Kyle Starks makes his brand of badass seem so effortless that it’s almost infuriating.
Kill Them All is the latest graphic novel by acclaimed cartoonist Kyle Starks (Rock Candy Mountain, Rick and Morty) with colors by Luigi Anderson. A humorous homage to 90s action movies, it is, in many ways, the spiritual sequel to Starks’ own Sexcastle, itself an homage to 80s action movies. Is it good?
When I reviewed Sexcastle a few years ago, one of my only complaints was that I wanted more of it. While Starks certainly wears his influences on his sleeve in that graphic novel, his style remained firmly his own, and I couldn’t wait to read another comic in which he would take a similar approach. Kill Them All appears to have been the answer to those prayers.
Taking place in the modern day, Kill Them All brings _Sexcastle_’s 80s action movie roots to the next decade, with some Kill Bill and a whole lot of Die Hard thrown in for good measure. The plot might seem familiar to genre fans, too, as it follows a betrayed assassin as she fights her way up to the top of a tower for revenge against a powerful, corrupt organization, joined by a disgraced ex-cop and his affable detective friend with a hook for a hand.
That’s about all the plot summary you’re going to get in this review, because part of the joy of this comic is seeing how much mileage Starks is able to get from employing such simple archetypes and storytelling tropes. There are definitely going to be a few genuinely surprising twists.
Besides, Kill Them All is an excellent example of why “style over substance” isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. If hilarious one-liners (“Those were my warm-up guns. These are my game-time guns.”), innovative action sequences (just wait until you see how Detective Ikura deals with a pesky machine gun), and a car full of guns called a “carsenal” (I’m trying really hard not to give away too many effortlessly brilliant moments like that one) doesn’t sound appealing to you, I don’t know what to tell you.
Part of what makes the comic work as well as it does, of course, is Starks’ cartooning skills. There is such a fluidity to these fight scenes that it almost makes me angry that so few other artists, including those with critical acclaim and high-profile work with the Big 2, are anywhere near Starks’ level when it comes to exciting fight scenes that don’t sacrifice clarity for impact. The fact that his style is such a departure from the kind of quasi-realism that many comic book readers are so used to does not detract from its quality at all, and even if you did have to take away some imaginary artist points, he’d more than make up for it by being so damn charming.
Even Starks’ lettering is effective, clean, and quite often delightful. Just wait until you see the definition of the word “babe” spelled out.
In a departure from the black-and-white Sexcastle, Starks brings on a colorist for Kill Them All in the form of Luigi Anderson. While I’m confident that this could have still been an excellent graphic novel in monochrome, Anderson does an excellent job of keeping his palette simple and never distracting. The muted tones serve mostly to add atmosphere and mood, which is not as easy to convey without color.
Regardless of your familiarity with Starks’ previous work, or even with the action genre in general, you’re bound to have a good time with Kill Them All. Even so, it’s a shame that for as much as a spiritual successor to Sexcastle is exactly what I wanted and was happy to see, the result still finds itself partially obscured by the predecessor’s shadow. This newer comic stands out on its own just fine, make no mistake, but even as it does some new things and shows off Starks’ growth as a cartoonist, it doesn’t feel quite as fresh, funny, or energetic. It’s still all those things, but it’s a tiny bit less magical in the way that so many other sequels are, spiritual or otherwise.
Don’t let that stop you from giving this a read, though. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys well-choreographed action and smiles at slapstick violence, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Is it good?
Kyle Starks makes his brand of badass seem so effortless that it’s almost infuriating. Kill Them All may not be particularly ambitious, but it’s well-crafted, inspired, and deeply enjoyable.