Trade Paperback Thursday: Kill Or Be Killed
Kill or be Killed vol. I
Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Philip (pencils), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors), Image Comics
If you are a comic fan and are not familiar with the work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips, you should be. These two form one of the most potent writer/artist tandems in comics today. Brubaker suspenseful storytelling style and Philips gritty, shadowed art capture the noir genre like no one else in the industry. These two had set a high bar for themselves with other fantastic independent works through Image Comics like Criminal (2006), Fatale (2012), and The Fade Out (2014), all of which were noir hits that received critical acclaim. Furthermore, Brubaker’s earlier work on Captain America (2006) and Daredevil (2007) are, in my mind, two of the most iconic and influential takes on the characters in recent memory. Coming into Kill or be Killed, I was comfortable, given the creative team’s track record, that this was to be a solid read. However, Kill or be Killed also departed from Brubaker’s earlier work in several ways, some of which I will detail below.
Kill or be Killed follows Dylan, a literature graduate student who is living a depressed and unfulfilled life, sharing an apartment with the woman he loves and her fairly irritating boyfriend. Without spoiling the specifics, a series of events leads Dylan to attempt to kill himself by jumping off of his multistory apartment. However, he ends up getting caught in a series of clotheslines on his way down and survives. Feeling like this was a gift from god, Dylan feels invigorated to get his life on a better foot until he is confronted by a demon who informs him that it was he who averted the suicide attempt. As penance, Dylan is required to commit murder to sate the demon or his gift of life will be revoked. The demon, however, gives Dylan no parameters as to who needs to kill, simply that he must kill. The remainder of the volume (most of what I describe happens quickly) deals with Dylan’s attempts to plan these murders and deal with the ramifications that this burden has on his relationships with others, his academic life, and most importantly, his own psyche.
Unlike Fatale or The Fade Out, Kill or be Killed is not a noir period piece and does not follow the same sorts of crime, detective work, and intrigue that made these works so interesting. Instead this book balances equal parts Punisher, John Constantine, and Goethe’s Young Werther, while still keeping the essence of Brubaker’s storytelling and Philips’ art in such a way that their artistic signature is still omnipresent. I have always been drawn to these darker characters because their violence, moral fallibility, and the tough decisions they make seem more human than the idealized hero. Kill or be Killed also forces Dylan into a difficult position in which he must kill to live. Following the process by which the main character directs his prey and the impacts of killing upon this otherwise mild mannered and melancholy graduate student’s psyche is bar far the more interesting and exciting part of this book, part of why I refused to spoil any part of that journey for you in my above synopsis.
Though I’ve always had a strong appreciation for Brubaker and Phillips’ work, I’m feeling Kill or be Killed might be my favorite of story by them yet. It demonstrates a new angle on in their already impressive anthology. Like many of Image’s other titles, I also think it has a lot of cross appeal to those who are new to comics or are adverse to anything that smacks of tights and campy superheroes. Perhaps it is my experience as a former humanities graduate student and the ways in which Dylan’s character resonates with me or maybe it is my not-so-secret affinity for stories about the dark side of the human experience, but I cannot recommend this first volume enough. Brubaker successfully tells an intriguing, twist ridden story that leaves the reader riveted, if not a slight bit uncomfortable. Kill or be Killed is an excellent place for seasoned comic book readers and newcomers alike to dive into the work of this creative team. I promise, you’ll be hooked. Vol. II should be dropping sometime in August, so now is a great time to give this series a try!
If you like these, you might like Kill or be Killed! (Or, the other way around!)
Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips (2012) Publisher: Image
The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips (2014) Publisher: Image
Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips (2006) Publisher: Image/Icon
The Punisher by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto (2012) Publisher: Marvel
Moon Knight by Warren Ellis & Jordie Bellaire (2014) Publisher: Marvel
Preacher by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon (1995) Publish: Vertigo/DC