Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4

What Was It All For? Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Review

A series’ ending can make or break it. Regardless of how great the buildup was, a terrible conclusion flushes away all credibility. However, what makes a perfect ending? Is it one where the hero succeeds with all questions answered? Or is it when the hero fails and questions are open to interpretation? Well, Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser opens that topic up for debate.

The Plot Of Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4

In the dramatic conclusion of Kill or be Killed, Dylan’s struggles continue regarding confirmation of the Demon’s existence. Now inside a mental hospital, the truth becomes even more muddled. However, along with his internal struggles, Dylan also faces outside conflicts. The obstacles range from Detective Sharpe’s investigation to the Russians. Will all the readers’ questions finally get answered in Kill or be Killed Vol. 4? Let’s take a look.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issues #15-20 Breakdown

The following section will thoroughly review each issue of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4. Therefore, a SPOILER WARNING is in effect.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #15

Issue #15 of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 follows Dylan dealing with the Demon after months of its silence. Ever since the revelation in Kill or be Killed Vol. 3 (review here), the Demon now plagues Dylan 24/7. With the Demon’s constant harassment, Dylan cannot enjoy his time with Kira.

Dylan finally resigns himself to tell Kira the truth (about the Demon and the killings). However, just as he is about to, the Demon appears. Dylan talks to him in front of Kira, who thinks Dylan is going crazy since she cannot see it. Then, the Demon informs Dylan that Mason, his roommate and Kira’s ex, is listening outside the door.

Dylan confronts Mason with the Demon egging him on to fight. The two start fighting and then Dylan goes after the Demon. He starts to choke the Demon only for him to realize that he is actually choking Mason. It is then that Kira knocks Dylan out with a lamp to save Mason.

After the fight, Dylan’s mother ships him off to a mental health facility. While there, Dylan tells his doctor the truth about the Demon and confesses that he is the serial killer. However, the doctor shocks him when he says he does not believe him. For, apparently, during the weeks Dylan has been in the clinic, the “serial killer” murdered three people the night before.  

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #15 Commentary

Everything comes crumbling down in this issue. As the volumes progressed, Dylan felt the pressure of his vigilante lifestyle affecting his normal day-to-day life. However, with the Demon now a constant presence, Dylan finally snaps. His chance at a happy life with Kira slips through his fingers as he can no longer separate his lives. However, his problems only increase with the revelation that another vigilante is killing in his place.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #16

Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 issue #16 begins with the revelation that a copycat vigilante killed in Dylan’s name. (All while Dylan is in a mental hospital.) This causes doctors to not believe Dylan’s claims of being the vigilante.

He continues saying that he is the true serial killer and that he kills due to the Demon’s pressure. Since they believe he is lying, the doctors place him on a new medication dosage. This new prescription keeps Dylan completely numb to his surroundings.

He does not see the Demon anymore after taking the medicine which Dylan assumes is part of the Demon’s plan. He thinks the Demon plans to hide away, making Dylan think he was a hallucination. Then, when doctors release Dylan “cured,” he will reappear.

As Dylan’s treatment progresses, the doctors eventually lessen his dosage. Without being fully-sedated, Dylan finally notices that one of the orderlies at the clinic sexually abuses patients. Once he realizes this, he decides to kill the nurse. He also comes to terms that he does not need the Demon to convince him to kill anymore. He is killing based on his own beliefs.

Nevertheless, while he plans to kill the orderly, outside the clinic, things get complicated. The copycat vigilante gets Dylan into trouble by killing a police officer. Also, at Dylan’s old apartment, Mason finds Dylan’s old vigilante gear underneath his bed while he was moving him out. Once he pieces everything together, Mason calls the anonymous tip line and tells them that Dylan is their suspected vigilante.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #16 Commentary

This issue was an up-and-down roller coaster for Dylan. In the beginning, he is adamant that he is the serial killer and that the Demon is real. However, after time passes with him on medication, he starts to believe otherwise. For a moment, Dylan thinks that the Demon was only a hallucination and that he no longer needs to kill.

But, when he sees the orderly abusing his patients, Dylan realizes he is in too deep. He acknowledges that he no longer needs the Demon to motivate him. Now with his new resolve, Dylan is unaware of the outside forces closing in on him.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #17

Issue #17 of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 begins with Dylan following the orderly, Perry. He stalks him to see if he really is a sexual assaulter.

Dylan starts to think he mistakenly saw the orderly molest a patient after he sees him do nothing wrong. However, when he finds Perry about to rape someone, Dylan reignites his desire to kill him.

At first, Dylan plans to lead and push Perry into a frozen lake behind the mental facility. Unfortunately, another orderly finds him and returns him to the hospital before he can enact his plan.

While inside, the doctors tell Dylan that the police killed the copycat vigilante. This news shakes him as he comes to terms with the fact that he kills because he cannot stand evil. He knows that regardless of the Demon’s existence, he will continue hunting down those who do evil things.

