To have your own style, you have to be good. Certain comics creators or teams have that. Whether they’re doing comics on superheros, science fiction , horror or exploring any number of genre’s with the medium; a group of comics pro’s can find an aesthetic that’s singular to their work together with the right amount of time and synergy. That’s good, it shows a consistency to quality that their readers can count on. Great is going beyond that, great is doing something unexpected with readers expectations, it’s pushing the boundaries of your own ability, it’s using your strengths to evolve your skills; it’s utilizing a pre-established style past any perceived limitations. Kill Or Be Killed #1 is great.
I’ve read every comic Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser have created. While the writer and illustrator have been working together since the early 2000’s on Sleeper, Breitweiser didn’t start coloring with the duo until their seminal Criminal series. Since then, the trio have gone on to create some of the most creative and fully realized comics of their career’s in the Image series Fatale & The Fade Out. I know what I’m getting when picking up a Brubaker, Phillips & Breitweiser comic. I know it’ll be made to feel like a noir film. I know it’ll be dark and mysterious. I know Ed Brubaker will use his ability to write casually engrossing first person narration and character dialogue to subtlety create a story that is complex and deeply thoughtful. I know Sean Phillips will draw the comic in his signature rough line to create hazy details of the book’s setting and cast. I know that Elizabeth Breitweiser will be coloring the book in a contrast of dark overtones with bright accents. Kill Or Be Killed does all this but it also feels like a maturation for all three creators skills and abilities. What’s impressive about Kill Or Be Killed isn’t that it’s so consistent with what they’ve done together in the past. It’s that they’ve taken the style of their past books and done something that feel’s wholly unique to the rest of their catalogue.
In Kill or Be Killed, Ed Brubaker’s writing’s sharper in it’s dialogue while the story telling on his end is more concise without losing any of the complexity of his past work. There is so much content in the debut issue yet the plot is always moving and progressing. At points, Brubaker plays with the stories timeline while subtlety establishing the unreliability in the narrator, but it all feels natural to the comic for how the writer let’s his work guide the reader in a way that is measured and alluring. It doesn’t tell you what’s happening; it invites you to find out. For Sean Phillips, his art maintains the sketchy pulp style that has probably done the most in establishing the distinct sum total of the trio’s collective efforts. Yet with Kill Or Be Killed, Phillips is more loose in his panel composition leaving large and often irregular spaces for the artist to tell the book’s story and he takes full advantage. Kill Or Be Killed has some of the artists most striking, unique and detailed art in years. There a vast openness to the illustration and structure which add’s a whole new dimension to the scope of Phillips illustraions and it opens up the visual storytelling in a way that is captivating. On colors, Breitweiser pushes the brightness of her work while still maintaining the overall feeling of darkness. On Kill Or Be Killed, she’s putting more life into her work in a way that helps accentuates the art’s expansiveness.
In Kill Or Be Killed #1, the book’s main antagonist is a supernatural monster. These creators have done supernatural monsters in the past, quite often in their recent Fatale series. Yet the monster in Kill Or Be Killed looks nothing like something from The Fatale series. In fact it doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen these three do before or like anything else in comics really. It’s incredibly dark and loosely defined in a way where those characteristics are distinctly used as an agent of it’s menace. It’s both radically new yet instantly familiar and it’s the most prominent analogy for what Kill Or Be Kill does best. It accomplishes everything these creators have done prior like never before. It easily carries over the design of their former comics and then does everything differently with it then they had in the past. It’s everything good about their comics work made explicitly great.