When Kill or be Killed was first announced and preview pages hit the internet, many folks assumed this new series from long time collaborators Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser was a take on The Punisher. There was all this chatter–based on nothing more than a tiny preview–that this was a vigilante story about vengeance and death. Surely it was a revenge story or something similar. Well, it’s about death; that much they got right. Other than that, Kill or be Killed #1 is so much darker and more twisted than anybody guessed. It’s also freaking glorious and an awesome first issue of a promising new series.
Brubaker and Phillips are a sure bet in the world of comics. When you see their names on the cover of a book, it’s usually worth picking up, and Kill or be Killed #1 is no different. No matter how different the subject matter, whether Lovecraftian horror like Fatale or Hollywood murder mystery like The Fade Out, there’s always something special and unique about their work together. They just seem in sync, like the perfect comic collaborators. Nobody makes comics like this crew.
When it comes to first issues, Kill or be Killed #1 is supreme. There’s no tease of a premise or hints of something bigger at play. It starts with a bang, swerves you into territory you least expect, and then stuff gets really, really messed up. The story, “of a young man who is forced to kill bad people, and…struggles to keep his secret as it slowly ruins his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones,” unfolds before you with a pitch perfect pace, jumping back and forth in time to give you all the pieces to a very dark and extremely messed-up puzzle. You know the score and it’s not good for our main character. It’s also addicting as all hell and, like the previous work of these dudes and lady, should immediately be on your pull list.
Sean Phillips is doing some of his best work here. Kill or be Killed #1 is showcase for his storytelling and structure, his dynamic layouts and direction. The gritty violence of this world might invoke his work on Criminal, but the layouts and style here are bigger, more cinematic. Criminal almost always stuck to a grid format, each page constructed in a similar fashion, that was part of it’s look and atmosphere. Kill or be Killed #1 stretches things, with panels often sitting on top of images that encompass entire pages. It’s unmistakably Phillips, but still manages to feel fresh and exciting.
The color art from Breitweiser is brilliant, as well. She punctuates the violence with burst of bright oranges and reds that standout in a startling fashion in contrast to the overwhelming darkness that fills the issue. She’s reserved in all the right places and explosive suddenly and brutally when the one shifts. Phillips work is elevated by Breitweiser’s masterful coloring skills. The art in Kill or be Killed #1 is magnificent, a true thing of beauty in a tale that is so damn ugly.
It would seem where this story is going is obvious, but we should know Brubaker and Phillips have been known to throw a curve ball. Where ever it’s headed, it’s some place filled with evil and violence, and we want to be around when it gets there. Buy Kill or be Killed #1 and tell someone else you know to buy it, too. Everybody should be reading this thing.
Images: Image Comics