Kill Or Be Killed has finally come full circle in the conclusion of its third arc. The series opened with a man in a ski mask hesitantly narrating his future actions of murdering at least four men with a shotgun, and here he is actually murdering more than four men with a shotgun. With that, the comic has finally answered the big question of “How did this happen?”, but it has raised plenty more along the way. There are crucial elements concerning Dylan’s sanity and relationships. Yet the most important question of all at the end of Kill Or Be Killed #14 is, “What compels us as readers to keep going?”
That’s not a slight at the series, but an introspective point raised by a deeply unlikable protagonist. Dylan is a lead character whose self-absorption, violence, and disconnect with reality make him one of the most repulsive leading men in comics right now. It’s not only that he makes so many awful decisions, but his personality and view of reality would make him someone readers might want to avoid even without the murder and many smaller disregards for basic decency. Yet Kill Or Be Killed remains an enthralling series in spite of all this.
The answer to this question contained within Kill Or Be Killed #14 is one of thrill seeking and mystery. The first half of the issue is the execution of the very first crime Dylan was ever shown committing. While that same sequence of mass murder in a hallway has played out multiple times, the violence as displayed by Phillips and Breitweiser has never become less enthralling. They instill each moment with a visceral reality as bodies move and twist in the ugly and awkward dance of recognizable violence. When a gun goes off or blow lands, muddy reds spatter the walls, and there is no victory in that dim hue. It’s spectacle engaged in the ugliness of the act where the release is that of a voyeur rather than fan. As Dylan reiterates throughout the past couple of issues -- this is something a man can do, and the artists make that seem true.
And the second half of the equation comes in the mystery of the series that has supplanted how Dylan reached this point. Questions of Dylan’s past and the existence of a painted demon have become increasingly important to the series, even supplanting the core vigilante narrative at this point. They provide a mystery box that is perfectly paced in its opening between issues. Like so many before it, Kill Or Be Killed #14 provides some answers and just as many questions in its final page. Phillips paintings of the demon and Dylan’s father’s other pieces still serve as the centerpiece of this mystery, pushing the concept of art and perception to the forefront. The smoke and haze of Dylan’s world are made manifest upon the page.
Yet the core question still remains: Why do we continue to read about this stunted, dangerous man-child? In the age of the anti-hero Dylan stands out for his complete lack of compelling motive as he is entirely self-centered from start to finish. It makes the resolution in #14, a true act break within the series, somewhat less impactful. He has achieved something notable, but there are hints of far worse to come. The achievement and foreshadowing lack weight though as Kill Or Be Killed continues to rely on more concrete questions of how and why. What will happen to Dylan is beyond the spectrum of concern.
Kill Or Be Killed remains a thrilling exhibition of mundane violence and an intriguing mystery that traipses between the border of reality and the supernatural. Yet as it reaches its grandest conclusion to date, the series’ greatest flaw is exposed as the answers do not seem as satisfying as the questions being asked. As Dylan reaches a highlight of his journey, the journey seems to lack a point. It might be enough to enjoy the path itself though.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser