Comic Picks By The Glick

The Killer vol. 3: Modus Vivendi

February 5, 2011

What I like most about this series is the way it deviates from your expectations. Vol. 1 introduced us to our nameless “Killer” and set him up as someone who was highly competent at his job, but starting to crack under the strain of it all. You’d think that vol. 2 would continue to show his descent and inevitable demise, but instead it showed him slowly connecting with the outside world -- building lasting relationships and carving out his own little social circle. Great stuff, though you’d think that as the creators are building him up vol. 3 would show them tearing him down. That’s not the case here as we’re treated to the beginning of a tale of globe-spanning intrigue.

Four years have passed since the events of vol. 2 and the Killer has been enjoying the time away from his job. Unfortunately there’s only so much R&R, and family-building that a man like him can take and winds up taking a job that his old buddy Mariano throws his way. The job entails killing four people -- two businessmen, a nun, and a Cuban politician. As the Killer works his way through the list, he becomes increasingly suspicious about the people who have hired him and eventually winds up embroiled in the machinations of the U.S., Venezuelan and Cuban governments as they try to outflank each other in pursuit of a recently discovered oil deposit.

With opponents like these, you’d think that our protagonist has finally bit off more than he can chew. It’s a credit to writer Matz that while he doesn’t exactly turn the tables on his opponents, he shows himself to be smart enough to find a way through this situation without losing anything important to him. The effect of watching him maneuver through the machinations of his employers and their opponents is like seeing a man wade into quicksand and then slowly, methodically and with careful planning work his way out of it.

Despite all of the politicking, the series still finds plenty of time to showcase the title character at work. As always, it’s engrossing to see the thought and planning that goes into his hits and you can really believe that the man is good enough at his job to have not been caught after all these years. There is a nice twist in his first set of killings as he has second thoughts about killing the nun. It’s the questions that arise in his mind that lead to the unspooling of the larger plot and I liked seeing him work through them as he completed the job. The ultimate resolution of this issue is very much in character for him, which I liked.

However, he also digresses about his thoughts on God and what he means to man. This is the first of several such digressions over the course of the volume ranging from meditations on the act of killing, old-school American imperialism, and an especially long one that rambles for a while about genocide and Cuba. After a while you’re left with the feeling that this isn’t just the Killer’s worldview but Matz banging on about his own. When that happens, you’ll feel the narrative’s momentum slow to a craw until it comes back to the story at large. Though I’m not averse to a lot of the ideas Matz posits in these sections, my impression is that you’ll only enjoy them relative to your cynicism about the U.S.’s role in international affairs.

The series is illustrated, as always, by Luc Jacamon and the consistency of his style throughout the series is quite pleasing. Jacamon has shown in the previous volumes that he is very skilled at showcasing emotion through a character’s body language, from the Killer’s tightly wound and efficient movements to Mariano’s confident swagger, and he’s great at bringing out the character of the locations featured in the story. This is particularly helpful when our protagonist is travelling to such exotic locales as Mexico City, Havanna, and Montreal.

So vol. 3 is a different kind of story than the first two volumes. Instead of the intensely personal focus of the first two volumes, this one shows the title character caught up in events that play out on a global scale. It’s more self-indulgent than what has come before, but the character-driven action and storytelling is as tight as it’s ever been. Regrettably, this volume doesn’t so much end on a cliffhanger than come to an abrupt stop. It does put a damper on my enjoyment of this volume, but its virtues still add up to an entertaining reading experience.

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