Kill or Be Killed: Volume One
Ed Brubaker (Writer), Sean Phillips (Illustrator), Elizabeth Breitweiser (Colorist)
Image Comics, 2017

Brubaker and Phillips return with their latest crime noir series, about an urban vigilante named Dylan. The series opens with Dylan in action, but quickly backtracks to explain how he got there. He was not a well man: an aging graduate student with no clear direction, lonely, feeling like he lost his best friend when she started dating his roommate. After a few aborted suicide attempts, he finally leaps off a roof, only to miraculously survive.

He's grateful to be alive, and at this point the story takes a supernatural turn (in that way it's a bit like Fatale, the creative team's previous supernatural noir series). Without totally spoiling the plot, he is told that he has his life because of a bargain: he must take a life once a month to stay alive. He has trouble believing it at first, and in fact it's not clear whether the whole thing is in his head.

But after mysteriously falling ill he does believe it. So then it becomes a practical problem: how does he choose people who deserve to die, and how does he kill them? There's an interesting consideration of the whole vigilante dynamic. For example, crimes definitely happen on New York City subways, but the average rider never sees them. And if you did, there are cameras everywhere, making taking action a risky proposition.

Dylan begins to live a secret life, going out at night seeking worthy victims and executing them. To further complicate things, he begins a secret love affair with his friend Kira, so now there's a love triangle to go with his vigilante identity. When he takes a beating during a killing, it appears to be the end of the love affair, but not of the friendship. The final panel is a tantalizing visual clue from one of his father's illustrations. Is Dylan experiencing a childhood memory, or was his father haunted in the same way?

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Like all the Brubaker/Phillips series, I'm really enjoying this one. I'm probably 5 issues ahead of you, since I'm reading it in floppies (which like always has the advantage of the film & crime essays in the back -- this series is mostly doing revenge and killing spree movies). It's a neat setup, and gets more complicated as it continues, as Dylan's choices about who he should kill get less clear-cut, and some of his early deeds come back to haunt him. (I guess those are spoilers, but really: How else did you think it was gonna go?)

The TPB only includes issues #1-4, so it is just the beginning. As for the spoilers, I have to agree: it was bound to go somewhere like that. Still looking forward to seeing how it gets there.

The story will grow a bit in other ways in the second volume, too. But on that, I won't say any more till you get there!

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