most surprising of partners. Brian Azzarello drops us into his world in a satisfying fashion as he’s expounding to a wayward, badly-behaved pop star where the real power lies. It’s all the better for the later resonance.

Where real power lies is a theme echoed throughout this book. There’s the severely wronged person seizing the opportunity, Benito Medici coming to terms with what appears to be his new life, a man lured from retirement for one last job (how will that go?) and a senseless, almost random killing.

Eduardo Risso has to introduce a dozen new characters with parts to play over the five chapters, and once again each of them is utterly distinct from anyone else seen in the series. The extent of this achievement is phenomenal. There are award winning artists who’ve delivered little variation on the same basic face for everyone they’ve ever drawn.

Those new characters, though, are partly the reason this is a slightly weaker volume. So much time has been invested in what’s already a large cast. Some are seen here, and some play a decisive part, but much of the focus is on people we’ve not seen before and won’t see again. Sigmar Rhone was provided with enough depth to transcend a temporary status, but the remainder, despite carrying stories, lack a similar gravitas.

Dirty, the concluding volume, Wilt, and portions of the previous volume, Once Upon a Crime are all also to be found as the final book in the oversize hardback series 100 Bullets Deluxe Edition. If you can afford it, that’s the way to experience 100 Bullets.