Hey gang! It wouldn’t be a proper issue of Forte without my comic-induced ramblings, so strap yourselves in and don your best noir outfit, because this week’s comic is a dark (and frankly depressing) ride through the depths of vigilantism. This week, I’ve gone back to one of my favourite creative teams: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Fatale, The Fade Out), and picked up their dark ‘n’ gritty take on small-scale vigilantism. There’s no fancy gadgets or expensive cars here – it’s down in the muck, with an average bloke launching a vigilante crusade in order to survive another day – that’s right, we’re talking about Kill or Be Killed. Be warned – there’s some confronting topics ahead.
Dylan is a 28-year-old grad student. He’s depressed, burnt out, and in love with his best friend – who just so happens to be dating his roommate. He’s tried and failed to kill himself several times before, but his last failed attempt changed his life for the worst. By a freak chance, he survives a 6-storey fall, and is inspired to live again – until a demon comes calling. Claiming that second chances don’t come cheap, the demon tells Dylan that he must kill a “bad person” once a month or die himself. Dylan thinks it was all a hallucination… until he gets sick. After a week of agonising illness, Dylan attempts to stagger to the emergency room, only to be mugged. As he’s being beaten, his rage builds, and the second he decides to fight back, he feels better. Giving in to the demon’s wishes, Dylan sets out on his hunt – if only to save his own life.
As you can see, Kill or Be Killed covers some really grim territory. Dylan’s life sucks, without a doubt, and the spiral he finds himself once the demon appears makes for a really dark and depressing atmosphere. When combined with Phillips’ linework and colourist Elizabeth Breitweiser’s very dark palette, it’s almost oppressively dark. While that’s been a running theme when it comes to Brubaker and Phillips, this time around it falls a bit short. In previous cases – for example, Fatale and The Fade Out – that atmosphere was filtered by a noir setting, and it worked really well. Here, there’s no style to it – things just seem grim and brooding for the sake of being grim and brooding.
I suspect that this is a very deliberate choice on the creative team’s part – Brubaker has previously talked about the inspiration of the series being “everybody getting away with everything” in modern society – and while it makes Kill or Be Killed a tough read, it’s got that Punisher-style catharsis when it comes to justice being served. When a comic has a whole host of characters that are honestly just terrible people, you know that there’s some serious drama heading their way.
All up, Kill or Be Killed is another great exploration of some grim themes from Brubaker and Phillips. It’s not a standout compared to Fatale, for example, but it’s got an engaging enough story, and enough truly flawed characters to make things interesting. If you’re a fan of their previous work, you’ll probably get a kick of it – especially if you’re a Punisher fan.
Written by Alastair McGibbon