Ed Brubaker has kept his hand on the pump in convincing fashion in Kill or Be Killed, breaking the rules of comic book storytelling, and showing everyone exactly how a comic book needs to be written.
As if it wasn’t enough being part of the writing team at HBO’s Westworld, Brubaker had time to pen this bold and gritty revenge story about a young college kid who gets a new lease on life after failing to kill himself. Thankfully, Brubaker didn’t have to stay within Marvel Comics’ usual boundaries, or else we’d be given an unconvincing, watered-down version of this story. There will be a fair number of people who’d take exception to the title of this comic book, and indeed some of the darker, point-blank depictions of violence throughout the story, but in doing so, they run the risk of missing out on the emotional depth of a story that is very human at its heart.
While there are flying bullets, nude psychedelic art, demons, revenge killing and a smattering of sex, the thought-provoking writing makes this a brilliant introspective comic from Image. Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s artistic contributions play a big role in making this comic great, and they’ve stayed true to the crime noir flavour, with profuse servings of bold blacks and reds, the preferred colours of our protagonist Dylan – when he’s in vigilante mode. The writing in this book doesn’t glorify violence, in the same way that its artwork doesn’t portray its characters as being specimens of perfect physical beauty. But the dark is balanced with the light, and having dedicated columns for narration and artwork between all the darker tones made the reading experience truly enjoyable. That being said, I would’ve liked it better if the demon was portrayed with less of a resemblance to Carol from Where The Wild Things Are.
Ironically, the first words in the comic are “Wait..wait,” which is something the creative team simply does not do, at least not when we’re talking about delivering a beautifully graphic, no-holds-barred and introspective story. Sure, it’s hard to write a story that doesn’t borrow from others, especially since some believe that they’ve all been told before, but the creative team didn’t let that stop them from presenting a top-tier comic. An anti-hero that seeks outlaw vigilante justice whilst clad in a black hoodie, a character that finds himself in possession of a new empowerment but is still reluctant to do what he must to better his situation, someone who must kill others on behalf of a more powerful being – these have all kind of been done before, but the moment I read the line where Dylan narrates that “Psychopaths run for president!” I just went Ohhhh dayum! But wait…there’s more.
In this, the era of the new dumb, it’s such a joy to read a comic that doesn’t talk to its readers like they are five-year-olds. Brubaker’s work on the 4 issues released thus far show off his gift for introspective narration and keeping readers hooked. His words gave me the vibe that he was writing from the heart. Despite the clichés (best friend who protagonist crushes on is dating his roommate/buddy) everything that Dylan goes through endears him to the readers – you really feel for him and genuinely care about what’s going to happen to him next. There are no wasted words, scenes are perfectly paced and you’re introduced to the right number of characters at the right time. But does all that backstory really need to be at the start of the comic? In this case, the book doesn’t seem to suffer from the author’s choice to do so. Besides, Brubaker subtly and quite brilliantly makes social commentary about what this time in human history will bring. He underlines the racism in the mainstream media, talks about possibly his bashing his own work with lines like “My imagination was being affected by all the shitty old movies I was watching,” and even adds some surprising insights into love.
Kill or Be Killed is probably one of the best contemporary comic books you could read today. While it’s incredible in places, it’s still very credible, and with a very human story at it’s heart. For these and so many reasons, you ought to check this book out.