For this reason, when he finds the opportunity, he pushes Perry down the stairs. The impact does not kill Perry immediately, so Dylan snaps his neck. He gets away with killing him since he made the fall look like an accident.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #17 Commentary

Issue #17 of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 goes back to the series’ roots. Readers see a similar questionability in Dylan regarding his target as he had during Vol. 1. However, Dylan is on the hunt and reinforces himself to kill. If anything, this chapter represents Dylan’s rebirth as a vigilante. Not as a pawn of the Demon but as his own master with his own moral compass.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #18

Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 issue #18 starts with the police investigating Buck Thomson, the copycat vigilante. The police department finally kills him, ending his rampage. However, despite the department’s eagerness to close the case, Detective Sharpe does not believe Thomson was the true vigilante. She believes he is a copy since he did not kill people fitting Dylan’s criteria. Also, Thomson lacked critical items linking him to the crimes. But, her colleagues ignore her and close the case.

Detective Sharpe continues her investigation, eventually hearing Mason’s call on the tip line. She interviews him and then Dylan’s mother. After, completing her solo investigation, she determines that Dylan is the real killer. Before Sharpe visits him in the hospital, she tells a colleague about her plans. Unfortunately, she is totally unaware that he has ties to the Russian mafia who follow her to Dylan’s location.   

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #18 Commentary

This issue focuses on the outside world and how Dylan’s problems are closing in. With the death of the copycat vigilante, everyone in the police force eagerly close the case. But, Detective Sharpe sees that there is a missing link. She manages to investigate on her own and comes to the conclusion that Dylan is the real killer.

Detective Sharpe has always shown that she is an intelligent woman and a force of her own. However, despite her intuitive view on the case, she is unable to see her own compromised colleague. It is because of this oversight that Dylan faces danger while at the mental hospital.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #19

Issue #19 of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 begins with Detective Sharpe followed by the Russians. When she arrives at the hospital, she meets with Dylan and asks about his involvement in the vigilante case. At first, Dylan refuses to say anything, knowing that she would need a confession to reopen the investigation. However, when she mentions Rex’s death, Dylan begins to tell the truth out of guilt. While they speak with one another, the Russians arrive outside and enter the facility. The two hear gunshots from inside the interrogation room and prepare to escape.

As they make their way outside, Dylan and Detective Sharpe kill the Russians inside the facility. However, when they are finally outside, a Russian catches them off guard. The Russian aims at Detective Sharpe but Dylan shields her, taking the bullet (but not before killing the Russian).

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #19 Commentary

While Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 looked like it was going to reinstate Dylan to vigilantism, issue #19 put that idea on ice. Instead, Dylan receives a moment of reflection when he reveals to Detective Sharpe all his acts. He recalls not only the “good” he has done but his mistakes as well (i.e. Rex’s death). However, before getting shot, Dylan performs one last act of genuine heroism by saving Detective Sharpe.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #20

The final issue of not only Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 but of the series begins with Dylan dying. He lies on the hospital’s parking lot in the snow with Detective Sharpe over him screaming for help.

As he dies, Dylan starts looking back on his life and begins to feel regret. He eventually loses consciousness, but the story suddenly transitions to him in a hospital bed. Dylan survives his injuries and recovers. He moves in with Kira and develops a close friendship with Detective Sharpe. She supports his vigilantism by providing him with insider tips on the locations of the city’s worst scum.

However, in another sudden twist, it turns out Dylan actually did die in front of the mental facility. Everything about healing up and moving in with Kira was a fantasy he had before dying.

The story transitions again to Kira who meets Detective Sharpe at a café. She tells Kira the truth about everything. Specifically, about Dylan being the vigilante, how he saved her life, and how the truth will remain a secret.

After learning the truth, Kira walks through the city and sees all the bad in it. She understands why Dylan killed so many people and wishes someone could rid the world of them all. Suddenly, Kira looks into a mirror and the Demon appears before her.

Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4 Issue #20 Commentary

The final issue of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 provides readers with not only a what-if scenario but an after story as well. Despite Dylan being the main character, the story continues to the end without him through Kira’s perspective. This decision is a perfect demonstration of what Dylan showcased throughout the series: after death, life continues.

Regardless of how important Dylan saw himself, he was just like everyone else in the city. Nonetheless, in the eyes of people like Kira, he was more important than that.

If Dylan passed down anything, it was his dark outlook on life and the people in it. This is why the idea of the Demon continues to live on through those he affected, i.e. Kira.  

The Artwork Of Kill Or Be Killed Vol. 4

The artwork for Kill or be Killed has had its ups and downs. When it hits, it is glorious; however, when it misses, it is downright laughable. Unfortunately for Kill or be Killed Vol. 4, Sean Phillips misses in his illustrations.

