Demon-mandated murder still plagues Dylan’s mind and the weight of their secret pact begins to take its mental toll. Minor spoilers follow.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser
The next arc of BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS’ bestselling series is a blockbuster! Dylan is forced to confront the reality of his violent actions and his sanity…and nothing will ever be the same again!
How does one get along in the world when everyone’s most awful actions are clearly exposed? What would it do to your mind, knowingly brushing up against murderers and rapists during your commute? Do you ignore it or take action? Killing others would surely be easier, wouldn’t it? It makes the trigger a little easier to pull, at least for Dylan. While Dylan’s demon pronounces the crimes of those around him, most of us have the nightly news. What is this bombardment of dark information doing to our minds? How does it color our reality?
Winter’s arrived, and the first issue of the newest arc suitably slows down the pace as it switches narrative gears from external to internal conflict. Contrasting the tranquility of a snowy New York City day, Dylan’s mind is all chaos and darkness. Objective versus subjective reality is brought into stark relief here. It’s difficult to see any goodness or grace in the world when a demonic entity keeps whispering in your ear. The opening narration devolves into a doom and gloom checklist of the world’s most awful occurrences as Dylan watches the wintry world from the windows of . . . a mental institution?
Brubaker is reliant on the same, tired chronological tricks. In fact, it was only last issue that the series finally caught up to the first scene in #1. After three entire volumes, “Kill or Be Killed” finally escaped from its fourteen-issue flashback. And then Brubaker has the nerve to jump ahead again to Dylan’s incarceration in Serenity Oaks. “But wait . . . . You need to know how I ended up in that place, don’t you?” Dylan asks us, the readers, truly testing our patience now. Thankfully, we’re caught up to this point by the end. Dylan’s casual communication with readers will feel playful for some, while others will surely be annoyed at this oft-repeated gimmick.
The shadow demon gets more panel time here than ever before in the pages leading up to Dylan’s confinement. It floats perpetually over Dylan’s shoulder with the same scowl and rictus of fangs, a black smudge in Dylan’s periphery. “Drunk driver. Wife beater. Drug dealer,” it whispers in Dylan’s ear (or mind), revealing potential targets to fulfill his murder quota. Despite appearing in his father’s paintings and to his half-brother in the moments leading up to his suicide, the demon’s true nature remains a mystery. The demon is even an unexpected source of levity when exposing Dylan’s eavesdropping roommate, Mason. Whether intended or not, the more the demon appears, the less threatening and frightening it becomes.
The relentless presence of this evil companion and Dylan’s heavy secrets have caused his brain to all but collapse. When Dylan thinks about confessing his crimes to Kira, the background suddenly shifts with the demon’s presence. During the scuffle with Mason, the background melts into fingerprint whorls swirling with warm colors—as if the demonstrating the demon’s iron grip on Dylan’s feeble brain. These psychotic, roiling colors pop out from the rest of the gritty color palette and presage Dylan’s breakdown. It’s an effective visual reminder of Dylan’s tenuous grasp on reality, if the demon truly is a figment of his violent imagination.
Brubaker continues overwriting every page. You’d think that this late in his comics career, he’d allow his most frequent collaborator’s art a little room to breathe. Text boxes, word balloons, thought bubbles or some combination of the three, suffocate every panel of Philips’s art. Really, go and check—not one panel is free from Brubaker’s asphyxiating words.
Looking past the torrential text, the art remains top-notch. Winter has come to New York City, and it glows with periwinkle tranquility. Philips’s art is always a delight to behold. Photorealistic faces, bustling civilians, and detailed cityscapes grant life to modern New York. The page layouts remain consistent with the rest of the series. One or two prominent panels extend full bleed across the page. The internal gutters are merely bold, white lines creating small panels along the center. It helps achieve a sense of claustrophobia, of Dylan’s world closing in on him, like the delicate threshold dividing sane from insane.Continued below
As a metaphor for depression or mental illness, “Kill or Be Killed” #15 is incisive, dropping us directly into Dylan’s shadowy mind and showing us how that darkness is a black hole that no light can hope to escape. When Dylan attends a packed lecture, the demon sweeps over the students, cloaking them in darkness. With the demon at his side, or in his head, people are boiled down to their worst qualities, their worst crimes. As evidenced by Dylan’s misanthropic narration, he can see only darkness. When it’s kill or be killed, their violent excision from the world is hardly a choice.
The beginning of the fourth arc promises more pulpy goodness. Dylan’s admittance to the asylum is a fitting direction for the story to take, and the ending cliffhanger promises more intrigue ahead.
Final Verdict: 6.5 – Dylan confronts his literal demon in “Kill or Be Killed” #15 while the corrupting influence of mental illness takes its toll in an overwritten, yet enjoyable issue.