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Kill or be Killed #1

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By Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser

Together Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips make for one of the strongest and most reliable powerhouse collaborator teams in the history of comic books. Their work is as consistent in style as it is diverse in the flavor of the stories they decide to tell. These guys are amazing and, although their books are typically presented as limited series, there is no doubt that any one of their works would be truly successful as a monthly title. They have a knack for stirring up nostalgia while simultaneously creating something totally original and unique. Criminal, for example, is a book of theirs that capitalizes on everything good and pulpy about the crime genre while crafting all new layers of character development, that fans just can’t get enough of. They build whole universes with every new title, and you can bet their latest effort, along with colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (The Fade Out), isn’t going to be any different.

Kill or be Killed #1 masterfully sets up the plot while giving readers plenty of reason to come back for more. The physical comic book itself is hefty in weight and actually feels like you’re grabbing two comics at once. The value is evident from the outset and throughout. You’ll want to take your time reading this one, and maybe even re-reading it, but don’t forget to check out the supplemental material in the back. Like always, Brubaker chimes in with his own recent picks in film, TV and books – a list that all fans should copy down for themselves – while also hand picking a write-up on one the relevant genre’s key points of reference. In this first installment we’re treated to an essay by Devin Faraci – of the website birthmoviesdeath.com – about the classic Charles Bronson film Death Wish. It’s a great piece of a great book that shouldn’t be missed and only adds to the overall quality. It’s Brubaker and Phillips’ appreciation for each genre’s legacy that gives them the ability to breath new life into it, but, maybe ironically, it’s the appreciation that makes it so worthwhile.

But let’s talk about the comic, which is the creative team’s take on the vigilante killer genre. Imagine The Punisher started out in his college years and instead of being motivated by injustice he was propelled to kill bad guys by what may or may not be a figment of his imagination. There’s a lot more to this story than that, to be sure, which is delivered by way of incredibly realistic dialogue narration. Right off the bat the characters are genuinely rich and that goes for main and supporting roles alike. Brubaker dives right in and waste no time giving us a grizzly tale, action-packed and full of moral conflict. You can count on Brubaker to deliver the goods every time and Mr. Phillips knows exactly what to do with it. There must be a shorthand between them at this point that allows the two to work so quickly without sacrificing a thing on the actual page. Their combination of words and images makes TV feel like a cheap trick by comparison and further proves that comic books are a storytelling art form unlike anything else.

The story takes place in New York City, which is depicted in all of its glory and grit by Phillips, expertly colored by Breitweiser. In addition to the setting her colors convey mood and a sincere sense of dread as the story progresses. She manages to combine warm and cool palettes, sometimes on the same page, that offer a sense of fiction amongst a more realistic backdrop. It’s all part of what these folks do while paying tribute to what are likely their favorite things about the pulp stories that inspire them.

If you’re already a fan then you know all of this by now, but be reassured that we’re in the same good hands as always with Kill or be Killed. If you’re just getting into the duo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, then get on over to your local comic shop today and grab this one. Chances are pretty solid they ordered the book, but there’s no telling how long it’ll stay on the shelf!

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