Kill or Be Killed debuted with a cold open from an indeterminate point in the books future before going back all the way to the plot’s inception point and then picked up from there. At the start of issue #5, we are given another cold open similar to the series debut. The books protagonist comes out of a public bathroom stall, shoot’s someone in the face, stares in the mirror and then reacts to a police officer with his gun pointed at him in the doorway. At this point, it appears the issue is doing the same opening of the second arc as they did in the first, and that would be perfectly acceptable. In fact, this issue was so well done, had that been the case, it still would’ve been This Weeks Finest. That’s despite some otherwise strong competition from other books I read this week that I probably would’ve liked to write about instead of trying to find new things to say about the same comic in this space for the third time. But I’m writing about Kill or Be Killed again partially because the writing of Ed Brubaker and his use of first person narration, the panel structure of Sean Phillips and his expressive character illustrations and the vibrant yet dark and haunting colors of Elizabeth Breitweiser make the comic a cut above everything else. It’s three excellent creators who’ve worked together long enough to the point that they’ve ascended to another level collectively, like when an NBA team goes from being a perennial playoff participant to a championship contender because the players have gotten better together over an extended period of time. And considering that Brubaker, Phillips & Breitweiser were already the gold standard in terms of modern creator owned comics from a major publisher, that Kill or Be Killed represents such a marked improvement from their past work put’s the series in a whole other stratosphere.
But back to issue #5’s cold open. As a reader, you just assume that’s it going to be the same as issue #1’s but it’s not. Instead, the same cold open is revisited at this issues conclusion as well and it’s brilliant. The page construction is nearly identical accept that the earlier page’s middle section has three panels the first time it’s used and only two panels later on. The top panel of the victim getting shot is the same on both, but the middle and lower sections differ in terms of perspective. In the earlier page, the first panel of the middle section has a wide shot of a bathroom mirror with main character Dylan’s reflection looking back at the reader while a dead body lays on top of a sink directly below it. The second panel is a close up of that same reflection in the mirror, almost as if we are looking directly through Dylan’s eyes. The third panel is an outward shot of Dylan being startled and the final lower panel on the page is a wide shot from behind Dylan facing the police officer with his gun pointed at us the reader. In the latter page, we see what is almost the same first panel in the middle section accept that we are looking behind Dylan, instead of looking at his reflection in the mirror we look at his reflection in the mirror from behind him. The next panel is the same as the middle third panel in the earlier page’s middle section of Dylan getting startled, but it’s focused in closer on Dylan cropping out the rest of the scenery from the earlier page’s version of that panel.
The final bottom panel is a wide angle shot from behind the police officer facing Dylan. The book’s text on both pages also runs in parallel, but with opposing ideas. In the earlier page, Dylan’s inner monologue is doubting the existence of fate and pre-ordained individual destiny at its start but by the end, is ready to consider it as a possibility. In the latter page, Dylan is starting to believe that maybe fate had led him in the right direction only to come to the opposite conclusion on the page’s closing text.
This is where I possibly reveal myself to be an idiot by saying I don’t know what this all means, but even with that said, it doesn’t make it any less fascinating. It’s surely an extension of the books thematic overtone on perspective, possibly another tip off that Dylan himself is unreliable as a narrative guide, could be calling back to something from an earlier issue that I’m missing or may pay off later in the story. But that’s the beauty of it all, it’s the innate wonder of it that gives what is already a fantastic comic a little something extra, the hint of a more meaningful possibility; something within reach but still ethereal. That is yet one component of the book’s excellence that I keep coming back to, how it consistently surprises me while building a mystery that never threatens to interfere or overwhelm the story in and of itself. And that’s profoundly rare, often times twists in narration either feel too heavy handed or abrupt. In Kill or Be Killed they are perfect.
There is more than enough text throughout Nothing But Comics on why Kill or Be Killed is excellent and much of those same platitudes apply here as well. But there is more to it than all that, the book keeps evolving in unexpected ways and that’s incredibly exciting. I love this issue of Kill or Be Killed for all the reasons that are inherently obvious, but I love it more because it goes beyond all that into something more with that parallel page construct from different points in the issue. Maybe I don’t totally understand that part of it, maybe I’m not meant to yet and maybe I never will but that it’s there is endlessly fascinating in and of itself. At this point, where we are still in the early stages of the series by all accounts, it doesn’t get any better than that.