Comic Review – Kill or be Killed #1 (Image Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

It’s rare to have so much trust in a creative team in comics, that when I hear they have a new book coming out I don’t have to look into what it is or what its about. At the very least, I’ll check out the first issue and will almost certainly be back for more. Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser are such a team, with Brubaker and Phillips’s previous collaborations Criminal, Fatale and The Fade Out (Breitweiser joined them as colorist on the latter) all receiving critically acclaim. The Fade Out (the first issue of which I reviewed a while back) was deservedly given the Eisner Award for Best Limited Series this year, as well as a place on the far less prestigious ‘Adam’s Top 5 Comics of 2015‘. So with all that in mind, Kill or be Killed #1 (written by Brubaker, drawn by Phillips and coloured by Breitweiser, published by Image Comics) was a must-buy this week. As with The Fade Out, this first issue also comes with a short piece from Devin Faraci on cinema, this time on Death Wish and what it said about 1970’s America, and is as interesting a read as his pieces on 1940’s Hollywood. That on top of a 34 page comic is a pretty good deal.

Kill or be killed cover

Cover art by Phillips

Kill or be Killed opens with a healthy dose of violence, with a masked and hooded man making his way through a building ruthlessly killing several men with a shotgun. The attacks take on the air of pitiless executions, while the book’s protagonist narrates over the killings calmly, reflecting on how he came to be doing this – murdering ‘bad people’ who deserve it. It’s an in media res opening that, after our masked man Dylan brutally finishes off his last target, winds back to his previous life. The narration moves on, somewhat haphazardly as Dylan tries to bring context to the reader, going from an early instance of feeling weak when a girlfriend is catcalled, to his recent suicide attempt.

Clearly, Dylan isn’t happy. His roommate is dating his best friend Kira, whom he is predictably also in love with, complicating and suffocating his home life. But the worst thing, and what drives him to a rooftop, is their pity amidst his loneliness. However, between this failed suicide attempt and the opening scene, Dylan gets back the “joy of being motherfucking alive”… and then his life changes dramatically, and the 28-year-old grad student becomes a man who needs to kill, however he justifies it in his head.

I went into Kill or be Killed knowing little else past the title and the team behind it, and if I’ve been particularly vague in my summary it’s because I think that is the best way to approach the story. The trigger point for why Dylan starts to kill was unexpected and deftly handled, and I think more satisfying with no prior knowledge. Rest assured, it is good. And as for the rest of the story, Brubaker’s talent for intrigue and character study are on full display, while delivering a script and plot that only replicates the level of quality of his previous work while simultaneously doing something entirely new. It is definitively modern, with Dylan talking about how “Cops kill innocent black kids and get away with it…” and “Psychopaths run for President…” as examples pulled straight from the headlines to illustrate how messed up the world is right now. But how that justifies his actions, or at least how he thinks it does (and we don’t know why the men he is killing are bad, all we have is his word), opens up a fascinating look into the morality of the vigilante killer, rendering Kill or be Killed as much more than a simple take on The Punisher for example. All said, this is very strong start to what promises to be an intriguing story.

Kill or be killed interiors

Art by Phillips & Breitweiser

As for the art, if Phillips and Breitweiser were producing stunning work on The Fade Out (they were), then this is some next level excellence. The book is full of heavy shadows, marrying subdued art up perfectly with the tone of the story. The action at the start is exhilarating and affectingly violent, while the facial detail throughout is gorgeous. The level of detail in the backgrounds too is incredibly high, in particular the snowbound city towards the end of the issue. But the more chilling elements of the book, and the catalyst for Dylan’s new life, is where I found the book to excel. There is a lot to be said of the layout of the art too, with panels framed in such a way as to enhance the fact that this is being narrated by the main character, and he is the focus.

Breitweiser compliments and brings out the best in Phillips’ work, with an array of different palettes and tones through each scene, none of which are a jarring change from the last. From the opening action and the dominance of the reds of Dylan’s mask and the blood spatters, to the oppressive clinical glare of a hospital waiting room or the unclean tones of a city bus and the city lights outside it, all the colour work blends in with the shadowy aesthetics of the book for a result that simply is the best modern comics can look.

It’s rare to have so much trust in a creative team in comics that you pick up a new book without looking into it at all. It is even rarer for that book to be even better than you expected from them. This is comic books at their best. Check it out at your local comic shop or digitally now.

Score: 9.5 Laundry Lines out of 10

Adam’s Top 5 Comics of 2015

Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be sharing our top 5s of 2015, from everyone who writes here at The Lost Lighthouse. This time Adam will go through his favourite 5 comics of the year.

