Having collaborated on many titles in the gritty crime noir realm with the occasional supernatural twist such as Fatale, the latest Image title from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is familiar territory. And even if it doesn’t break any new ground for the two creators, the initial volume of Kill or Be Killed has plenty of bloody fun with its modern pulp sensibilities.
Consisting of six issues, this volume raises the stakes for our vigilante hero Dylan, who kills once a month under the service of a demon, although it remains a mystery whether this entity actually exists or it’s all in Dylan’s head in order to distract himself from the struggles of his personal life. However, when the NYPD begin to realize to there’s a masked man killing bad guys, a task force is assembled to hunt him down.
As Dylan finds himself falling further into the darkness of the twisted pact he made with the demon, Brubaker expresses this through his overuse of internal monologue, as nearly every panel features a caption or two to state what Dylan is thinking, even if it’s obvious.
Although Dylan remains a compelling protagonist who never makes the best decisions when it comes to both of his lives, he gets so much attention that most of the supporting cast doesn’t get much development. This is especially true of the two new additions: Daisy, a former flame of Dylan’s as they both rekindle, and Detective Lily Sharpe, who is determined to uncover the connected murder from the last few months, much to the displeasure from her superiors. The latter, in particular, has an issue devoted to her investigation, but because of Dylan’s inner monologues, you never get inside Lily’s head, feeling oddly distant from a character who should be the yin to Dylan’s yang.
The saving grace of this volume is perhaps the best issue in the series, as #7 departs from the main narrative and shifts the focus to Dylan’s best friend Kira, showcasing her tragic backstory involving her family. A family who, through a series of family photos, Kira narrates a long history of members who have died under horrible circumstances. Without any bloodshed, this issue is entirely driven by dysfunctional conversations and a female voice that is both witty and self-aware of the flaws within Kira, while giving a bit more insight into what makes our anti-hero tick.
Overall, despite the lack of development towards the supporting cast and a terrific character-driven issue that took a break from the main narrative, volume two delivers more of the same and that’s enough to sustain anticipation for the next volume.