Comic books offer readers an escape from an unjust society. They create heroes who serve justice to villains who escape prosecution. These heroes of the night are often known as “vigilantes,” and the comic book world is full of them. Most series write their vigilante storylines with the hero having a clear vendetta against certain people.
These vigilantes have underlying motivations for their actions, like avenging their family, but overall, their work is for the common good. However, this is not the case in Image Comics’ Kill or be Killed Vol. 1.
The Plot Of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 is a collaboration work between Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist). The comic series follows the main character, Dylan, who is a twenty-eight-year-old grad student.
Dylan suffers from depression and has a history of suicide attempts. One night, Dylan tries to kill himself by jumping off a roof, but he survives. After his suicide attempt, Dylan begins to see the shadow of a Demon.
This Demon tells him that because he showed little care for his life, he has to pay a price to continue living. This price is for Dylan to kill one evil person a month in order to stay alive. However, it is up to Dylan to decide what counts as “evil.” From this point on, readers follow Dylan trying to maintain his life by hunting down those he deems worth killing.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issues #1-4 Overview
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 compiles issues #1-4 of the series. The following section will provide an overview of each issue.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #1
In the first issue of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1, Dylan explains what led him to vigilantism. He states that in the past he attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. This incident got him kicked out of college and set him back a few years in university. Therefore, Dylan is a struggling grad student at 28 years old. He moves in with his friend, Mason, who is also a student.
Mason happens to be dating Dylan’s best friend, Kira. He dislikes this since she no longer hangs out with him, only Mason. Dylan decides to jump off a roof because he feels like he lost his best friend. When he does, he feels immediate regret. Luckily, laundry lines catch him which prevent the impact from killing him.
He returns home and attempts to sleep before seeing the shadow of a Demon in his room. This Demon informs Dylan that because he tried to kill himself, he now has to pay “rent.” This “rent” comes in the form of killing one bad person every month to continue living.
Dylan tries to continue his life, thinking the Demon was only a dream. However, as the month drags on, he gets sick. His health deteriorates until the last few days of the month where he begins to see the Demon again. Eventually, Dylan resigns himself to killing a bad person in order to save himself.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #1 Commentary
Right away, Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 provides readers with a relatable main character. Dylan suffers from issues common in today’s society, like depression or struggling for an education.
Dylan is not well-off nor does he have a selfless reason to begin vigilantism. If the average person became a vigilante, it would most likely occur in this format. They would either do it for selfish reasons or believe they are going mad.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #2
Dylan prepares for vigilantism in the second issue of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1. He digs through boxes of pornography at his family’s home to find an old gun his father owned. While he looks, Dylan remembers his past of reading the porn with his friends.
He also recalls a moment when his friend, Teddy, mentions that his older brother plays “special games” with him. These games are sexually explicit ones, which Dylan did not comprehend as a child. Remembering this event, Dylan steels himself and decides to kill Teddy’s older brother to avenge him.
Dylan tracks down Teddy’s brother and waits for him inside a car. While he waits, Dylan questions if he should kill him. He wonders if the brother has reformed since the event happened so long ago. This creates conflict within him on whether or not he is capable of judging between good and evil.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #2 Commentary
This issue brings up the question of when is it morally okay to kill someone. Society makes exceptions for when it is appropriate and, more often than not, pedophilia makes the list. However, Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 asks the tough questions.
If someone did something horrible in their youth, should it affect them in adulthood? Is there no possibility for them to change? Through Dylan struggling with these questions, readers themselves weigh their moral compasses and ask themselves,
“Would I kill them?”
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #3
Issue #3 of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 focuses on Dylan’s inner turmoil and his relationship with Kira. He worries about whether or not he is going insane and questions the Demon’s existence again. Dylan wonders if his acts of killing those he deems “evil” actually help anyone. However, all of his doubts shake when he dreams of the Demon. This leads him to struggle in deciding whether it is an insane hallucination or an actual being.
Afterward, Dylan spends time with Kira when she asks to talk with him. This issue reveals some of Kira’s backstory and just how much Dylan cares for her. She tells him intimate details about herself which makes Dylan feel guilty for hiding secrets from her.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #3 Commentary
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 shows that suddenly becoming a vigilante carries its problems. Most comics make being a vigilante seem easy with how heroes are steadfast in their motivations.
Not many vigilantes in comics have people they can trust and love, at least alive anyway. Therefore, they do not worry about lying or hurting them; however, Dylan is different. He is not an orphan nor friendless. His form of vigilantism is realistic because he has people to lose.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #4
Issue #4 of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 illustrates the dangers vigilantism poses and its difficulty in executing. Dylan purchases a mask to use whenever he goes out to kill people. He thinks about the difficulty in living a vigilante life in present society. He understands that finding criminals and crimes taking place are all based on luck. Therefore, Dylan seeks out trouble at a strip club where he suspects human trafficking is taking place.
After staking the club, Dylan decides to target a bouncer who is in charge of transporting the dancers. However, as he leaves home in the middle of the night, Mason stops and questions him. Dylan heads toward the strip club after avoiding Mason to kill the transporter. However, something goes array which places innocent people in danger.
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 Issue #4 Commentary
Vigilantism is not as easy as it looks in the comics. Heroes cannot simply change their clothes in a phone booth or put on a pair of glasses to avoid suspicion. In a society that is ever-vigilant, being a vigilante is nearly impossible. Especially for someone like Dylan, who has no former martial arts training or skills in spying.
It is challenging playing the role of both judge and executioner. If one is not careful, the people they care for, as well as innocent bystanders, can get hurt. Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 portrays this fact through Dylan’s fumbling acts of vigilantism.
The Art of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1
The artwork of Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 is as dark as the story itself. The artist, Sean Phillips, creates a vivid world through his drawings. He brings to life the setting of every day but does not hide the ugliness underneath. The violence is gritty and holds no punches.
Considering how realistically Phillips draws his characters, readers can feel the pain themselves whenever he hurts a character. He makes sure the characters and settings are as real as possible. This conveys that the violence which occurs in Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 can happen in real life too.
The colors that colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser, uses in Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 also influence the story. The comic mostly features shades of red and black which emphasize the story’s dark atmosphere.
While the story features pages with lighter colors, they always have a tinge of gray or blue to dampen them. There are also moments when she shades pages with a grimy-yellow color. This enhances the idea of a tainted society in Kill or be Killed Vol. 1.
Vigilantism in Kill or be Killed Vol. 1
Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 does not portray a straightforward vigilante story. In other comics, heroes are usually good at being vigilantes and have the moral high ground. However, Ed Brubaker writes a realistic take on vigilantism in Kill or be Killed Vol. 1. He does not shy away from the fact that, in reality, shadowing as a vigilante is difficult.
His main character Dylan is not a rich billionaire with martial arts skills. He is a struggling grad student with no combat training whatsoever. Dylan fumbles as a vigilante within Kill or be Killed Vol. 1. He is more often beat up by his victims than killing them without a scratch.
Brubaker writes Dylan to have a “woke” opinion on society. (His character comments on our society’s politics, greed, and complacency.) However, he places this “woke-ness” into question since Dylan kills people to extend his life. He does not become a vigilante because he wishes to correct society. Dylan solely wants to continue living.
Generally, most write comics in a manner where readers can trust the hero. However, Brubaker writes Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 in a way where readers second-guess Dylan as he second-guesses himself. Dylan is unsure whether or not the Demon is real; he wonders if he is losing his mind.
If that is the case then are the killings justified? Who is Dylan to determine what is evil and innocent? These questions and more are why comic fans should purchase Kill or be Killed Vol. 1 to answer for themselves.