by Courtney Ryan. On any given day a lunatic could shoot up a school, drones will drop bombs on innocent families, terrorists might hold an airport hostage, or government-sponsored banking practices will cause thousands to become homeless. It’s really no wonder that vigilante fantasies are so appealing when there’s seemingly no authority to control the chaos of our modern world. But at the heart of every vigilante tale is a broken human who’s ultimately unable to cope with the loneliness and impotence that comes with daily life. This is the central conflict in Kill or Be Killed, the latest series from super team Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser, of The Fade Out, Criminal, and Fatale.

After a botched suicide attempt, our hero Dylan discovers a new lease on life, but his optimism is cut short when a demon drops by to demand he murder a “bad person” every month in order to remain alive. It’s a clever device since we immediately know Dylan’s vigilante justice is motivated purely by self-preservation rather than any desire to help others. He isn’t brave or particularly skilled—he’s just a regular dude who feels like a loser most of the time.

Brubaker skillfully employs Dylan’s philosophical yet unreliable narration to thread together animated and often violent sequences. We know from the start that Dylan eventually will not limit himself to one homicide per month, but it’s still unclear when or how he breaks away from the sensitive, lonely guy we meet in the first issue.

Sean Phillips draws vulnerable and emotive characters who stalk gloomy streets and hallways (or stand among the shadows of silent bedrooms). At times snowfall softens Dylan’s world and frames him as a dark figure posed starkly against the wintery landscape. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s coloring perfectly captures the feel of a gritty urban legend as she creates shadows with slate blues, grays, and blacks. She occasionally smears panels with orange and red when Dylan gets to murdering and, curiously, whenever the woman he loves appears.

Brubaker and Phillips have accomplished horror noir before (in Fatale and, to an extent, The Fade Out), though Kill or Be Killed provides this team with an unique opportunity — to outdo themselves. Brubaker’s heavy narration doesn’t curb the page-turning effect of the story; in fact, the end of the first issue arrives far too soon. With current-day external threats looming over an existentially strained culture, a comic that deconstructs vigilantism couldn’t be more timely. I can’t wait to see where Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser take this one.  

Image Comics / $3.99

Written by Ed Brubaker.

Art by Sean Phillips.

Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser.  

9 out of 10