Co-created by writer Stephanie Phillips and illustrator Peter Krause, We Only Kill Each Other is a ComiXology Original series that comes to us this week in physical format courtesy of Dark Horse.
The book is set in New York City in 1938, when tens of thousands of self-described “American patriots” emulated Adolf Hitler’s noxious blend of hate-based politics and anti-Semitic fearmongering to form a Nazi party of their own. The world is edging ever closer to WWII by the day, but it’s still not entirely clear which side the U.S. is on, or if they’ll even take sides at all.
Incidentally, the year 1938 is also a mere three years from Archie 1941, a largely forgettable series redeemed by Krause’s engrossing artwork. We Only Kill Each Other might take place in an entirely separate comics universe, but Krause’s gritty, cinematic style continues at the same high level. This is clearly his wheelhouse and he does an outstanding job. His vintage, Golden Era-inspired panels feel perfectly suited to the story at hand, as does the work of colorist Ellie Wright and letterer Troy Peteri. Wright’s desaturated colors set the tone perfectly, while Pereri’s lettering is unobtrusive and stylistically seamless.
Narratively, the plot leans heavily on crime noir and buddy cop tropes. As the story begins, Jewish gangsters Jonas Kaminsky and Levi Solomon are in the midst of a petty turf war. Meanwhile, the district attorney knows the city has a Nazi problem. Unfortunately, he has to play by the rules. He can’t simply go punching Nazis himself, so he rounds up Solomon and Kaminsky and promptly blackmails them into doing his dirty work.
Naturally, the two gangsters can’t stand each other, loathe working together, and appear to be opposites in virtually every meaningful way. Jonas Kaminsky, in the role of young up-and-comer, is an impetuous, square-jawed bruiser with a massive chip on his shoulder. Levi Solomon, by contrast, is older, more experienced, and much more even-keeled. He’s also an observant Jew. He has no problem killing someone; he just won’t pull the actual trigger. At least not during Shabbat. “Do you have a problem killing this man?” he asks an underling early in the story. “No, sir,” the man responds. “Then take care of this and make amends with whatever god you prefer later.”
Phillips does a nice job with the terse, no-bullshit dialogue, though Kaminsky’s interspersed stream-of-consciousness narration can sometimes feel interruptive and too intercut with the real time dialogue. Perhaps the problem stems from Kaminsky’s personality. As the viewpoint character and our ostensible moral compass, he’s not unlikable, but he’s not hugely charismatic, either. Maybe that just comes with the noir territory. He’s an antihero, of course, but he could still come across as someone you might want to hang out with.
Thematically, with an ascendant Nazi party and huge public rallies that can attract 20,000 wannabe fascists, the obvious comparisons to our current political climate are clear and implicit. It’s also one of the places where it feels like there were richer veins to be mined. Intriguingly, the story ends in a way that suggests it’s self-contained, but it could also be the start of a long friendship to come. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the concept picked up by a streaming service. That would certainly provide more time and space to really dig into the issues.
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