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Kill or Be Killed (comics)

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Kill or Be Killed
On the cover of the first issue, Dylan wears a dark hoodie and red mask as he holds a gun by his side. He is surrounded by mist against a black background.
Cover to Kill or Be Killed #1, art by Sean Phillips
Publication information
PublisherImage Comics
Publication dateAugust 2016 – June 2018
No. of issues20
Creative team
Created byEd Brubaker, Sean Phillips
Written byEd Brubaker
Artist(s)Sean Phillips
Colorist(s)Elizabeth Breitweiser
Editor(s)Eric Stephenson
Collected editions
Vol One (#1–4)ISBN 1534300287
Vol Two (#5–10)ISBN 153430228X
Vol Three (#11–14)ISBN 1534304711
Vol Four (#15-20)ISBN 153430651X

Kill or be Killed is an American comic book series created by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. Elizabeth Breitweiser is the colorist. The series was announced in April 2016, and the first issue was published by Image Comics on August 3, 2016. The series received mostly positive reviews from critics until its conclusion at issue 20 in June 2018.

The story is about Dylan, a depressed college student who attempts suicide. He survives due to unlikely events, but is soon visited by a demon who explains he spared Dylan's life. In exchange, Dylan will be allowed to live one more month for every person he kills. Brubaker said he chose to make the character young because he wanted to include the optimism of youth. The comic examines the consequences of vigilante violence and its effects on Dylan’s loved ones. The story debuted to mostly positive reviews. Some reviewers felt it was too similar to Brubaker and Phillips' previous collaborations.

Publication history[edit]


Kill or Be Killed is the sixth collaboration between Brubaker and Phillips, who had previously created other crime comics like Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out together. They first announced this series in April 2016 at the Image Expo, which was held during the Emerald City Comicon.[1][2] They promoted the series being "unlike anything [they have] done before" because it will be set in the present day and is designed as an ongoing series instead of a limited one with a predetermined course.[3][4][5] Image partner Robert Kirkman suggested Brubaker aim for at least 50 issues.[6]

The concept stemmed from Brubaker's effort to channel his feelings about the state of the world and take them to the extreme. Recent news reports made him feel "that there is no justice. Everybody gets away with everything. The world being at the edge of falling apart is where the whole story sprang from."[7] He hopes the story taps into the "generational anger" he has observed.[1] He describes the story as Death Wish meets Breaking Bad with the adventure of The Amazing Spider-Man comics from the 1970s.[7]

Phillips chooses to be kept in the dark about the future of the series, never knowing any farther ahead than his current working script.[5] For Kill or Be Killed, he is using digital tools and the same panel layout he has used on previous works, but removed the frame from the outside edges because he felt the full bleed makes the images feel more claustrophobic.[8] Breitweiser, an integral part of the team, is coloring Phillips' art in a moody palette with gritty textures and incorporating color psychology.[5]


The first issue had an initial print run of about 30,000 and was released on August 3, 2016.[9][10] It quickly sold out at the distributor level and a second printing was announced August 9.[11][12] The issue remained in high demand, and two additional printings were issued by December.[13] It was the 93rd best selling comic book issue the month it was released.[9] The second issue was released in September with an initial print run of about 23,800 copies.[14] The 20% drop in orders for issue two was less than the industry average of 30%, and far less than the Image average of 50%.[15] This issue was also a sell out and received additional printings.[13] Orders for the third issue were a little higher, estimated at 23,900 copies.[16] The first four issues sold in higher numbers than any of Brubaker and Phillips' previous collaborations.[17] As part of Image Comics' 25th anniversary, Kill or Be Killed participated in the "tribute variants" with an alternate cover drawn by Phillips that paid homage to the first issue of The Walking Dead.[18] The series concluded at issue 20 in June 2018.[19]

The comic book is being collected in a series of trade paperback volumes. The first volume, released January 18, 2017, contains issues 1–4 and the second volume, released August 9, 2017, contains issues 5–10.[20] The third volume was released on January 19, 2018, collecting issues 11–14.[21] A final, fourth volume was also released in 2018. Each single issue includes articles and other content written by guest contributors that are not included in the collected editions.[22]



