At the start of this volume, we see our vigilante hero Dylan once again donning the red mask, shooting baddies in a decrepit apartment building, so not much has changed. Although Kill or be Killed has never broken any new ground from the very beginning in terms of being a gritty crime noir, of which Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have tackled before on numerous titles, it does seem like the duo is trying to change things up at this point. As we know Dylan will return to his gun-toting persona, it’s the times when he’s not in the mask where things perk up.
After the realization that the demon who forces him to take the life of a bad person once a month might be a hallucination, Dylan is back on the meds and his vigilante days are behind him. Now in his "Spider-Man No More" phase, Dylan rekindles his relationship with best friend Kira, whom he desires above all else. So as much as things are looking up for Dylan, he is still wrestling with the origins of the demon, which has something to do with his late father, while the Russian mob is determined to catch the vigilante no matter what as they step closer into Dylan’s normal life.
While each issue opens with the return of the vigilante as Dylan narrates to us about what state of mind he’s in in his current situation, the issues themselves are predominately flashbacks in his restructuring of a normal life. Brubaker’s narrative can be a little on the nose with movie references, such as the David Mamet-scripted The Edge, this volume feels more character-driven in how Dylan is rekindling certain aspects of his life, as the scenes between him and Kira become something uplifting in contrast to the bleak nature throughout the series.
As the Russians become more apparent, we do see the return of the masked avenger, but it’s now the least interesting aspect of the comic. No matter how self-aware Brubaker is about how the gangsters come across, they are just cliched. The true conflict Dylan has to face is himself as he tries to look back at his past, which seems to be fractured. Very much about family revelations, Dylan’s monologues about his father are so poignant, about how one’s perspective about your parents can alter throughout the years. In Dylan’s case, his dad’s suicide affects him mentally, which will play a huge part in the later issues.
Although you still get the bloody carnage which is brutally drawn, there’s more to Sean Phillips than just violent spectacle. Despite the modern setting, his New York evokes the murky 70s crime cinema like The French Connection, with the use of film-noir shadows, contrasting with Elizabeth Breitweiser’s bold coloring. In all honesty, seeing how expressive Phillips draws his characters, the facial expressions speak more volumes than Brubaker’s words.
As the vigilantism becomes less interesting, it’s the internal conflict and personal relationships Dylan explores that keep Kill or Be Killed afloat.