Saturday, 26 November 2016

Kill or Be Killed, Volume 1 Review (Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips)

Dylan is a 28 year old grad student who decides to commit suicide because some girl doesn’t like him – aww, poor widdle baby! Except, at the last moment, a demon saves his life! There’s a price to his second chance though and Dylan must kill someone who deserves to die every month otherwise the demon will take his life. Dylan must… Kill or Be Killed!

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ latest original series isn’t bad but it’s unfortunately not of the same high quality as their last one, The Fade Out. 

The opening sequence where a masked lunatic shoots up an apartment building is exciting and instantly grabs you, as do similarly intense scenes elsewhere in the book. The setup is intriguing too – is the demon real or is Dylan just crazy in the coconut and created the demon as an excuse to act out his darkest desires, a la Fight Club? Brubaker cleverly drops subtle hints throughout to make either explanation viable which keeps you guessing. 

Sean Phillips’ art is fantastic as usual and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colours complement his style perfectly. The snowy scenes in particular were beautiful as was the stark, wintry Coney Island, and the murders are very graphic and gruesome. It’s a minor quibble but a couple of times the character models looked a bit disproportionately drawn, like the perspective wasn’t quite there. And, though this approach isn’t used all the time, I’m not a fan of the layout where you’ve got a full page illustration and a white column of text along the side. It feels more like reading an illustrated novel than a comic. 

Dylan annoyed me. It’s hard to like someone who’s always feeling sorry for themselves and, after a couple of issues of listening to his inner monologue, he came off as a whiny bitch. I also didn’t like how much focus there was on the uninteresting love triangle between him, his flatmate Mason and his bestie Kira. Besides the cheesy soap opera angle, nearly every time Mason and Kira were together, Mason was dragging Kira into his room for a bang sesh! It got to be almost comical. Dylan and Kira walk into the apartment, Mason’s there, within moments he’s hauling Kira off who looks forlornly at Dylan but doesn’t stop him, and Dylan looks torn up. All to repeatedly underline that Dylan’s in love with a messed up girl – it was way too heavy-handed. 

The series concept is Brubaker/Phillips’ real-world take on the vigilante genre: what if an ordinary guy was forced to kill, how would he go about that, etc. But Brubaker’s approach here is a bit of a cop out. Dylan remembers his dad’s old gun and his family happens to live a short train ride away so he gets a weapon too easily. I know very little about guns but don’t they require maintenance? Dylan’s gun hasn’t been used in years, maybe even decades, yet it fires perfectly the first time he uses it? 

The contrivances continue. The problem with the “kill someone deserving” caveat is how do you know if someone is deserving when they’re a total stranger? So it’s awfully convenient that Dylan happens to remember a bad dude from his childhood, who also happens to live nearby and who is absolutely a scumbag, to be his first. Only afterwards is the problem of finding deserving people addressed and poorly at that. 

Most of the vigilante material is great, as is the art, but I didn’t care for the romance guff nor did I expect so much of it in a book called Kill or Be Killed! Ed Brubaker did enough to hold my interest though I didn’t love it like some of his and Sean Phillips’ other comics – it’s still worth a look for fans of this creative team just don’t expect their best work.

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