By Ryan Desaulniers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Despite all of the guessing and theorizing which this title forces upon the audience in regards to the narrative, after fourteen issues of KOBK, it was safe to say that readers know at least a little about the world and its rules. We know there’s a haunted young man who lives in New York who spends time with his on-again/off-again girlfriend who also runs off to murder mob bosses in town. We’re used to some big swerves at the end of any given issue regarding the nature of the Beast that plagues Dylan by now, too. What caught me completely by surprise in issue fifteen, however, is the transition out of New York City, and how cleanly the creative team handled it.
New York plays a wonderful background character in this series. Indeed, it’s the fabric of the metropolis that allows Dylan to wander around in his existential funk, feeling like just one of a faceless mass — and what allows him to stab a man in the throat in the middle of a busy street. Having lived in Brooklyn for the past few months, I have certainly noticed the feeling of being surrounded by people and yet remaining entirely camoflaged in a way that Baudelaire wrote about back in the mid-1800s. As this issue opens with scenic shots of Times Square covered in fresh snowfall, some B-roll of the brake lights of cars on busy streets, and establishing shots of the skyline, it’s easy to feel like we’re right back where we left off, just a page or two away from Dylan’s meandering narration taking us back to the last moment of issue fourteen, when the demon’s head appeared over Kira’s.
But instead, the creative team transitions us. The transition is subtle. It begins in the safe familiarity of Dylan lamenting how shitty life can be over the image of Central Park. Status quo for the series. But then the bottom of the page introduces to use the long sight line of the commuter rail train:
Our eyes are taken up to the next page where we see that same train, but far upstate and viewed through a window. It’s now that we know that something has changed.
This transition could have been jarring. It could have been used as a page-turn reveal, but instead takes place between two neighboring pages. Artist Sean Phillips, who normally uses the technique of putting down a large, spash-esque image running to the page’s edge layered with smaller-paneled beats to establish the event of a moment, instead uses the framework of the window to show that Dylan and the audience both are trapped in a place well out of our comfort zone. Nobody, at least in most narrative fiction, wants to be “sent upstate” to a mental institute, in the same way that I, as a reader, don’t want this story to end up as another “confessions to a psychiatrist” narrative, so we are forced to be in league with Dylan. And for a character who could so easily come across as whiny while committing murders and who so often acts in his personal life with such dark toxicity, Ed Brubaker and his art team of Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser keep us right there with Dylan, unable to find objectivity while we are sharing space with him.
For a series that is in part about painful personal transitions, this transition from bustling city to the antiseptically rural happens not with a bang but with a whimper. Even though the issue later returns the narrative to Dylan’s apartment and the incident with his roommate which lands Dylan in the psych ward, the shift upstate and away from the series’ status quo can not be undone. Maybe, to both Dylan and the audience, the most shocking part of this particular transition should’t be how jarring it is to end up in a mental institution away to the comfortable trappings seen in pervious issues, but how easy and natural the segue was.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?