Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Publisher: Image Comics
As a result of trying to avoid solicits like they’re a plague on humanity (which they kind of are), I didn’t really know what Kill or Be Killed was about before I dove in. But you know what? I didn’t matter to me, because it was Brubaker and Philips. So I expected a noir book about crime or spies that I would fall in love with instantly.
So I was understandably confused when a fucking demon showed up halfway through the book.
When I went back for the second time, I was actually pretty glad that demon was there. I mean, yeah, it’s the device upon which the entire plot hinges, so in that sense it’s a good thing to have around. Aside from that though, it makes everything about the book feel less convenient, which was something I had written in my notes the first time around. The existence of this demon as a plot device also goes a long way towards justifying Dylan’s actions – who initially comes across as a total tool.
To an extent, KoBK does have a case of the first issue blues. It’s a bit overwritten, and there’s maybe too much exposition as Brubaker establishes the character and story. While I think both of those probably count as flaws, Brubaker is such a good writer that I didn’t mind them as much as I usually would. Regardless, cutting back on the text would have benefited the book, especially in its early pages.
Brubaker does a really good job here of unwinding the narrative throughout the issue. Not all of the information is presented up front, in fact, the initial pages aren’t really indicative of what this book is. They make sense in context, and I actually liked them a lot more the second time through, because Dylan’s monologue actually makes sense. I do also like that the monologue isn’t presented as if it were in the moment – it’s not a revolutionary thing but it makes it a lot more tolerable.
Sean Phillips, as per usual, does absolutely incredible work. It looks like his past work, but one of the reasons he works so well with Brubaker is that the narrative always seems built from the ground up with Phillips’ style in mind. The book is definitely drawn to look like Dylan’s world view – it’s bleak and depressing. The colors are all very tempered, but this is definitely a stylistic choice, and Elizabeth Breitweiser does a great job executing on it. It’s also a nice touch that Kira’s dyed hair is often the most colorful aspect of a page.
KoBK is a book that I’m really excited to see the future of. The first issue ends just as it was starting to get truly great, but the set up is more than interesting enough to have hooked me. I don’t know that I like any of the characters, but I am invested in their story. Plus, I’ll read anything just for Sean Phillips’ work.