by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Some comics you know as soon as you see the publishing list, they’re the book to beat. Especially if its an Image book, like Saga or The Walking Dead. So it went this week when I put together my pull-list with the latest issue of Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips & Elizabeth Breitweiser.
This has been a suspenseful and provocative title since its first issue, partly because it deals with a serial killing protagonist, but mainly because of Brubaker’s tight plotting.
Dylan, Brubaker’s everyman whose caught in a Faustian deal (or just crazy, its still 60-40) and killing those who “deserve it” to continue living, has reached a moment of reflection in his mission. He’s killed his friend/drug dealer, someone who likely didn’t deserve to be murdered, and is feeling immense remorse and hesitation about his recent actions. At the same time, the police are looking for this high profile serial killer, and one Lily Sharpe has just caught sight of Dylan attending his friend’s funeral.
More and more, I’m becoming won over to the merits of the “middle chapter”. Done poorly, it feels like you shelled out $4 for filler. Done well, with the right story, it becomes a way to further raising the action before the climax.
In terms of straight “action” there’s relatively none. We don’t see the fallout of what Dylan did last issue, as he spends time in his childhood home self-indulging in pity and interacting with his last two girlfriends. It works really well to see this side of him, it reveals more about the kind of person he is as opposed to how good he is at killing a pedophile or Russian mobster.
As good as Brubaker is with plotting, Philips is on the same level with pencils and inks & Elizabeth Breitweiser with colors.
Philips and Breitweiser have a very classic style m, not flashy but always rich in context. It’s Norman Rockwell-esque, how they compose the characters. Constantly stuck by external forces and uncertain which way is up. More than that, Phillips knack for storytelling is second to none. Page after page in this issue flows so effortlessly, but also clearly even alongside a wall of text. Philips plays with the broken panel structure; such as the scenes in the attic of Dylan’s Mother’s home, as he rummages through old belongings and gives it to the demon. The way the art switches from wide to small panels, grids to alternating sizes, its something to always pay attention to for it’s creativity.
Several story threads in this series get moved forward, and the jumps in time give the plot a nice extra flavor as Dylan contemplates giving up his mission before reluctantly trying to decide how to continue with it. Although I’ve seen this play out with other characters like Jeff Lindsey’s Dexter, Brubaker’s characters literally carry more humanity in their actions, and as such, the consequences of those actions. As much as Dylan doesn’t want to endanger the people he cares about, that’s literally just happened for him, and he’s done very little to protect his loved ones in response.
What makes this title so engaging, is the suspense of what comes next. Kill or Be Killed #10 was quite simply the best comic I read this week, keeping me on the edge of my seat just with a serial killer having a crisis of faith (in a sense). It was the only choice for This Week’s Finest, and I have little doubt the next issue will be a strong contender as well. It’s a series that simply fires on all cylinders every issue, and easily impresses thanks to the talent of the creators.