Kill Or Be Killed #13
This is another excellent issue of what is probably my favourite monthly book at the moment. Behind an intentionally bold, lurid and pulp-y cover lurks a story of contrasting complexity, in terms of its subject matter, its characterisation and its structure, as well as the specific techniques used to bring the artwork to life.
Dealing with issues including depression, absent fathers, romantic relationships, mental illness, vigilante violence and supernatural demonic threats, it’s a book that reconciles all of these into a single narrative that is very compelling - although largely in more subtle, character-driven ways than the more action-oriented approach that might be implied by the cover.
Brubaker opts for a slightly detached and self-aware style of narration here, rather than the more ‘straight’ approach of something like Criminal, which treats its hard-boiled elements with a little more sincerity. This month, we see an opening action scene that calls back to the earliest issues of the book, with the narrator promising that we will soon see the title’s overarching story come full circle (and delivering on that promise by the end of this issue).
Sandwiched between these two bookends, to mix a metaphor, is a series of quite touching scenes about Dylan, the book’s protagonist. (I’d stop short of calling him a hero for reasons that are obvious when you’re dealing with a killer whose grip on reality is often loose, and who often acts primarily out of self-preservation instincts rather than for any kind of altruistic reason - although he does try to channel his impulses as positively as possible in terms of his choice of targets.)
There’s little in this issue that’s obviously directly related to the core concept of the book - a man driven to kill strangers by visions of a threatening demon - with chapter 13 instead largely dealing with Dylan’s relationship with his long-dead father. However, it all plays into the overall picture, adding extra depth to what we know already, and providing new developments that extend the story further.
There are revelations here that cast new light on the entire series, but even more touchingly they introduce entirely new relationships into the book, complicating our understanding of Dylan even further and making him more sympathetic than the more rational parts of our minds might like to admit.
I won’t say more other than to say that this is a very important issue in fleshing out Dylan’s character, especially when it comes to his upbringing and his self-destructive impulses.
On the art side, Philliips seems to be getting better and better. I love the slightly more expansive and unusual layouts that he employs here, in contrast to the more claustrophobic and rigid grids that we might be used to from the likes of Criminal.
There’s an interesting mixture of styles within the panels themselves too, particularly when it comes to the sections dealing with the Dylan’s father’s career as an illustrator for old pulp magazines. These pages really work to convey the lurid appeal of the old pulps, while also reinforcing the connection between Dylan and his father (and underlining the detachment between the pair, and the sadness that we feel for that connection being lost):
And in several places, the book returns to the ‘illustrated story’ approach that we’ve seen in previous issues.
I love the way this technique instantly slows the pace of the story down, allowing not only for a wordier, more reflective tone to the writing, but also encouraging you to stop and soak in the illustrations for longer.
(This excerpt contains a bit of a spoiler for the issue so I’ll blur it. You can click to unblur.)
There’s also another wonderfully lurid full-page illustration here from one of Dylan’s dad’s pulp magazines - but I won’t post that here as it really deserves to be seen in the context of the issue itself.
Finally, the end of the issue brings things back to the violent action scene that we saw at the start, and contains a wicked tease that breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly to drag them into the next issue. Not that we really need the encouragement: I’d be eagerly awaiting issue #14 no matter what.
It’s not going too far to say that I think this is some of Brubaker and Phillips’ best work (both together and individually). With their previous projects together that have reached this kind of issue-count, I’ve by this stage been looking forward to a conclusion and hoping to see everything wrapped up. Here, though, I’ll be very happy to see the series continue for a long time yet.