Kill or be Killed #1 Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Sean Phillips Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser Publisher: Image Comics
The celebrated collaborative team-up of writer Ed Brubaker(Captain America, Daredevil) and artist Sean Phillips(Hellblazer, Marvel Zombies), have united once again to create a new thriller comic, Kill or be Killed. Much like their previous works together, i.e. Criminal and Fatale, Kill or be Killed is full of intense violence, surrounded in an atmosphere of grim and somber grit.
Something that’s a challenge but nice to see done properly, is this comic wastes no time and delves its audience right in the thick of things. We see our main character, Dylan, gunning down and bashing in the heads what presume to be not the brightest of fellas. It’s accompanied with some inner-monologuing that is a representation of numerous people’s problems and worries with the world. Money in politics, police brutality, mass shootings, terrorism, and the lunatic running for President. This could have easily been executed poorly, with nothing more than blatant ranting with no subtlety, annoyingly dragged out to a point you lose interest. Fortunately, Brubaker goes over these quickly and it’s only to set the tone and mindset of our “protagonist”.
We then transition to some background of the books main character, Dylan and the rest of the story is told as a flashback. He’s in a position that too many people can relate to. Someone who made mistakes when they were young, dropped/kicked out of college, now in their later 20’s is going back to school while all their friends are starting their careers as well as families. He’s hit with a dilemma when his roommate starts dating his best friend and contemplates suicide, and that’s about as much as I can say. The rest of the comic takes a direction that I didn’t see coming and it’s a legitimate mystery as to what comes about.
Brubaker does a nice job of painting humanities darker side that some like to pretend don’t exist and choose to ignore. When it gets to the reasons for the deadly actions that Dylan takes, it brings an abundance of moral questions. When does taking another persons life become justifiable? Can it be justified? Are there some people who simply can’t be reasoned with words? Can violence and vigilantism become the principled solution to ridding our streets of crime?
There’s quite a few elements to like in this book, along with other Brubaker/Phillips projects, is that it’s filled with nuances. They don’t paint the world as simply black vs. white, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. The team bring these difficult ideological questions to the forefront and force their readers to confront them, in a mental capacity that is.
Not only does Brubaker successfully nudge these questions into the readers head, he surrounds it all with solid characterization. From Dylan, to his roommate, and his best friend. All of them are identifiable and brings realism to this story. Even with the somewhat out of left field turn during the second half.
Sean Phillips style is a nice fit for this material. Much in the way that Michael Gaydos was the a proper fit for Alias, Philips doesn’t pull any punches here. The world he visualizes is one that’s unsettling, unpleasant, and is unfortunately all too familiar to many. His characters aren’t imaged in the most flattering way but they aren’t blatantly made to look bizarre to hammer in a point. They’re designed in a way that makes this comic feel real, which makes the material turn in the later half leave a harder impact.
Kill or be Killed is off to a strong start thanks to its creative team and intriguing premise. Brubaker knows how to pace a narrative as well as add great characterizations to his characters through interactions. He also allows Phillips to take over telling the story, as he understands comic books is as much a visual medium as it is a written one. The shift in ingredients is a bit jarring and could distract some readers, however the positives in this debut chapter are engaging enough to warrant a recommendation.
Score: 4 out of 5
Review by Eric Bradach
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