Passing the halfway mark, “Bullet to the Head” becomes something a little different, deflating somewhat and becoming more streamlined. The complex story of hitmen and police officers in the wake of a killing had spun out of control somewhat. The cast size ballooned, connections between characters became labyrinthine, and more time was taken explaining things than things actually happening. So, Matz does something surprising to make things simple: he kills off almost everyone. It’s a needed deflating that works very nicely to give the rest of the series a more specific focus and target to drive towards.
Last issue, Jimmy, one of the hitmen, watched as his two friends and partners were ambushed and killed, while this issue begins with Philip, a cop, watching as his partner Alan is killed through a seemingly innocuous encounter that looks to be more than it seems. Since Alan was investigating the killing that started the chain of events, Jimmy sees a natural ally in Philip to go after whoever was responsible for ordering the hit that makes them all ‘loose ends’ in someone’s eyes. The refocusing of these two characters to want revenge isn’t where this book looked like it would be this far in, but it makes a lot of sense and is handled well. It takes a while for both men to trust one another, mostly for Philip to realize that working with a killer may be in his best interest.
While the refocusing of the plot is the big driving point here, a lot of the issue is also spent on smaller moments. Matz has a clear interest in little pieces of dialogue, like Jimmy getting a ride from an aging pothead that wants everything to ‘fly.’ He’s so singularly minded that he’s both funny and tiresome. The best scene is one between Philip and an FBI agent that seems more concerned with proving that the deceased Alan was connected to things he shouldn’t have been than catching his killers, playing out with lots of emotion and a little violence.
Colin Wilson works exceptionally well with the larger pages of this European comic. He’s able to balance between stunning visuals and lots of panels per page that feature lots of dialogue. The opening pages show off his simple layout skills that allow for large, detailed panels mixed with smaller ones, making for a dense and attractive experience. When the action begins, he shifts from hardline grids to overlaid panels, creating a sense of chaos and movement. His line work is simple and direct, knowing when to put in lots of details and when to drop out backgrounds to allow the reader to know exactly what the point of a panel is.
If there’s one area where Wilson’s art doesn’t excel, it’s in character designs. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell a character immediately from what they look like. Most of the main characters have distinct looks, but not all of them. In the scene where Alan is killed, at least one of his assailants looks similar enough to make things confusing.
“Bullet to the Head” #4 reenergizes the story to a degree after it came dangerously close to slipping into complex obscurity with too many characters with too many connections. Last issue and this one clear the decks somewhat to provide a renewed focus and easier to handle cast. You don’t often see stories switch gears like that in the middle, but it works very well here.