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‘Kill or Be Killed #1:’ Comic Book Review

The epic pairing of multiple Eisner Award-winning writer Ed Brubaker and Eisner Award-winning artist Sean Phillips, on the heels of their well-received limited series, The Criminal, really went dark with their latest offering from Image, Kill or Be Killed.  The pair, who have won Eisners separately and together, were joined by colorist/cover artist Elizabeth Breitweiser to create the story of anti-hero Dylan,whose tumble into self-loathing turns him into an avenging angel.

Well, sorta.

Angel – while cliché – just doesn’t FEEL like the right word here.  Perhaps avenging demon might be better.

Dylan is an underachieving late starter who attempted suicide but didn’t achieve his desired result.  After a failed attempt led him into years of hospitalization and backtracking, Dylan finds himself years behind where he expected to be in his career and in his life.  In love with his best friend, who is sleeping with his roommate, Dylan again decides to end it all…and again fails.

But this time, he is visited by a demon who explains that it was he who saved him and it is he that Dylan must now serve…with a monthly sacrifice…of a bad guy.  See where the avenging angel/avenging demon confusion comes in?
Anything more would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that this is a dark story and a very PG-13/R-rated story.  Lots of F bombs litter the writing.  And while some might find it gratuitous, I liked it because – frankly – it is how people talk.  There were liberties taken, for sure, but nothing that felt out of the ordinary.

Brubaker is a strong writer, and this genre suits him.  He was able to take an anti-hero and make him both interesting and pitiable, all at the same time. Dylan’s walk on the dark side, as it is written by Brubaker, feels genuine and cathartic at the same time as feeling dirty and unnatural.  Good writers have the ability to bridge that divide.

Phillips’ art is the real star of this book.  His ability to make faces – even those covered with masks – speak is a testament to understanding the characters as well as understanding your craft.  There were moments that were telegraphed because of this talent, which I think is a great trait in storytelling.  It also speaks very well of the relationship between writer and artist.  Having worked together for many years, these two know how to make each other’s talents work.

Kill or Be Killed is not for the faint of heart, but it is a really fine outing that combines the talents of two artist who clearly love working together.  If you are a fan of the work they have done together, or individually, I highly recommend adding this to your collection.


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