I’m taking a quick break from the depths of writing my PhD thesis to write about some of the things I actually cared about this year. For my final top five I’m ranking my favourite comics released in 2015. Comics are one of the few things I still manage to put a lot of time (and money) into, making a trip to my LCS every Wednesday for new comic book day. I read a lot of really excellent series, with new ones starting all the time. This year I’ve experienced a real shift from DC to Marvel, trying out and sticking with many new series of the latter before and after Marvel’s summer event ‘Secret Wars’, while dropping a large number of DC books – I’m now down to about 5 monthly books from them. But as this list will reflect, I tend to read more Image books than anything else these days.

A warning now, there may be a few spoilers along the way. If you get to a title and aren’t necessarily up to date with it, read on only if you don’t mind finding out the odd plot detail. In particular for my number 2.

5. Justice League – Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok (DC Comics)

20151229_003248.jpg

Justice League is one of the few DC titles I have consistently picked up since the start of DC’s New 52 back in 2011. Geoff Johns has been writing the book since issue #1, delivering the sort of blockbuster superhero action you’d expect from the title. The artist has changed every few arcs on the book, and since the end of last year Jason Fabok has taken over as the main artist. The previous arc ‘The Amazo Virus’ was decent, possibly one of the weaker plots of the last couple of years (certainly not due to the art). However, the current story ‘The Darkseid War’ has been superb, and more importantly has given Fabok the chance to really let loose with his art, not just with excellent superhero action but with huge god Vs god action between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor. His action sequences are superb and relentless, while not falling down when it comes to facial work like many action-orientated artists do.

The story is moving in to its second act this week, with the various members of the Justice League converted to various New God status. A real positive for the series has been seeing the story through the eyes and narration of Wonder Woman, while she leads the remaining Leaguers in a desperate battle while gods wage war on Earth. Justice League makes my list because it is one of the series I look forward to most whenever it comes out, and always goes to the top of my reading stack.

 

4. The Fade Out – Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser (Image Comics)

20151229_003412.jpg

The Fade Out started near the end of last year, and wraps up it’s 12 issue run next week. Created by long time collaborators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the series is a Hollywood crime noir set in the late 1940s. The Fade Out deals with the murder of Hollywood starlet Valeria Sommers, and follows writer Charlie Parish as he tries to piece together his fractured and drunken memory to figure out who is responsible for her death and why. It’s very different to what I would normally read, but I’m so glad I picked it up.

Brubaker creates an interesting noir mystery and it is clear that plenty of research and care has gone into making sure the era feels right for both the setting, story and dialogue. The same can be said for Phillips’s art, with the style and characters feeling very 1940s, so they all really standing out. A bonus to the whole package are the back up articles from Devin Faraci in every issue, dealing with a different star or theme of old Hollywood. It’s really fascinating stuff. I’ll really miss this series when it’s finished, and will be re-reading it all when the final issue is out to see what I missed.

 

3. Southern Bastards – Jason Aaron & Jason Latour (Image Comics)

20151229_003329.jpg

Another Image series that started back in 2014 that continues to go to the top of my reading stack whenever it comes out is the brutal Southern Bastards, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Jason Latour. This is a fucking mean book. Set in Craw County, Alabama, Southern Bastards revolves around Coach Boss and his football team the Runnin’ Rebs, state champions that essentially run the town. The arc that has run through this year has largely focused on fleshing out Boss and his various violent cronies, presumably before we return to the plot moving forward in the new year.

Aaron’s writing is incredibly dark, I tend to feel fairly bummed out after each issue full of terrible people doing terrible things, but it is so well written and compelling. Latour’s art is brilliant, bringing this world to life and imbuing it with a dirty feel and colour palette. Everything in Craw County is ugly, and that includes the people. I can’t wait to see how low this series goes in 2016.

 

2. Thor/The Mighty Thor – Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman (Marvel Comics)

20151229_003149.jpg

Another one from Jason Aaron, but this time decidedly less bleak. I jumped on to the Thor ongoing series during all the fuss over “Thor being turned into Lady Thor” and the huge amount of internet bullshit that followed that announcement that essentially boils down to people being afraid of change, of giving compelling stories a chance rather than knee jerk reactions and being unaware that if comic book companies only cater to the currently relatively small readership prices will continue to rise until the industry dies. And I don’t want that. I like comics. The storm in a teacup followed on from Thor as we know him, the Odinson, becoming unworthy to wield Mjolnir. In his place, a mysterious female picks up the hammer, and starts to use it more skillfully than even the Odinson. He spends a large amount of the first run leading up to Secret Wars trying to figure out her identity, which is revealed to be the cancer-stricken Jane Foster. And using the hammer is rendering her treatments ineffective, so being a hero is slowly killing her.

