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KILL or be KILLED #1

Ed Brubaker (@brubaker)

Sean Phillips (@seanpphillips)

Elizabeth Breitweiser (@bettieb)

Review by Joey Braccino

Now I just had to find someone who deserved to die and kill them… How hard could that be?

Image Comics

#Moody

Dylan kills bad people. Don’t be so quick to judge; in his view, the world is so f**ked up anyway that he’s actually doing it a favor. We get his story—of how he became this killer—but even when it’s done and we find out what his miserable, aimless life has been like, justification doesn’t come quite so simply. KILL or be KILLED #1, the newest Image series from the critically acclaimed, award-winning trio of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser, is vigilante crime fiction pushed to the extreme with a serious mix of depression and impotence thrown in.

KILL or be KILLED opens with an uber-violent sequence in which Dylan rampages through an series of apartments. His narration—succinct, wry, super-noir—tries to explain why: the world is screwed, their a bad guys everywhere, corruption reigns, there are terrible people who do terrible things on a daily basis—“just look at the news for five f**king minutes and it’s obvious.” Dylan is a vigilante of the highest order, complete with a mask and a mission. Of course, we’re only getting his perspective, so who knows what’s really going on here (the first lines are a victim’s: “Wait – Wait — !”), but Brubaker’s gift as writer is to dig deep into the psyches of his characters and render all of the pain and agony and intention (misguided or not) in such clear, concise, affecting bursts of 1st person narration.

The issue then flashes back and Dylan tells us how he got to this place of shotgunning dudes’ faces off. It’s a story about isolation, about depression, about misguided expectations, and about a society that treats a lot of people like crap. It goes to dark places and then, in a truly unexpected twist, goes someplace strange and supernatural. I’d read Fatale, sure, but most of my experience with Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser has been crime-noir-fiction—grounded, violent, seedy. KILL or be KILLED is still all of that, but kudos to the team for infusing it with something weird to take it to a level beyond murder and madness.

Phillips and Breitweiser are masters of their craft. Brubaker, too, but the visuals here are some of the very best from a team that is already one of the very best. The violence is shown in all of its gruesome nature—before, during, and after the strikes or shots. Breitweiser in particular does an incredible job of incorporating splashes of red, orange, and blue in the background of scenes of violence in lieu of detailed scenery, creating a visceral experience beyond simple realism. KILL or be KILLED is Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser at their finest.

One final note: there has been a lot of talk about how KILL or be KILLED seems particularly relevant given everything that’s been happening in our real world lately. I read Bendis and Maleev’s Scarlet a few weeks ago and got much of the same vibe. It’s the Punisher dilemma—do we answer evil and pain with violence? That’s the ethical question of the vigilante. Yes, this books puts forward that question, but, in classic Brubaker fashion, KILL or be KILLED is a character study that evaluates the why of Dylan’s vigilantism. And, as that is explored, we as reader are forced to confront the complexities of intention and action and not just rail against an unjust society, but also consider whose perspective we are latching onto. This is a dark book—painful to read at times—but it’s damn good at what it does.

Verdict

 BUY. The dream team behind Fatale and The Fade Out take us crashing into the 21st Century with the painfully relevant, brutally violent KILL or be KILLED. Brubaker’s tormented narration, Phillips’ moody naturalism, Breitweiser’s stark color palette—the first issue of this brand new series from Image is an absolute master class in crime comics storytelling. Check it.

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