Similarly to Kill or be Killed Vol. 2, the faces drawn within Vol. 4 are poorly done. Also, at times, the line work looks hastily drawn. While I understand this is the last volume and the creators wanted to complete the story, the artwork should not reflect that fact. The drawings look as if Sean Phillips was rushing to meet a deadline. Because of this, the line art does not look as detailed as his previous volumes.

The same occurs with the coloring done by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Surprisingly, despite delivering solid color work in the previous volumes, Breitweiser fails to deliver the same impact in Vol. 4.

While the other volumes mainly contained red, black, and gray coloring, this volume features mostly white. The coloring looks similar to watercolors since it looks so diluted. Also, unlike the other volumes, this one fails to provide color shading which adds dimensions to characters’ faces, clothing, and settings. Everything looks so flat since there is hardly any color shading.

The bare minimum of drawing and coloring occurs in Kill or be Killed Vol. 4. This is depressing since as the last volume of the entire series, the creators should have gone all out.

What Was The Point Of Kill Or Be Killed?

Ed Brubaker is undisputedly an amazing writer. He successfully creates characters who represent both the best and worst aspects of the human condition. Kill or be Killed was a perfect example of this idea. Brubaker provided readers with a flawed main character; however, his flaws are relatable to today’s world.

Dylan suffers from depression and a bleak perspective on society (something many people possess). With the inclusion of the Demon, Brubaker kept readers on their toes. They guessed whether or not it was reality or the side effect of mental health issues.

Unfortunately, despite Brubaker’s brilliant start, Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 makes readers ask:

What was the point of it all?

The Demon’s Existence: Brilliant Symbolism Or Blatant Tease?

As stated previously, an ending can make or break a series. All the positive build-up gets tossed out the window if the pieces do not come together. Sadly, this occurs at the end of Kill or be Killed Vol. 4.

Brubaker builds his entire series around the question of whether or not the Demon exists. However, in the end, readers are not given a clear answer. Now, if the Demon symbolizes depression or mental health problems, then Brubaker did an amazing job. However, many events occur within this series that put that idea into question. For example: How could Dylan tell Mason was listening outside his door in issue #15 if the Demon wasn’t there?

The Demon completely disappears after issue #15 which makes readers think he was a hallucination. However, Brubaker brings its existence back into question when issue #20 shows Kira seeing the Demon in her reflection. So, does the Demon symbolize mental health issues and now Kira has what Dylan had? Or is he an actual being that will now influence her to kill in its name? Brubaker answers none of this.

As a reader who looked forward to seeing confirmation about the Demon, this ending feels like a cop out. What was the point of building up this question if Brubaker planned to not provide any answers? There is nothing wrong with leaving things up to interpretation. But, this is like watching a murder-mystery series and never finding out who the killer is. Essentially, it is all build-up with no payoff.

Dylan’s Narration: Clever Or Pretentious Storytelling?

The way Brubaker began each issue of Kill or be Killed kept readers’ attention. He wrote Dylan’s narration in the middle of the issue and then had him reverse it to the beginning. Now while this mostly worked for keeping readers in suspense, this final volume tested readers’ tolerance of that technique.  

Brubaker wrote Dylan to be a very “woke” character who acted like only he could see the scourge of society. While his speeches were often insightful, most of the time, they were pompous. Dylan would talk down to the audience and badger on about how society sucked and how above it he was. Overall though, Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 showed Dylan’s narration at its worst. This is especially true in issue #20; particularly, with the way he announced his own death.

First, Dylan makes readers think he survived but then reveals it was all in his head. Brubaker tries to remedy this by having Dylan essentially say, “Hey, I know I misled you but that’s life.” Honestly, there were parts where the dialogue throughout the series felt pretentious. However, this ending felt like that but at 10x magnification. There is a difference between brilliant writing and writing like you are brilliant. To end the story with such narration makes it seem like Brubaker was trying to be the latter.

Is Kill Or Be Killed A Waste Of Time?

First, it’s no secret that I am not a fan of this ending. However, does this mean Kill or be Killed is a complete waste of time? No, of course it doesn’t.

Kill or be Killed offers readers a dubious amount of action, interesting characters and food for thought. It allows readers to open their eyes to their surroundings and question what they would do in certain situations. Now, if you are like me, and are a stickler for the facts, then the ending might disappoint you. However, if you enjoy interpreting open endings then this series is your cup of tea. Find out which type you are by giving Kill or be Killed a read.


Kill or be Killed Vol. 4 is available for purchase through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Image Comics. There is also a film version of this series currently in production. For more comic reviews, click here.

Positives
Representation Of Mental Health
Action Sequences
Keeping Readers In Suspense
Relatable Characters
Negatives
Leaving Key Questions Unanswered
Lowered Artwork Quality
Holier-Than-Thou Writing
79
Beginning, End

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