Kill or Be Killed kicks off with approximately thirty-three pages of story. I feel like it’s got to be thirty-two, but the quick count was thirty-three. And writer Ed Brubaker packs those thirty-three pages.
The comic starts with a bunch of gory action killing as our hero, Dylan, shotguns a bunch of bad guys. Well, presumably bad guys. He only kills bad guys, he assures us in narration; Sean Phillips’s art captures the gloom and gore. It’s a lot to start an issue with, but Brubaker and Phillips get through it as the narrator—who’s talking directly to the reader—decides to fill us in on his backstory.
Dylan’s a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student in New York City, living off inheritance and student loans, older than his peers because one of his suicide attempts got him kicked out of school. He’s got no girlfriend—though we get to meet an ex in a flashback in the flashback—and his roommate has stolen his best friend (dating her). As Dylan’s domestic life gets more complicated, with his best friend, Kira, starting an affair with him behind the roommate’s back, he soon finds himself once again suicidal.
Luckily, he’s got one of those apartment buildings like Selina Kyle in Batman Returns and he survives the attempt… only a demon shows up demanding Dylan kill bad guys to make up for the demon not getting his soul in the suicide. A murder a month to keep the demon away.
The issue ends before Dylan’s done the deed, but we know he’s clearly heading in that direction from the opening.
There’s a lot of narration. A lot of it. Some of it’s tedious, some of it ages poorly (the comic’s from summer 2016 and Brubaker’s not great at future-telling), but it rarely gets to be too much. There’s always gorgeous Phillips art to offset any narration-related lag. The New York City stuff is phenomenal, the character figures—their figures look artificially small—not, but it’s only in medium or long-shots. Close-ups, talking heads, Phillips’s on it.
The comic’s intense, unpleasant, and exceedingly well-produced.