Deadshirt is Reading: Kill or Be Killed & American Gods

Deadshirt Is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers, and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on Big Two cape titles, creator-owned books, webcomics and more.


David Uzumeri is reading…

Kill or Be Killed #7

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art and letters by Sean Phillips
Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser
IDW Publishing

“There’s no point forgiving someone if you’re going to hold onto all the things you forgave them for.”

I’ve been enjoying this book from launch, but it’s definitely been toeing the line between self-aware high-octane satire of the white sadboy and being a manifesto for the white sadboy. If any other creative team were behind it, I’d have dismissed it as the latter, but Brubaker and Phillips have always managed to interrogate the mechanics of white sadboy desire for women without apologizing for what shitty people their protagonists can be.

This, finally, is the issue that starts delivering on rewarding my faith.

Told entirely from the point of view of Kira, the on-again-off-again best-friend/fuckbuddy of usual demon-contracted vigilante murderer Dylan, we finally get to experience the world of KoBK from a point of view outside of Dylan’s solipsistic woe-is-me bullshit. It’s a character background issue, where we meet her family and discover her acrimonious relationship with her mother, but…it’s all still centered around men, as the main divide between Kira and her mom is that she’s angry about the way her dad got treated, and Kira’s emotional crisis is pretty much built around the fact that she feels bad for dumping Dylan.

On a technical level, Kill or Be Killed is Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser operating at their peak—this is a creative team with years if not decades of history working together. They’re the best they are at what they do, and what they do is stories about sad white dudes who turn to violence because they’re sad their crush is fucking someone else. This issue flips the gender tables a bit, but this book is starting to veer towards “guilty pleasure” in a way that’s a little unnerving.

David Lebovitz is reading…

American Gods #1

Story and Words by Neil Gaiman
Script and Layouts by P. Craig Russell
Art by Scott Hampton
“Somewhere In America” by P. Craig Russell and Lovern Kindzierski
Letters by Rick Parker
Covers by Glenn Fabry (with Adam Brown), Scott Hampton, Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, David Mack, Dave McKean, and Mark Buckingham

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you’ve been convicted of. What’s important is that they got you.”

American Gods, the Hugo Winning novel by Neil Gaiman (most famous in 2017 for being hug-enthusiast Amanda Palmer’s husband) is officially a comic now, and I’m surprised it took so long. It makes sense that Gaiman would want to milk the property, what with the TV series coming out soon, but it is bizarre that it took about fifteen years.

I read American Gods in high school and liked it then, but a lot has changed since then—Deadshirt’s own Joe Stando did a slow-walk live tweeting of his first reading of the book recently, and it Doesn’t Look Like It Held Up—so I decided to give the comic a shot to see how the story matched my recollection. What I found was that it matched my recollection exactly, which turned out to be something of a problem for the comics format.

In many ways, American Gods harkens back to the glory days of Vertigo. (This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since Gaiman is one of the key crafters of the imprint.) The text is dense, the writing is literary, the art is succulent and detailed. Lettering is an underrated art, and it’s used solidly here to describe how certain voices shake. A highlight is when Shadow is talking to his wife on the phone and imagines her sitting by the beach and walking in the forest, lush imagery that contrasts with his grey prison surroundings.  

The biggest strength and weakness of American Gods is that it’s an almost line-by-line adaptation of the book. The dialogue is rich, but doesn’t flow in a conversational manner—it’s clearly written as prose and put in a comic. The narration provides important context, but it also leaves the comic with a terrible imbalance of telling vs. showing, despite comics being a visual medium. I don’t need Shadow describing what an airport looks like when the art below shows me exactly what an airport looks like.

The comic ends an adaptation of the infamous “Somewhere in America” excerpt—the famous “orgasm of death” scene. You get to see a guy get devoured by a vulva in an actual comic. The fact that I just wrote that sentence makes me want to take a shower, since it’s far more “Leonard Cohen plays during the Owlship sex scene” in the Watchmen movie than it is “Swamp Thing and Abby share a hallucinogenic tuber.” (Comics are weird, guys.)

Maybe this will make more sense as the series continues. This series is a solid read for fans of the book. But for now, if you want to read American Gods, start with the book. This is an interesting adaptation, but that’s all it is: an adaptation, perhaps a too direct one.

Thanks for reading about what we’re reading! We’ll be back next week with a slew of suggestions from across the comics spectrum. In the meantime, what are you reading? Tell us in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!

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