The story is tightly weaved and incredibly enjoyable, with really top notch plot and character work from Jason Aaron. Dauterman’s art is superb though, and probably the series’s main selling point for me at this stage. There are huge action splashes that are breathtaking to behold, and the cosmic and otherworldly elements and characters of the Nine Realms have looked great so far. When this series wrapped up for Secret Wars I was disappointed, but then delighted to hear that the same team was returning for the continuation after the summer event with The Mighty Thor. The issues so far from that I feel have been even better than the pre-Secret Wars material.

And calm down nerds. Eventually Odinson will be Thor again (in fact there is a fairly large hint in a Secret Wars tie in that we may be looking at having two Thors, which makes me happy as Jane Foster as Thor is great), Steve Rogers will be Cap again (it is his 75th Anniversary in 2016…) and I don’t really know or care what is happening with the Hulk. Just enjoy the stories. Or piss off. Either way do it quietly so the rest of us can read our comics in peace.

 

1. Black Science – Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera (Image Comics)

20151229_003219.jpg

Big Image bias in this list isn’t there? My favourite series of the year is the extremely high concept sci fi Black Science, written by Rick Remender and beautifully drawn by Matteo Scalera. Starting back in late 2013, Black Science focuses on a group of alternative scientists pushing the boundaries of conventional research, led by Grant McKay, formerly of the Anarchist Order of Scientists. Their project, ‘The Pillar’, breaches into different dimensions, but someone sabotages it. It’s stuck jumping across different worlds – dragging everyone that was present along with it, including the other scientists and Grant’s kids Pia and Nate.

The story has jackknifed through gorgeous worlds, deadly worlds, diseased worlds and the slowly dwindling cast of characters has had to interact with multiple versions of themselves in various realities. And while that is all pretty high concept and mind-bending, the latest arc ‘Godworld’ is utterly insane. Remender’s writing is complex and layered, with excellent and dark character work and intelligent science fiction that commands your attention. Scalera’s artwork renders Black Science as one of the most consistently superb looking books on the stands every month. The worlds he brings to life are just stunning.

The latest part of Godworld is due out next week with issue #19, and I’ll probably read it on the tube on the way home. And it will probably be weird, and anyone sitting next to me will be deeply confused and terrified. And I don’t care.

Comic Review – The Fade Out #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Picking a favourite this week was more difficult than I was expecting! I came away from the shop with a nice haul of very different comics, and have ended up deciding to review something other than what I originally had in mind. That something was The Fade Out #1, written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Sean Phillips and colours from Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image Comics. I’m going to make this a quick one as it is pretty late right now and I’ve got more to do tomorrow than my lack of sleep gives credit to.

The Fade Out opens with Charlie, a screen writer and part-time reprobate (as the cast of characters on the opposite page tells us), waking up in a bathtub following ‘The Wild Party’ in Los Angeles, 1948. He starts flashing back to the events of the night before, picking up his friend Gil who was drunk (and tried to punch Bob Hope) before heading to the party. As he moves through the flat, he has intermittent flashbacks that reveal little by little what he got up to, but reveal nothing of the dead woman he has just found in the living room. Shocked, Charlie sees she has been strangled while he slept, and he realises he needs to not be there. To never have been there. So after clearing up after himself, he slinks away. It turns out that the woman he found was an actress in the film he is working on, Valeria Sommers, and Charlie is eventually brought in by the studio security chief. It turns out the studio has changed the story already, altering the scene so it looked like Val hung herself. Charlie can’t speak up though, unless he wants to give away that he was there. He feels complicit in this and falls back into the bottle, remembering more and more of the night, talking to Valeria. It may be that he was more involved in her death than he originally thought…

Difficult to sum up the plot without giving too much away, and I’m pretty sure I have. This is a really well crafted story. Brubaker creates an interesting, noir mystery and it is clear that plenty of research and care has gone into making sure the era feels right for both the setting, story and dialogue (in fact they actually credit their new research assistant, Amy Condit, in the back pages). The same can be said for Phillips’s art, with the style and characters feeling very 1940s, all really standing out. Breitweiser’s colours are washed out when they need to be, dank and threatening at other times when it suits the mood, but more often vibrant and very clear. Also, the dream sequence is a terrifying couple of panels.

Another great new series. This is a team that has been working together for several years, and it shows. As Image often do, this is an oversized first issue for the normal issue price to get new readers in, so the value for money is excellent. In addition, in the back pages Brubaker (I think) indicates a preference for physical print copies over digital, and for that reason they always try to include extras at the back of single print issues. In this case it is a short article written by Devin Faraci, about ‘The Lonesome Death of Peg Entwistle’, one of the many tragic tales of Hollywood and broken dreams. Another good read, and I always appreciate the inclusion of interesting extras. This is well worth picking up, and you can find it at your local comic book shop or online, or I’m sure the digital version is nearly as good!*

 

Score: 9 Commies out of 10

 

* I do happen to completely agree with Brubaker on that though. Things are better, tablets and e-readers aren’t really for me.