blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Killer Inside Me (2016-17)

Killer inside me

The Killer Inside Me revels in its degeneracy. There aren’t any happy moments in the entire series–a five issue adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel–but the first issue is jarringly, hostilely unpleasant. Writer Devin Faraci does lengthy talking heads sequences–back and forth, back and forth–with artist Vic Malhotra keeping them interesting. Interesting or not, the content is so dark and Faraci dwells in it so much–this content can’t be visually rendered, it’s too dark–the first issue ends up being a tolerance gauntlet. Is all this darkness worth it for the story of viciously smart psychopath Lou Ford, a small-town Texas sheriff who’s got everyone fooled into thinking he’s a dopey nice guy.

Killer is dark noir, but it’s also brightly lighted rural Texas dark noir. There’s not just sunshine, there’s also the precise settings. Those back and forth conversation sequences take place in offices, houses, hospitals, and Malhotra keeps them all compelling. The comic’s tone comes less from the content of Faraci’s dialogue (or is it Thompson’s) than it does Malhotra’s panels.

Lou narrates the story, revealing to the reader all the awful things he thinks. Lou’s a relatively reliable narrator–Faraci suggests at some point he’s writing a letter, but the series doesn’t start with that narration constraint. It’s just the awful stuff, ranging from nasty thoughts about the townspeople to fond reminiscences of atrocities committed. About five pages in is when Faraci (and Malhotra) start pushing the ugliness. Lou’s already been somewhat established as a character, his narration’s already been somewhat established, so when he becomes not just a villain, but a reprehensible one… well, like I said, hostilely unpleasant stuff. And then it just gets worse a few pages later. Like, it shouldn’t easily be able to get worse, but it certainly does.

Faraci has some trouble keeping all the characters sorted in the first issue. Killer Inside Me is the kind of book where a character appears on a couple pages in the first issue and won’t be back (or be important) for another issue and a half. It’s something of an adaptation problem; of course narrator Lou can keep everything straight, and maybe it’s paced differently in the novel to add to reader retention, but it’s a lot for a first issue. Especially after all the unpleasantness.

The problem sort of goes away in the second issue, which has a strange but phenomenal pacing. Faraci’s breaking points in the story aren’t on natural story beats. The issues come to their closes with the narrative arc still in motion. So while Killer Inside Me is a five issue series, the first issue and a half are “part one.” Part two kicks off over halfway into the second (with the same talking heads participants who kick off the story proper in the first issue). Malhotra has such a great time with the talking heads sequences. There’s a lot of personality in everyone’s expression. Except protagonist Lou, since he’s a vicious psychopath. He’s stone. Everyone else is guarded but Malhotra’s expressions are almost lush. The awkward conversations, their weights and silences, all come through because of the art.

The third issue is where Faraci gets around to making an excuse for Lou. I assume it comes from the source novel and Faraci does get through it somewhat quickly, but it’s a bit of a pothole. Regardless of if it’s in the novel, the comic doesn’t need the rationalizing. It doesn’t slow the momentum, it’s just a little dishonest. Especially once Faraci gets around to revealing all the surprises in the last issue. Killer Inside Me has a number of reveals throughout. The final ones force the reader to question Lou not just as a narrator but as a character. He’s already the villain–though Faraci and Malhotra certainly make Lou’s “nemesis” an unlikable fop–he’s just not the villain he (or the reader) expected.

Evil is sometimes banal, though–fifties rural Texas or not–there are some big leaps of logic. Faraci doesn’t pay any attention to them, apparently fine leveraging the adaptation status.

The third and fourth issues–excuses aside–are the best in the series. Faraci is sailing with the narration. The too big cast is somewhat under control (it’s easier to remember murder victims than soda jerks) and the unpleasantness has died down. Going so big in the opening, Faraci and Malhotra don’t tone it down as much as avoid it. Lou is far more ominous after the reader has already seen the monster loose.

The finale is a mess of summary storytelling with a fantastic last scene. Malhotra is almost able to pull it off completely, almost able to pave over all the potholes Faraci tries skipping over and can’t. Killer Inside Me is one of those stories–maybe even back to the source material–where it’s far more interesting in how it isn’t told than how it is told. Sure, Lou’s one heck of a narrator, but his narration doesn’t end up being the most interesting part of the story. And Faraci avoids dealing with it. It’s too bad because it’d be something to see how Malhotra would’ve handled it.

It’s a strong, sometimes stomach-turning read, with some lovely art. Faraci just needed an editor who’d let him break more with the source material. Shocking first person narration might not have been passé when Jim Thompson published the book in 1952, but it’s not 1952 anymore. And given the final narrative reveals, however, the creators’ more hostile choices are questionable. Still, Killer mostly works out.

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