Brubaker wanted to examine the reality of being a vigilante, and Kill or Be Killed focuses on the ramifications of violence and its effect on Dylan’s loved ones.[7][6] The demonic element to the story also allows Brubaker to play with the idea of "If you had to kill a bad person, who would you pick?"[5] Although Dylan becomes a murderer at the beginning of the story, Brubaker hopes the character's plight is sympathetic enough that readers will root for him.[7] Dylan's arrangement with the demon has been interpreted as commentary on the War on Terror and the racially motivated violence publicised in the US in the two years prior to the book's publication.[23]


Dylan, a 28 year-old grad student, is depressed because he is in love with his best friend, Kira, but she is dating Dylan's roommate, Mason. He has a cynical worldview and criticizes the world for its materialism, and at the same time wishes he could connect better with the people in it. When his roommate is away one night, Dylan and Kira begin a secret affair. When Dylan overhears Mason and Kira discussing how pitiful he is, Dylan decides to commit suicide. He jumps off a tall building, but survives due to unlikely events. That night, he is visited by a demon who claims he spared Dylan's life. The demon says Dylan must now murder one person for every additional month he wants to live.[24] Dylan convinces himself this was a hallucination, but he begins to grow sick as the end of the month approaches. When the demon appears a second time, Dylan decides to track down a man who molested Dylan's friend when they were children. After shooting him, Dylan's sickness goes away.[25] The next month, Dylan struggles to find another target he feels deserves to die. He settles on a brothel run by a Russian mob. He murders one of the men, but is violently beaten by one of the sex workers before he escapes.[26] His unexplained injuries lead Kira to end their secret romance, although they remain friends. Dylan begins taking boxing lessons and stalking a corrupt businessman.[17] A detective, Lily Sharpe, begins to connect the dots between Dylan's murders; the Russian mob, and begins to hunt for Dylan.[27]

Critical reception[edit]

The series debuted to highly positive reviews, earning an average score of 9.0 out of 10 based on 30 critic reviews at review aggregation website Comic Book Roundup.[28] In his review for Adventures in Poor Taste, Nick Nafpliotis described the main character's flaws as "uncomfortably relatable."[29] He and other reviewers noted visual similarities to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films and the pulp hero The Shadow.[29][30] Reviewer Zedric Dimalanta was impressed with the Phillips' accurate depiction of speed loading a shotgun.[23] Reviewers David Pepose and Drew Bradley praised Breitweiser for "sell[ing] the mood" and adding depth and texture to the finished page.[30][31] Nothing But Comics called it the best new series of 2016.[32]

In his review of the first issue, Nick Hanover said "the craft on display is unsurprisingly proficient," but that aside from Breitwesier's colors, it does not distinguish itself from the team's earlier works. He drew comparisons to Fatale and Criminal, lamenting that Kill or Be Killed fails to live up to the promise of being unlike anything they had done previously.[33] Matthew Garcia agreed in his review for Multiversity Comics, saying that while the story was well made and entertaining, the themes and content were unsurprising.[34] In his Newsarama review, Pepose called the deal with the demon that sets the story in motion and establishes the status quo the weakest point of the story.[30]

In 2017, the series was nominated for Eisner Awards in the categories "Best Continuing Series", "Best Writer", "Best Cover Artist", and "Best Coloring".[35] Phillips was also nominated for "Best Pencillier/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team" at the 2019 Eisner Awards.[36]

Film adaptation[edit]

In December 2017, a film adaptation of the comic was announced. It will be written by Daniel Casey and directed by Chad Stahelski.[37]


