Image Comics’ Kill or be Killed #16 opens with the series’ protagonist, Dylan, in a mental hospital reflecting on a copy cat vigilante who has taken up his mantle, but doesn’t fully appreciate the “kill or be killed” rationale — the modus operandi for Dylan’s murderous behavior. Dylan’s mental state/capacity has become a character of its own over the course of this Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips series.
Brubaker and Phillips are one of the most enduring writer/artist teams in modern comic book publishing. Their titles, including “Fatale,” “Criminal,” and “The Fade Out” have helped them to cultivate one of the more loyal fan bases in comics. For Brubaker and Phillips, their names are as much of a draw as any title or imprint that they happen to work on and this issue of “Kill or be Killed” helps to explain their success and their following.
The issue tells a complete story – almost freestanding, and the collaboration between Brubaker and Phillips, the communicative continuity between the words/script and the visuals is killer. There is no confusion for the readers here. Brubaker’s plot in this issue deepens the rationale for Dylan’s vigilante ways by backgrounding the “deal with the devil” narrative and foregrounding the institutional forces that hide Dylan’s targets for his murderous brand of justice.
It seems formally fitting that an issue that focuses on Dylan’s complicated mental health is very neatly rendered by both writer and artist. The story deploys innovative visual techniques to signal Dylan’s medicated dissonance with the world in which he lives, highlighting the predicament that he now finds himself in as he is confined and the copycat vigilante continues to do “work” that smears the image of his killer persona. The full payoff of the copycat reveal does require some knowledge of the backstory – but that’s what digital comics and TPBs are for.
Brubaker (and Phillips) seem to be poignantly aware of the ethical issues that Dylan’s brand of vigilantism represents to their own story world as well as the world in which we all live. We might all be angry as hell at one thing or another, but murdering criminals without due process has devastating consequences – only some of which readers are beginning to see in this well thought-out issue.
Kill or be Killed #16 isn’t so much about the killing or that Dylan might be killed if he doesn’t satisfy his deal with the demon to kill serially, but more about Dylan’s state of mind. This sounds crazy, but bringing Dylan’s story into a mental health institution opens up a series of ways through which readers will connect with Dylan – even if we don’t see our demons. 4.5/5!
(W) Ed Brubaker (A/CA) Sean Phillips