Review: Kill or Be Killed #9

Kill or Be Killed is Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Bettie Breitweiser’s ongoing crime/vigilante comic about a Dylan, a young man who attempts suicide and survives because he makes a deal with a demon to give him one dead body each month. What follows is a 21st century equivalent of Death Wish except Brubaker and Phillips are more self-aware at exploring Dylan’s relationship with his family and friends, mental health, and privilege.

Kill or Be Killed #9 is a particularly thrilling installment of the series and is paced like one of the better episodes of Breaking Bad starting with an image of violence or tension in the opening pages, parsing the context for the image, and then ending on a hell of a cliffhanger after Dylan thinks he’s in the clear. Except he’s in deep shit from page one onward with a reveal that the Russian Mafia has been onto him for a while. A routine pickup of anti-anxiety meds from his dealer Rex (Because the American healthcare system sucks.) turns into a shootout with bodies literally dropping and a bullet riddled van careening from Brooklyn to South Jersey.

Sean Phillips and Bettie Breitweiser’s approach to action is less stylized and more frightening and gut wrenching in Kill or Be Killed #9. The gun fight isn’t something out of a Tarantino or Woo film, but bodies and bullets falling awkwardly. Dylan knows what he’s doing a little bit more than the first issue when he got the stuffing beaten out of him, but he bests the Mafia’s fairly dumb hitman, Bogdan (His phone passcode is “0000”.) through sheer luck and fear. He’s no Chow Yun Fat, and unlike Walter White in the early seasons of Breaking Bad, it’s a lot harder to evade getting caught by the police/organized crime in New York City versus New Mexico as Brubaker’s captions, Phillips’ drawing of awkward body movements, and Breitweiser use of pedestrian colors like grey and brown keep the story grounded. Dylan isn’t cool at all; he’s a messed up dude, and this entire issue is riddled with the mistakes he makes even as he blows up a van and talks trash about Bogdan’s lack of phone security.

One thing I enjoy about the way Ed Brubaker plots Kill or Be Killed is that there are always consequences and ripples to Dylan’s action. For example, in the previous issue, the presence of a vigilante in New York leads to the return of stop and frisk by the NYPD, but white males wearing hoodies are profiled in a dark bit of satire. He doesn’t get off scot-free like Charles Bronson in the five or so Death Wish films, but getting driven by a Russian cab driver after killing a Russian stripper was a bad idea and comes back to bite him and drive issue nine’s story. And there are more immediate consequences too as throwing a near dead Rex in front of a hospital on a crowded New York street while wearing a mask  is a boneheaded idea, but Dylan still has a bit of a conscience and feels bad for accidentally shooting him. However, Dylan is in a steaming pile of trouble as the final issue of the arc draws near, and Brubaker and Phillips put his metaphorical feet to the flame. Phillips especially adds a lot to the complexity of Dylan’s character with some of his close-ups showing him as a fearful, anxiety ridden boy manipulated by a demon while others portray him as a an iron jawed, unrelenting killer, who pulls the trigger on Bogdan without hesitation because he must.

Kill or Be Killed #9 is a master class in creating suspense through a non-linear narrative as Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Bettie Breitweiser use the context of flashbacks to deepen the feeling of terror that Dylan feels, and how close he is to getting pinched/whacked. He is one paranoid drug dealer away from being murdered in his bed, and the varied angles that Phillips uses in his panels unpack this uneasiness as Dylan is royally screwed going into issue 10.

Story: Ed Brubaker Art: Sean Phillips Colors: Bettie Breitweiser
Story: 9.5  Art: 10 Overall: 9.8  Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

General Marvel