This conclusion of the second arch of Kill or be Killed shows why Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are consistently seen as a powerhouse team in not just the crime genre, but comics in general. The storyline picks up with a spotlight on the task force that was hunting Dylan down. They are investigating the blown up van with his dead drug dealer inside after the pick up of his anti-anxiety meds turned not so routine in the last issue. This conclusion mostly focuses on Dylan’s inner state as he interacts with his family and friends all the while trying to sort out how he got in this position. It might seem like an anticlimactic choice after so much action, but trust me when I say it packs one heck of a narrative punch.
Formally, this issue is breathtaking. Phillips’ layering of panel groupings on top of a page sized panel underneath makes what could be boring conversations and exposition exciting. It causes the reader’s eyes dart across the page to complete the full story in their minds. Overlaying this, we also get Dylan’s narration boxes guiding the reader along. This all might sound overwhelming, but the effect is so seamless that it feels natural. This is mostly because of the way that the current speaker’s word balloons bleed into the white borders around the inset panels while the yellow boxes stand out as separate from the rest of the page. It also creates a different type of emersion as the reader takes in single aspects, but the main focus must remain the page as a whole; at the same time as Dylan is observing and commenting outside of the action, the reader too is placed at a distance. This type of distance is explored in another manner as he travels back to his home in New York and again as he travels to see his girlfriend. The images are completely separated from his internal monologue as he moves through the world without ever being a part of it. The only two things that he feels fully connected to in this issue is his imagined reader and the demon that drives his murderous actions.
It is not just the form that makes this issue so amazing. Every part of it adds something to this take on the masked vigilante concept. Brubaker’s writing is top notch and almost meta as Dylan second guesses himself and converses with his imagined reader saying things like: “Yeah, That’s right. I’m supposed to the sympathetic lead in this story and I just compared myself to the Zodiac Killer.” I am calling this almost meta because we have no indication that he is aware that he is in a comic book. He simply seems to be talking to an imagined listener and this shows the way in which he has narratived his actions as a part of his mental break. Like their work on Criminal, the fantasy aspects never take away from the humanness that they bring out of their main characters. Not to leave colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser out, the yellow, green, and brown tinges that cover everything make the noir tones of the issue shine through and creates a cohesive atmosphere that bridges the gaps between the multiple style choices at play.
I could say so much more about the things I love in this issue, but I don’t want to ruin it for people. Suffice it to say, one of the main critiques of the series is dealt with in a way that both opens it up and makes it far more interesting. This series has consistently delivered by dealing with important issues, stretching the boundaries of several genres, and telling an overall story that has depth and characters readers can connect to. Still, an arch is only as good as its conclusion and this does everything one could ask for. More than that, it feels like a new beginning. Welcome to the horror show indeed. Five Stars!
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Elizabeth Breitweiser, Sean Phillips
Cover: Sean Phillips