Yeah, I know. Another Image book. What can I say? They
publish a lot of good stuff.
This one was easy to spot, being another Ed Brubaker and
Sean Phillips work. Elizabeth Breitweiser worked with Phillips on the art,
having first joined with them for Fatale. As always with this team it’s great
Of course Brubaker and Phillips are deservedly well known
for their noir work in Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out. Kill or Be Killed
certainly follows in that vein in tenor and appearance. The back matter also
includes great writing about noir films, most often by Kim Morgan. These essays
are worth reading on their own.
But Kill or Be Killed is a book that uses the form of
noir to examine consciousness. It never once uses that term, but that’s what it
is. What is reality? Kill or Be Killed leaves the reader wondering.
Lead character and narrator Dylan has a history of
suicide attempts, self medication, and complicated romantic relationships. His
father, a talented but frustrated illustrator, was a suicide when Dylan was
young. His father’s sexually charged horror illustrations were porn in the
woods to young Dylan and his friends.
When the story opens Dylan is a serial killer targeting
people who are unsavory, whether child molesters, Russian mobsters, or American
oligarchs. Taking a nonlinear narrative approach that parallels Dylan’s own
mental process, Kill or Be Killed jumps around to fill out Dylan’s story that
includes girlfriends Kira and Daisy, roommate Mason, dealer Rex, and detective
Throughout the story the reader is pressed to determine
how reliable Dylan is as a narrator. Is his perspective what’s really
happening? Is it an adverse reaction to harms to his mind? Is he suffering from
an organic brain problem? Better yet, the question includes whether Dylan is
morally and ethically right in his actions even if he is unreliable as to why
he he’s taking those actions.
Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser don't tell the reader whether to believe Dylan or whether his actions are justified. They weave a complex story that's full of questions, as well as a lot of violence and a little bit of sex. The reader can take the surface joys of sex and violence as sufficient entertainment, or the reader can have the added enjoyment of thinking about what is consciousness, reality, and morality/ethics, and who decides any of those for anyone but themselves.
Coincidentally I was recently in a group discussion about
consciousness in the philosophical sense. This book, which concluded at 20
issues, fell right in with that discussion, certainly as much so as the Force
from Star Wars that owes its genesis to Jung and which was a part of the group discussion.
I should also mention the covers. A small sampling here shows several of them. Different arcs within the story merited a different theme to the covers. The opening arc all had the dark background like the first issue. In the middle there was a run of orange and the demon that Dylan says is his impetus. No detail is too small for this creative team to use in telling the story.
Kill or Be Killed is an excellent read, full of tension
like any great noir story, that has the addition of an insightful look at what
is reality, who can be believed in telling a story, and the uncertainty that is