The Killer

If you saw Hitman, the movie, there is a one-out-of-one chance that you wondered why anyone would have the gall to use a video game without a real plot as source material for a film. The effect of such a maneuver can only be to create what most critics united in calling nonsensical, pith-less, and vapid. Perhaps the director felt divinely compelled to make a movie about a professional assassin and the bald, bar-coded beauty was his only option to following this calling?

Clearly, director Xavier Gens never picked up Jacamon and Matz’s exceptional graphic novel The Killer: Volume One (Le Tueur). This comic not only would make a clean adaptation to screen, but practically screams to be taken to the movie house with a manageably short length. It contains such intricate panels and well-crafted dialogue, that filming would be paint-by-the-numbers, and there’s enough underlying cultural commentay to make the movie more than just a muzzle flash.

The Killer relates the story of its eponymous, unnamed character in the decline of his career as a professional assassin. His downfall is not one of old-age or faultering skill, but rather of deteriorating mental composure, having spent far too many nights staring down the rifle’s scope, waiting for hours with his crosshairs on nothing. After a botched hit, the killer is hunted by an agent across the world, leading to several near misses with death.

Eventually, the story becomes less about the hitman’s survival and more about the feedback loop his actions have become, barring him from the retirement he desperately wants. As with most criminals, though, his pension can only come at the mass annihilation of those who populate the criminal world of which he is part.

Upon opening the first page of the graphic novel, the reader is immediately greeted by Jacamon’s elaborate and expressionistic illustration, which skillfully carries the fog of noir throughout the entire piece. The style manages to maintain a nice balance between clean and gritty, mostly comprised of smooth colors with slightly irregular line work, framed by similarly sharp but imperfectly lined boxes in gorgeous layout.

It is an absolute credit to Jacamon’s skill that he never dips into the splatter aesthetic that so many comic artists use to disguise poor art — covering a page in ink spots to fake a violence they could never conventionally achieve. Rather, Jacamon succeeds in painting just as dark and blood-stained an environment as seen in such comics, but the crisp manner in which he does so accentuates the euphemism of the world in which the killer works.

Truthfully, the real artistry of this graphic novel is not in the service of creating a story about a killer but, rather, crafting an intuitive evaluation of the world which facilitates the killer’s existence. Much of the tale is told by the assassin’s omnipresent narration, which often wanders to musings about who the real killers are. Is it the person that pulls the trigger or the person that orders the kill?

If we accept the former — and how can we not — how does this intentionalistic blame scheme leave unscathed the masses, whose neglect for others leaves third world children to die, or whose capitalistic life style is funded by political terrorism? It doesn’t, the killer concludes.

Although, such sentiments are by no means groundbreaking, they ring especially true in a present where atrocities like those in Darfur and Uganda are all but ignored by populations at large. In such a context, one is prompted to question if the book is about the killer we see sniping fat businessmen down, or if it’s about a mass indictment of killer-dom.

Either way, the book is maddeningly enjoyable. After its 128 pages you will want to read the next two volumes in this series which, alas, have not yet been published. This phenomenon is caused by Jacamon and Matz’s uncanny capacity to build momentum, coming as close to simulating in comic form the fast editing of a movie.

Furthermore, the last sequence (no spoilers, I promise) should either leave you breathless or nodding your head to the imaginary soundtrack you would hear had The Killer been a movie. Whether or not you traditionally enjoy graphic novels, the cinematic sensibility of The Killer makes the book as accessible as any film.