Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Right off the bat, Kill or be Killed #3 does some incredible things. To a point, I expected to be impressed by the book’s third issue, considering I’ve really enjoyed the first two issues. But with the third installment, the book feels like it’s leveled up from what came before. I guess that comes with the territory, since at this point Brubaker is pretty much done with the set up. We know who the characters are, Dylan has gone through with his first kill, and the conceit is well established.
Which means it’s time to get into the good stuff.
This issue does that really well, cementing the book’s identity and opening up doors to some intriguing plot points. The unreliable narrator is a trope that doesn’t get enough use in the comic book medium, so seeing Brubaker employ it here is awesome. There’s a degree of subtlety to it that sells Dylan as a truly unreliable narrator really well.
Part of the reason that this works is actually the amount of monologuing – which I know probably sounds kind of hypocritical, considering I’ve harped on plenty of books in the past for their monologues. The difference is that Brubaker handles the monologues really well. Rather than forcing myself through them, I feel invested, and can’t wait to read the next paragraph of text.
Notice how I used the word “paragraph.” Kill or be Killed is far from a conventional comic book. In fact, it feels more like a work of prose, overlayed on some truly incredible Sean Philips art. It diverges from traditional expectations of the medium, which, at least for me, makes it an even more engrossing read.
It’s always neat to see books do something different. After doing the weekly grind of reading comics for about five years now, I’ve gotten this sense that the medium has become stagnant. There are obviously fantastic stories being told, but books like Kill or be Killed are incredibly important because they mix that with experimentation.
It further diverges from traditional comics by using the fourth wall as a literary device, rather than a vehicle for some occasionally funny moments. Dylan speaks directly to the reader, and even acknowledges his own writing style. The opening scene does this in a manner that adds a bit of levity to an otherwise dour book, which is a nice change of pace.
Content wise, a lot is accomplished in this issue. Of course, we see Dylan reeling after his kill. These scenes illustrate that are shreds of humanity left in him – he questions his decisions at every turn, and even more so when the demon confronts him about it. Which, by the way, was a nice reminder of the supernatural side of the book.
It’s also nice to see another side of Dylan, the side that comes out when he’s alone with Kira. Of course, this adds an additional layer of complicated character relations. That’s part of what makes the scenes they get together so interesting – they feel normal, almost out of a slice of life book. But there are shadows hanging over them, which Dylan acknowledges directly.
On the topic of character relations, they may very well be my favorite part of the book. Which, after praising it for messing with the medium and being “literary” may seem odd. But having characters that I not only like, but can sympathize with, really anchors the book for me. I don’t know had interested I would be in reading about the day to day lives of Dylan, Kira, and Mason – but in the context of this story, I’m really enjoying them.
I made an allusion to it earlier, but somehow I’ve gone most of this review without actually getting into Philips’ art. For those who have read books he’s been on before, what I’m going to say about it is probably pretty obvious. I think it’s worth saying anyways.
His style syncs up perfectly with Brubaker. Philips captures the noir aesthetic better than nearly any artist working right now. And even though I think this book reads more like prose than a traditional comic, Philips retains an incredibly strong sense of visual storytelling. The way he draws the characters and environments is absolutely perfect. It’s not the most beautiful style, but that’s entirely irrelevant.
Plus, and this is a pretty big upside for me, there are some really cool, esoteric things going on in some of these pages.
Look, I know that a lot of people won’t be reading Kill or be Killed monthly because of how much better Brubaker’s work tends to read once it’s collected. And that’s fine, I get that. So if you’re not reading Kill or be Killed, and this review has piqued your interest, maybe you should wait for the trade. But regardless of how you end up reading it, I think it’s important that you do.