A Fitting End in Kill or be Killed 20

By Drew Baumgartner

Kill or be Killed 17

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Mr. Helpmann: He’s got away from us, Jack.
Jack Lint: ‘Fraid you’re right, Mr. Helpmann. He’s gone.

Brazil

Drew: There are plenty of worthy contenders, but I tend to think of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil as having the most contentious final cut in film history. Indeed, as the film languished in post-production hell, both Gilliam and the chairman of Universal Pictures, Sid Sheinberg took out competing ads in Variety, imploring the other to release their preferred cut of the film. And much of that disagreement came down to the two lines quoted above; the ones that reveal the frenetic, phantasmagoric escape our hero makes is actually his dissociative fantasy — it turns out he never escaped his torture chamber. Since this is a Gilliam film, it’s easy to argue the whole movie is frenetic and phantasmagoric — and it definitely is to some degree — but the ending flies off the rails in a way that really only make sense as a fantasy. It’s an over-the-top “coincidences help the hero” ending that reads as a straight-up parody of Hollywood films, so it’s kind of hilarious that Sheinberg would insist on that ending not being a fantasy. Any savvy viewer would recognize that something is seriously wrong with Winston’s escape, so to insist that there’s nothing is an insult to our intelligence. That is, we know that it’s a fantasy, we just need the movie to be smart enough to agree with us. With their final issue of Kill or be Killed, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips lean into a similarly impossible-to-believe fantasy, along with a twist very much like the one Gilliam always intended for Brazil. Continue reading

Kill or be Killed 17: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 17

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Don’t bury the lede.

Journalism, Traditional

Drew: Is journalism the opposite of storytelling? Maybe these terms are too sticky to parse, but it’s interesting to me that one of the cardinal rules of journalism — putting the most dramatic part of the story at the start of the article — is essentially the opposite of the basic narrative structure, where the climax arrives very close to the end of a story. Actually, the difference may lie less in where the “climax” (for lack of a better word) occurs as where it’s allowed to occur. While narratives tend to have the climax in their final act, it is by no means as hard-and-fast a rule as “don’t bury the lede,” and precisely where the climax fits in that final act is decidedly more flexible than absolutely, positively occurring in the first paragraph. It’s a simple matter of the purposes of these art forms — the kinds of tricks storytellers use to surprise us or keep us in suspense are totally inappropriate in a newspaper article designed to inform us of what happened where. And it’s those wrinkles in form, unique to storytelling, that make Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Kill or be Killed 17 such a delight. Continue reading

Smooth Transitions in Kill Or Be Killed 15

By Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 15

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. Continue reading

Kill or be Killed 14: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 14

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov

Drew: I feel like we tend to talk about Chekhov’s Gun backwards: we often frame it as “a gun introduced in the first chapter must go off in the third,” but that “must” kind of scrambles the causality — guns don’t go off in narratives because they’ve been introduced; they’re introduced because they need to go off. If the gun doesn’t go off, it’s as irrelevant to the narrative as the rings of Saturn. It’s an essential concept for narrative efficiency, but my awareness of it undoubtedly influences my own understanding of what a story is. While a child may think of a story as “everything that happens to the characters between the beginning and the end” (I know I did), anyone familiar with Chekov’s Gun must recognize that a good story is, at the very least least, pared down to only the relevant events transpiring between the beginning and the end. It’s a notion that assures us that whatever we’re reading is important, which in turn provides some clues about what the narrative finds important. 14 issues in, one might think that we’d already have a great handle on what Kill or be Killed finds important, but this issue managed to surprise me with the details it chose to focus on. Continue reading

Shifting Motives in Kill Or Be Killed 13

By Drew Baumgartner

Kill or be Killed 13

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

This time, it’s personal.

Tagline, Jaws: The Revenge

It’s easy to deride “this time, it’s personal” — even without the association with the fourth Jaws movie, the sentiment has always carried with it a kind of self-parody. Or, I should say: that particular articulation of the sentiment has always felt that way. But the notion of a narrative escalating because of personal stakes is essential to virtually all drama (though, admittedly, not every drama has an impersonal/personal threshold that needs to be crossed). Which makes the implied sneer that goes with saying “this time, it’s personal” somewhat unfortunate — otherwise, it would be the perfect way to express Dylan’s newfound motivation for his war on the Russian Mafia. Continue reading

