Writer Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, The Avengers, Powers) relates in his foreword that he bought The Killer (Le Tueur) on impulse, hoping that he would find something special. The covers were engaging and obviously meant to convey a moment and a theme from the issue’s story arc. Bendis goes on to say that the title delivered not only “special,” but so much more.
The Killer was written by Matz (Cyclopes, The Black Dahlia) and illustrated by Luc Jacamon (Le Tueur: Long Feu, Cyclopes). Originally published in French through the Franco-Belgian comic book publisher Casterman, the series was translated and later released by Archaia Studios Press. The French version was released in 12 issues from 1998 through 2013, while here in the States, single issues were released and then later collected into five volumes, releasing over a ten-year period, 2007 – 2017. In spite of the series testing the loyalty of its readers to wait and exhibit patience that Job would admire, The Killer received praise and industry accolades. The first volume, collecting issues #1 – 4, won IGN’s Best Indy Book in 2007 and was awarded Newsarama’s “Best Comic You Didn’t Read This Year.” That same year, it was nominated for the “Award for Favourite European Comics” Eagle Award. And, the series was Eisner Award-nominated for Best U.S. Edition of International Material in 2008.
In addition to the acknowledgements in the comic book industry, it was reported that The Killer was optioned for the big screen with a nod to David Fincher to direct and be backed by Paramount Pictures. Regrettably, the project was not realized and, instead, Fincher directed Zodiac (2007) which was one of a multiple Fincher films that explored serial killers, released over 20+ years: Se7en (1995), Zodiac (2007), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and most recently with the Netflix’s series, Mindhunter (2017-2018).
Awards, film option…so what is The Killer all about? It boils down to telling the story of a cynical assassin and events in his life over an approximately eight-year period that takes him through Europe, Central/South America, the States, and the Middle East. The series opens with the killer staking out an apartment in Paris, where his target has not shown up when expected. The reader soon learns that the killer has a lot to say, often philosophizing about human nature. For being a precise, cold assassin, his character flaws will create a complex, cause-effect association against the backdrop of a geopolitical game between Cuba, Venezuela, and the U.S. As a result, our killer finds himself navigating a dangerous game of survival of the fittest.
It was twenty years ago that the first French issue of The Killer was released and while one might anticipate or expect a dated story, this series proves the exception. Matz’s writing is still fresh and biting, or in other words, he has an opinion that finds a voice through his main character. He is obviously knowledgeable about history which intersects with a number of governments’ lawful (and unlawful) chains of command in the political arena, creating a tension-filled international crime story. Instead of being stale, The Killer proves insightful and relevant, especially with regards to the global political climate of today. The story, sadly, also reveals how some political dynamics haven’t changed in two decades.
The political intrigue lends well to the granular study of the central character. For a self-professed survivalist with instincts on par with the animal kingdom’s deadliest predators, the killer has many cracks in his steely external veneer. At one moment, he explains how he knows his targets better than they know themselves, but when they deviate from his expectations, he struggles with uncertainty and makes up for it with long internal monologues about humanity’s posturing on issues, where he is quick to point out the flaws of their reasoning as irrational. Matz creates a fascinating character that should be hated for his profession, but instead, the reader becomes engrossed with the killer’s journey while discovering, that like the plot, things are just not that simple. The reader gets to know the killer’s ideologies; however, Matz excels at keeping the character’s backstory – his birth, childhood, parents – a mystery, except for one chance encounter that reveals the tiniest of details, which simmers in the mind of the reader, as well as the killer’s.
Adding to the delicious story, Jacamon’s covers and interiors sets a high standard and, honestly, elevates his comic book illustrations into the realm of fine art. While Matz’s story transcends agedness, Jacamon captures locales and unrevealed time periods that hint at a familiarity. If hard pressed into identifying the decade, then it might be the 1960s or early 1970s. The colors are vibrant, rich, and pop off the page and at the same time, convey a sense of depth that the reader can lose themselves in with ease. At no time does the artist’s hand slip, and every visual decision expresses a concise determinism. The facial expressions – something rare for the killer – stand out, especially when the barrel of the killer’s gun is pointed at a target. The covers, mentioned at the beginning of this review as being engaging, are like windows to the soul of the series and more specifically, the killer himself. Like the museum paintings one finds themselves lingering at to memorize every contour and brush stroke, Jacamon’s art is exquisite and masterful.
The trade paperback is meaty, just like the story, and comes in at almost 800 pages. Bendis’ introduction to the series and his subsequent experience and opinion regarding The Killer is one shared by this reviewer: It is one of the best series in the last decade; however, taking a step further, this title has earned a spot on those touted “top lists” of the best comics. If you missed reading The Killer when it came out in single issues years ago, do not miss out on the trade. It is well worth your hard-earned money and time. It will give you plenty to think about and a visual experience that will not be soon forgotten.
Creative Team: Matz (writer/translator); Luc Jacamon (artist, covers/interiors), Marshall Dillon (letterer, Chapters 1-10); Deron Bennett (letterer, Chapters 11-13); Edward Gauvin (translator); Scott Newman (designer); Amanda LaFranco (assistant editor); Cameron Chittock & Sierra Hahn (editors)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
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