Tag Archives: bettie breitweiser

Review: Kill or Be Killed #19

In the penultimate issue of the series, Kill or Be Killed #19 ties so many threads together as Detective Sharpe finally realizes that Dylan, not some random guy who got shot, is the masked vigilante. But the main event, or basically double feature, for Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Bettie Breitweiser is a ethics debate between Dylan and Sharpe about why he is a vigilante that is bookended by a tight corner, white knuckle shootout in the ironically named Serenity Oaks. Kill or Be Killed is smart and visceral and beautiful too with a blanket of snow covering the whole issue.

Sean Phillips uses different grids for the “interrogation” sequence in Kill or Be Killed #19 going wide when Dylan realizes that Sharpe has no jurisdiction to arrest or charge him and going skinny when he opens up after Sharpe brings up him killing his drug dealer, Rex, the only “innocent” caught in the crossfire. It doesn’t involve any intense violence, but has all the weight of a great reveal as Dylan gives up everything while also justifying his actions and even asking for thanks from the police officer. Phillips adds a nice level of subtext using the motivational posters in the room like “It’s okay to ask for help” when he opens up. The scene is a setpiece in and of itself with Dylan and Sharpe playing all kinds of emotional and moral trump cards when Dylan decides to go back to his room. However, Sharpe isn’t there to make an arrest; like Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, she’s interested in the psychology behind this vigilante killer. And Dylan finds a little bit of catharsis, and Phillips eases the wrinkles on his face for a bit until Kill or Be Killed kicks into action mode featuring its favorite baddies: the Russian mob. This scene plays out a lot like your favorite director just letting a couple great actors loose in a room as Phillips’ facial acting and use of gutters and Breitweiser’s fluctuating use of shadow play out a second act that is one hell of a moral drama.

With the help of a few panels in the beginning of Kill or Be Killed #19 that show how Dylan has been planning to be a better vigilante while on new meds, the fight between him and Sharpe and the Russian mobsters show how far he’s come since a freaked out, Brooklyn hipster shooting bad people to make a demon shut up. Brubaker and Phillips give him one-liners that would be badass without the context of the series, has him coolheadedly direct a plan of escape,  and even has him make a heroic play towards the end, but scenes that would be “Hell yes!” in any other comic or action movie are downright tragic in Kill or Be Killed. Dylan doesn’t need a gun; he needs help. He may make some valid points about how the United States is a plutocracy, but solves this problem by shooting people in the head. However, Brubaker and Philips don’t make any black and white judgments on him (Even though this is how Dylan says he sees in the world in a sequence reminiscient of Heath Ledger’s Joker with less grease paint.) and make the Russians’ arrival at Serenity Oaks the result of a corrupt cop, not vigilantism. This book loves its moral conundrums, which is great, and places it in the well-earned company of Brian Garfield’s original novel Death Wish , not the Charles Bronson and especially not the 2018 remake directed by Eli Roth.

When reading Kill or Be Killed, I either think that Dylan makes some good points about systemic injustice, is a total violent fuckboy, or is somewhere in between. He isn’t a conventionally likable protagonist, especially in an age of white male mass shooters, even though Ed Brubaker gives him the political views of a frustrated progressive. However, towards the end of Kill or Be Killed #19, he and Sean Phillips start to give Dylan a real, guns a-blazing redemption arc. But his actions with Sharpe against the Russians show how numb he is to killing compared to the police officer who is in shock as the snow swirls around them providing Phillips and Breitweiser a visual shorthand to her emotional state.

With beautifully staged debates about justice and corruption and a chilling, closing action sequence, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Bettie Breitweiser turn in virtuosic shadow drenched and snow blown work in Kill or Be Killed #19. I can’t wait to see how this grounded lofi (at times) approach to the vigilante genre ends…

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

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

Preview: Fatale #15

Fatale #15

Story by: Ed Brubaker
Art By: Sean Phillips & Bettie Breitweiser
Cover By: Sean Phillips
Price: $3.50

A NEW ARC BEGINS!
FATALE finally arrives in modern times, as Nicolas Lash’s research from his prison cell draws out old enemies. And him with nowhere left to run.

And remember each issue of FATALE contains extra content, articles and artwork that are not available anywhere but the printed single issues.

fatale15_cover