Giving Dylan a Life Worth Fighting For in Kill Or Be Killed 12

By Drew Baumgartner

Kill or be Killed 12

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

It was clear enough that Dylan’s method for first round of killings wasn’t sustainable. We understand that in a practical sense — his sloppiness had landed him in brushes with both the Russian Mob and the NYPD, both of which seemed to be edging ever closer to figuring out who was behind these attacks — but I also mean it terms of Dylan’s psyche: the more his life was mired in guilt and paranoia, the less it seemed like he would risk so much to protect it. Or, perhaps more importantly, the less we could relate to his desire to protect it. This series regularly places Dyaln at the edge of relatability, but creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are smart to pull Dylan back a bit in this issue, renewing his lease on life before plunging him headlong into a one-man war against the Russian Mob. Continue reading

When the Threats Get Personal, So Does The Violence in Kill Or Be Killed 11

By Ryan Desaulniers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

There are different levels of violence in murder, right? I mean, there’s a different intensity to pressing a button and a bomb dropping on a target versus bayonetting someone in the ribs. The first allows one to remain detached, while the other forces the attacker to be up close and personal. While the result is effectively the same — the death of another human being — the latter’s level of “personal” really makes a difference. In Kill or be Killed, we’ve seen Dylan murder, but it’s been clumsy, almost accidental, in spite his intentions; however, we see in issue eleven a new level to Dylan’s commitment to violence, one which honestly took me aback. Continue reading

Kill Or Be Killed 10: Discussion

By Ryan Desaulniers and Drew Baumgartner

Kill or Be Killed 10

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Ryan D: Maybe you were one of those people, like I was, who trudged through all six seasons of the TV series LOST, debating what was really going on underneath the framework narrative, listening to countless fan theories and devising your own. Perhaps the most popular of these theories was that the characters in the show were all in Purgatory, which show-runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse refuted until they were blue in the face. The tricky thing about fan theories, though, is that when the finale of the series did include a narrative reveal revolving around a state of limbo, many audience members felt disappointed and off-put. They had assumed and hoped that the creators would have devised a finish more surprising than what every Joe and Jill had guessed back in season one, and that the clues given to support this ending were feints and decoys, not the actual resolution. In a similar way, the creative team of Kill or Be Killed, in its tenth issue, confronts the fan theory which has been on everyone’s mind since the first issue: the demonic force which serves as a catalyst for Dylan’s violent turn might by a by-product of a mental condition. While some readers might be anxious about exploring the most obvious of possible explanations of Dylan’s actions, the deftness of writer Ed Brubaker and his visual team of Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser keeps this pseudo-reveal exciting and the narrative fascinating. Continue reading

Kill Or Be Killed 9

Alternating Currents: Kill or Be Killed 9, Drew and Ryan D

Today, Drew and Ryan D. are discussing Kill Or Be Killed 9, originally released May 31st, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

The best-laid plans of mice and men
Often go awry

Robert Burns, To A Mouse

Drew: I use this epigraph a lot on this site. It’s an appealing quote, both because of its sentiment and its popularity (bastardized “translations” to English aside), but also because plans going wrong is such a ubiquitous source of drama. We’ve all had something fall apart in spite of our best efforts, which makes seeing it in fiction tragically relatable, even if our plans (and how they go wrong) are more banal than we might encounter in fiction. It’s probably a bit too generous to say that Dylan’s plans were ever the “best-laid,” but we still recognize the panic that comes when they go awry. This issue pushes him ever closer to completely losing control, though he manages to just barely hang on. Continue reading

Kill Or Be Killed 5

kill-or-be-killed-5Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Kill Or Be Killed 5, originally released January 18th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

A bad workman always blames his tools.

Traditional

Drew: People don’t like to accept responsibility for their failures. If there’s anything else that can take the blame, it probably will. Of course, there’s always something that can take the blame — even absent tools, we can blame vague forces like “office politics” for holding us back. Indeed, when there are no more tangible forces to pin our failures on, we’ll will sooner make up concepts like fate than hold ourselves accountable. As with any tool blaming, that equation is flipped when things are going well — our successes aren’t the result of outside forces or inanimate objects, but our own effort and ingenuity. Taken to the extreme, that illusion can utterly disorient our ability to judge our own actions; if we can effectively do no wrong the very notion of “wrong” loses all meaning. This is the precipice Dylan finds himself on in Kill Or Be Killed 5, as he attempts to reconcile his actions with his own sense of morality. Continue reading