I’m trying to imagine my take on this issue if I’d kept reading Kill or Be Killed the first time I tried. Would I have been validated, disappointed, disinterested, indifferent, enthused? Probably not enthused.
Writer Ed Brubaker changes things up this issue entirely, complete with a rationalizing explanation in the back matter, but basically, he’s given up. Kill or Be Killed is no longer an askew generic seventies Marvel white male hero turned vigilante take. It’s no longer Ed Brubaker’s Complete Lowlife Meets Criminal: Crime and Punishment 2017.
It’s now just a cop story.
And not even an original cop story. It’s a cop story with a female detective who got her promotion for optics, and her uniformly male colleagues treat her like shit and demean her for fun. Makes me wonder if Brubaker watched the U.S. remake of Prime Suspect too.
It’s fine. It’s a fine, very traditional narrative. Her boss shuts her down once she realizes a connection between these seemingly random murderers, so she goes to a newspaper. Brubaker didn’t even update it enough for her to go to a news blog.
Now, the inclusion of the female cop isn’t exciting. Sure, it’s Brubaker course adjusting the series, but it’s standard stuff. He’s introducing a joint protagonist, after all. Lots of setup and exposition, all narrated by Dylan. Brubaker forgets Dylan’s been being an obnoxious “Well, actually” snob in his narration for the previous five issues and makes him bashful about using artistic license providing the cop’s backstory.
This tone change comes after Brubaker entirely cops out (no pun) of the cliffhanger resolve, where Dylan’s gunfight with the cops turns into a contrived escape. One artist Sean Phillips didn’t even bother visualizing like the narration describes. Dylan clearly says the cops dive away from his shotgun warning shot. They barely back up. I’ll get to the art. Phillips is done with the action with a capital D.
But then there’s also Dylan’s chance meeting after his escape, which the narration promises will be important later if the reader doesn’t forget like Dylan forgets. For all its faults, outside trying to appeal to white men who buy comics, Kill or Be Killed was never desperate before. Now it’s desperate. Brubaker’s trying to make it accessible.
Dylan hooks up with the ex-girlfriend during his exposition dump about the cop. We get a montage, which is probably Phillips’s best art in the issue, and it’s just a couple Netflixing and chilling with some bong rips too.
The cliffhanger threatens the Russian mob—so now Dylan’s got the cop and a realistic Bond villain after him. Again, desperate to be accessible. But, you know what, it might have worked. It might still work going forward. It just doesn’t work here because, wow, Phillips is checked out.
Not just with the dive, not just with the weird bodies looking like he reluctantly stuck them onto his still lovely New York City urban landscapes, but the lady cop. He draws her a different way every three panels. The first time she shows up, she looks like Kira, the best friend who Dylan was sleeping with (which would’ve made the comic so much better), but then no consistency whatsoever.
It’s a very strange fail for Phillips—especially this issue—besides her boss is photo-referenced to the point they should credit the actor. Maybe lady cop’s shitty boss problems would be more engaging if the art weren’t tediously static.
I don’t just not know what to expect from Kill or Be Killed going forward, but I don’t think Brubaker or Phillips know either. So it’s suddenly a more interesting mess, especially since it’s not even halfway finished.
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