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Kill or Be Killed #1 and #2 Review: I Chose Kill!

Written by Mike Ambrose on Thursday, September 22 2016 and posted in Reviews

Kill or Be Killed #1 and #2 Review: I Chose Kill!

Kill or Be Killed is exactly what you would expect from a Brubaker and Phillips comic, until it becomes nothing like what you'd expect from a Brubaker and Phillips comic.

Source: Image Comics

Story by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips
Art by: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Cover by: Sean Phillips

Preview Kill or Be Killed #2

Is there a creative team that produces better comics than Brubaker and Phillips? I know there are other writer/artist pairs who have turned out some great comics, be it a lengthy run on a mutant soap opera or an industry changing deconstruction of the superhero concept, but I don't think there is any other team working today that produces comics as great, and as prolifically, as Brubaker and Phillips.

And you can add frequently collaborating colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser to that headlining team. Breitweiser's colors add so much depth and atmosphere to Phillip's art that her contribution can't be overlooked.

Unabashed fanboying out of the way, let's take a look at what makes this comic work.

The first issue opens very strongly, immediately drawing the reader in to some familiar territory, given the resume of this creative team. Our protagonist guns his way through three armed men in an apartment building, his narration lamenting how his life, and indeed how the whole world has gone to shit.

Like most Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser jams, Kill or Be Killed contains a lot of conflict. But unlike a comic like Criminal where the conflict is more of a man-against-man kind of story, most of the conflict stems from within Dylan, the series' protagonist.

Conflict, you've probably heard, is key to all good stories.

It's within this conflict that Brubaker really begins to explore some themes that he's rarely touched on. Many of his Criminal stories have featured down-and-out losers, people who try to solve their problems with guns and knives, or by emptying a whiskey bottle. Here, with Dylan, he goes a different route. Instead of an abusive, criminal father, it's an unfulfilled father, who kills himself when the lead is young. Instead of a double crossing femme-fatale type, it's a long time best friend/unrequited love. Instead of problems with the law, it's crushing loneliness and bouts of depression.

It's still drenched in noir, thanks in no small part to the beautiful artwork of Phillips and Breitweiser, but the nature of the conflict within Dylan makes it feel more real. More relatable.

And then the demon shows up.

After another failed suicide attempt, a demon appears to Dylan, explaining that he allowed Dylan to survive the attempt in order to use him to kill those who deserve to be killed. Or else Dylan will die, as he tried to do. Hence, Kill or Be Killed.

Although the nature of the protagonist (lonely, depressed, conflict averse) is a little outside of the norm from what you might expect from this team, it's really the supernatural element that sets Kill or Be Killed apart from their other work.

Although, Dylan himself begins to doubt the reality of the situation. Is the demon a manifestation of some mental illness, a coping mechanism for dealing with another suicide attempt, or was it indeed supernatural? Regardless, the episode sets Dylan off on the path of killing bad people.

Brubaker does some interesting things with the structure of the story. It's all narrated in the first person by Dylan, adding greatly to the noir feel of the book. The story jumps around, often flashing forward, or jumping back, with Dylan noting that he's getting ahead of himself again in the story, or using a flashback to explain his frame of mind.

Dylan also uses his narration to talk about, and tell, stories. His flashbacks have the feel of somebody telling a story about their childhood, or a bad date. He also tells a story in the second issue, The Tale of the Hunchback from Arabian Nights, and comments on the meaning of that story, as he's telling (the reader) a story of his own. It's great work from Brubaker, using the multi-layered narrative to drive the story forward while comment on the nature of this story specifically, and on the nature of story itself. It's all very post-modern, in a smart and entertaining way. Meta, as the kids might say.

KOBK art2All of this happens on a beautiful canvas of Phillips and Breitweiser art. Every aspect of the art is a treat to look at. Characters are individuals and convey real emotion with facial expressions and body language. One small sequence, three panels on one page, is a strong example of this. Dylan makes a stop at his mom's house to pick something up. The transition of hope and happiness at seeing and potentially spending time with her son turns to annoyance and ultimately disappointment, as Dylan's mom realizes that he doesn't want to stay for dinner, or spend any time with her at all. It's a small scene that's masterfully told.

Beyond the story telling and attention to detail, Phillips is also doing interesting things with the structure of his art. He'll put small inserts, ranging in size from just a couple panels to two-thirds of a page, over top of the main illustrations, creating a lot of weight and scope. The technique makes the panels feel more intimate, or isolating, or claustrophobic, depending on the situation. Again, masterful story telling.

KOBK art

He also uses large portions of white space on the page as a narration box, creating an interesting contrast with Breitweiser's muted, heavily shadowed colors.

Kill or Be Killed #1 and #2 feature three creators at the top of their game, giving the reader a story that is both more grounded and more fantastic, than what we're used to seeing from them.


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About the Author - Mike Ambrose

Mike Ambrose isn't slow, he's just Canadian. Mike began collecting comics in 1991 with an allowance earned by doing chores on the family farm, snapping up anything that said "#1 Collector's Item" on the cover, including X-Men, Sleepwalker, and NFL Superpro. That is to say, Mike knows bullshit. These skills were further developed and finally acknowledged when he graduated from a well-regarded journalism and public relations college program. Mike lives in a surprisingly nice house in a pretty good neighbourhood with his loving girlfriend. Aside from comic books of all types, Mike enjoys cooking, rap music, and the rule of threes.
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