‘Kill or Be Killed Volume 1:’ Trade Paperback Review

It’s hard to say what one would do if they were given the worst possible two choices: kill or be killed. Most might swear they’d take the moral high road, resolving never to touch a hair on another’s head. But, when it comes down to it, down to the nitty gritty of survival, would they break to live just one more month?

In Kill or Be Killed (Image Comics), Dylan is faced with these decisions. He’s living a mediocre life, where daily (as most of us do) he judges those around him: good, bad, or worse. His running commentary narrates his life to the reader, a brilliant way for writer Ed Brubaker to handle Dylan’s personality. While he starts out as a killer in Issue #1 in the present, the story jumps into the past to let the reader know why his life turned down that road. Maybe Dylan’s way to justify his own actions, to tell the reader he isn’t really a bad guy and doesn’t fit in the same category as his victims. After all, Dylan is a victim himself, one who was gripped by a demon after a failed suicide attempt and forced to kill one “bad person” a month to pay for his life. If he doesn’t kill, he will be killed.

Dylan’s casual conversation with the reader and his comical tangents allow the reader to bond with him pretty early on. Sure, his discussions and viewpoints on the world aren’t always agreeable (In fact, he reminded me much of Holden Caulfield’s elevated view of himself in the world.), but he’s a mostly likeable kid caught up in social situations that many can relate to. Through the first five issues, he drags the reader along with him, explaining his actions, why he chooses particular people to kill, validating his reasons to take the life of others instead of letting his own extinguish.

Not enough good things can be said about the art by Sean Phillips and colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser. They work seamlessly together to bring the story to life, to make emotions jump off the page. Action sequences flow with a bloody grace that dances across the panels. Dark, gritty colors in the tense scenes contrast perfectly against the softer glows of the romantic segments. No matter the emotion of the writing, the art reaches up to support and carry it. If I were to have one complaint, it would be the demon not quite meeting my expectations in some panels when it was more fully revealed, but it’s a minor criticism amidst a world of awesome.

Kill or Be Killed: Volume One includes the first five issues of the comic series.

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