Kill or Be Killed #1 is a violent return to form from the superstar team of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser.
Vigilante justice is always a divisive topic. Some see those who take the law into their own hands as heroes, while others view it as a dangerous road toward lawlessness. Kill or Be Killed #1 opens with our hero, Dylan, enacting his own brand of justice against a gang of thugs. We don’t get any context at the beginning, just eight pages of gorgeous violence punctuated by social commentary. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, it’s your typical language of “bad people getting away with bad things while no one does anything,” but the narration helps us get into Dylan’s head and learn how he feels about his vigilante mission. The rest of the issue answers the question: “Why?”
Dylan’s a tragic character in the classic mold: he doesn’t feel like much of a man. The girl he loves is dating his roommate, and his depression set him back so he’s stuck in grad school at 28. Nothing about Dylan is particularly original, but the combination of Brubaker’s stark dialogue and Phillips’ art elevates the premise. Most of the dialogue is delivered through Dylan’s narration, and Brubaker knows how to create believable characters especially ones that are easy to empathize with. In Kill or Be Killed #1, Brubaker does this with Dylan through the narration. Although some of that narration is contradicted by his actions. An unreliable narrator creates tension in the story, and forces us to question everything we see and hear.
The dialogue wouldn’t land as hard as it does without the skills of art team Phillips and Breitweiser. I’ve always been a big fan of Phillips’ work, and Kill or Be Killed combines his gritty work in titles like Criminal with eerie, supernatural elements, a little more subtle than those in Fatale. Breitweiser’s work is a perfect match for his pages, coloring the world in a subdued palette. Dylan’s world is mostly delivered in dark blue, gray, and the hazy yellow of streetlights, but violent moments are highlighted with splashes of fiery orange. Kill or Be Killed #1 is not a story for bright, primary colors.
Pages offer a good mix of traditional panel structure and more explosive ones. One of my favorite styles, repeated on a few pages in Kill or Be Killed #1, is a full-page scene with a few other inset panels.It breaks the wider scene down into smaller points of action. I also just have to mention how much I love the snowy scenes. Something about the way the snow swirls around Dylan as he faces the reality of his situation just fits the comic’s tone perfectly.
Kill or Be Killed #1 is a fantastic first issue, and fans of Brubaker and Phillips’ previous work will not be disappointed. The theme of vigilante justice is not the most original, but there’s a twist that really makes me want to keep reading to learn the truth of Dylan’s situation, and what consequences his vigilante actions will bring.
- Interesting twist on a vigilante justice story
- Believable characters you can empathize with
- Social commentary is not the most original