Book Report: Kill or Be Killed

Title: Kill or Be Killed, Vol. 1 – 4
Author: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Year: 2016 – 2018

Dylan is a depressed, 28-year-old grad student who is at his end.

killorbekilledHe is in love with his best friend, Kira. His best friend is dating his roommate, Mason. When Mason is out of town Kira and Dylan have sex. It taps into Dylan’s strong feelings for his friend but his world is crushed when he overhears Kira and Mason discussing how pathetic he is. This conversation sends Dylan deeper into his depression and he decides to kill himself by jumping off of the building. Dylan jumps but survives. Dylan’s survival is where the story truly begins as he is visited by a demon who tells Dylan that he owes him. The only way to repay the demon was to kill an evil person to be granted another month to live.

In the hands of a less talented creative team, Kill or Be Killed would be a straightforward story about a reluctant vigilante. What the team of Brubaker and Phillips gives us is a story that delves into pulp, crime, detective fiction, action, and mental health. There are turns in this series that have you asking why something is even important only to be brought back in an explosive way. What makes the story even more compelling is that Brubaker walks the tightrope and lets the reader see that Dylan isn’t a hero yet draws them into cheering on his success.

The further Dylan is drawn into his role as a vigilante he becomes more self-assured. Yet his decisions bring him the sights of people who want him dead and brought to justice. As he goes through this new life he searches for answers in his past. These answers bring the existence of the demon into doubt.

What makes this story so effective is that much like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown that each extra detail we are told reveals another layer. To add more to that Dylan is the narrator and tells the story in a disjointed almost Tarantino-esque fashion that by the end proves to be unreliable.

Kill or Be Killed is Taxi Driver meets Dexter meets Breaking Bad. It is a story about how a person sees the world and makes a decision on how they will exist in it. The same way that Travis Bickle, Walter White, and Dexter Morgan have their own worldviews, so does Dylan. He makes bad decisions for what he deems are good reasons. If you couldn’t tell I can’t recommend this series anymore, it’s great and you won’t regret it.

killdemon

Highlight: As a result of his behavior Dylan is put in a mental institution. He doesn’t allow this to stop his work. It is at this point where we see what drives Dylan. Is it the demon? Or is he driven by his own desires?

Grade: 45villains
4.5 (out of 5) villains

How Justified Avoids Cliches

Warning: this post contains spoilers from season five of Justified. 

While FX’s Justified never received the accolades of Breaking Bad, or had the critical acclaim of the Wire, it was quietly one of this era’s best TV shows. The series, based on an Elmore Leonard short story, found strength in character, setting, and an amazing refusal to fall to cliche. It was these strengths that made Justified the best Leonard adaptation because it held true to his own strengths as a writer.

As with his novels, Justified does a great job of not giving us characters that are one thing. An example of this is season five villain Danny Crowe (AJ Buckley). He was introduced as a strong, violent character who shoots first, second, third and just never gets around to thinking. By itself that gives us a character that we’ve seen before. What Justified does so well is dive into the specifics of a character making them standout. It was his last episode “Weight” that delved into it to great effect.

While Danny mourned for his dead dog Chelsea, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) arrived. Danny explained that Chelsea came from a puppy mill that was ran by his friend. All the puppies were dead except for one, and he took that puppy in. It was an incredibly touching moment that rang true. It didn’t make Danny a good guy, no… it made him human. Which led into the reason this was his final scene on the show.

In this scene it also showed how deftly Justified toyed with and ultimately discarded Chekov’s Gun. Throughout the season Danny Crowe threw down the 21 foot rule challenge. The 21 foot rule is the distance that anyone with a knife within 21 feet is a threat. Danny was willing to test it out with his machete against anyone with a gun. No one took him up on this episode and it was none other than Raylan who took him up on it. Right after finishing his sob story, this scene took place.

The scene was a play on the high noon showdown, Danny believed he could kill someone by charging with his machete before his opponent could fire off a shot. Raylan who prided himself in being a quick shot was ready but before Danny could get there in his charge he fell in a hole… The result was levity and death, but something true to Justified. You don’t always get what you think you’re going to get, and as a fan that was always a blast.