  1. ^ a b Funk, Matthew (April 12, 2016), "Examine all 20 must-read new comics revealed at ECCC's Image Expo!," Syfy Wire. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  2. ^ Johnston, Rich (April 6, 2016), "Ed Brubaker And Sean Phillips’ Kill Or Be Killed Announced At #ImageExpo," Bleeding Cool. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  3. ^ Phillips, Sean (November 24, 2016), "October 2016," The Art Of Sean Phillips. Retrieved January 10, 2017
  4. ^ Smith, Alex (April 6, 2016), “Image Comics Announces Kill or Be Killed From Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips,” Capeless Crusader. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  5. ^ a b c d (2016), "Brubaker, Phillips, & Breitweiser Kill or Be Killed Interview," Image Comics. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  6. ^ a b Brusio, Vince (November 18, 2016), "Ed Brubaker Believes It's Kill Or Be Killed," Previews World. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  7. ^ a b c d Truitt, Brian (April 6, 2016), “Exclusive: Ed Brubaker's next 'Kill' oozes with modern pulp,” USA Today. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  8. ^ Sava, Oliver (October 12, 2016), "Ed Brubaker on Westworld, The Fade Out, and his immersion into Hollywood," AV Club. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  9. ^ a b Miller, John Jackson, "August 2016 Comic Book Sales Figures," Comichron. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  10. ^ (August 16, 2016), Kill or Be Killed #1 Sold out and getting New Cover for 2nd Print," Comics Heating Up. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  11. ^ Bennett, Jason (August 9, 2016), “Kill or Be Killed #1 Headed Back for 2nd Printing,” Pop Cult HQ. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  12. ^ Johnston, Rich (August 9, 2016), "Walking Dead And Kill Or Be Killed Get Second Prints From Image Comics," Bleeding Cool. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  13. ^ a b Bennett, Jason (October 30, 2016), “Image Comics: ‘Kill or Be Killed’ Heading Back to Print (11/16),” Pop Cult HQ. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  14. ^ Miller, John Jackson, "September 2016 Comic Book Sales Figures," Comichron. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  15. ^ Carter, David (November 17, 2016), "Image Comics Month-to Month Sales September 2016: The Whispering Wind," The Comics Beat. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  16. ^ Miller, John Jackson, "October 2016 Comic Book Sales Figures," Comichron. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  17. ^ a b Kill or Be Killed #5 (January 2016), (w)Ed Brubaker (a)Sean Phillips (p)Image Comics
  18. ^ (January 15, 2017), "Modern Image Titles Homage The Past", Newsarama. Retrieved May 2, 2017
  19. ^ "Spoiler! Kill or Be Killed Comes To A Powerful End With A Final Issue". Retrieved 2018-06-27.
  20. ^ Kill or Be Killed, Vol. 1 TP, Image Comics. Retrieved January 10, 2017
  21. ^ Kill or Be Killed, Vol. 3 TP, Image Comics. Retrieved January 25, 2018
  22. ^ (November 15, 2016), "Preview: Kill or Be Killed #4 by Brubaker, Phillips, & Breitweiser," Comic Book Critic. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  23. ^ a b Dimalanta, Zedric (August 14, 2016), "First Impressions: Kill or Be Killed," The Geeksverse. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  24. ^ Kill or Be Killed #1 (August 2016), (w)Ed Brubaker (a)Sean Phillips (p)Image Comics
  25. ^ Kill or Be Killed #2 (September 2016), (w)Ed Brubaker (a)Sean Phillips (p)Image Comics
  26. ^ Kill or Be Killed #4 (November 2016), (w)Ed Brubaker (a)Sean Phillips (p)Image Comics
  27. ^ Kill or Be Killed #6 (February 2016), (w)Ed Brubaker (a)Sean Phillips (p)Image Comics
  28. ^ "Kill or Be Killed #1 Archived 2017-01-13 at the Wayback Machine," Comic Book Roundup. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  29. ^ a b Nafpliotis, Nick (August 2, 2016), "Kill or Be Killed #1 Review," Adventures in Poor Taste. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  30. ^ a b c Pepose, David (August 2, 2016), "Best Shots Advance Review: Kill or Be Killed #1, Newsarama. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  31. ^ Bradley, Drew (December 19, 2016), "2016 in Review: The Dave Stewart Award (Best Colorist)," Multiversity Comics. Retrieved December 31, 2016
  32. ^ (December 6, 2016), "This Year's Finest 2016: The Ten Best New Series," Nothing But Comics. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  33. ^ Hanover, Nick (August 4, 2016), "Kill or Be Killed Claims to Be New and Different, but It’s Business as Usual for Brubaker and Phillips," Loser City. Retrieved December 30, 2016
  34. ^ Garcia, Matthew (August 4, 2016), "Kill or Be Killed #1," Multiversity Comics. Retrieved January 12, 2016
  35. ^ Sonny Liew, ‘Kill or Be Killed,’ ‘Saga’ top this year’s Eisner nomination list
  36. ^ "2019 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees". San Diego Comic-Con. April 26, 2019. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  37. ^ Kit, Borys (2017-12-14). "'John Wick' Director Tackling Ed Brubaker Comic 'Kill or Be Killed' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-12-15.