This week I’d like to highlight a great series from IDW that is rapidly approaching its final issue, The Kill Lock from writer and artist Livio Ramondelli. Here’s the blurb:
Each found guilty of an irredeemable crime, four robots find themselves banished from their homeworld and bound together by the Kill Lock—a programming link that means if one of them dies, they all will. Now a soldier, an addict, a murderer, and a child find themselves forced to protect each other while in search of a cure to survive.
While that description is a bit sparse, The Kill Lock is certainly not. I jumped onto this series with issue one and I have loved every minute of it so far. From the tense, engaging narrative to the stunning visuals, The Kill Lock is one of those rare books that not only tells a great story but also highlights what’s so wonderful about comics as a genre as a whole.
One of the first things that stands out about this series is the new take on an old premise. A story about a group of unlikely characters forced together by circumstances beyond their control is far from original, but Ramondelli adds a new and interesting twist on this old trope with the introduction of the titular Kill Lock, a computer program that links the lives of all of the condemned robots together. This means that if one of them dies, a very real possibility in every issue, they all die together. Adding to the danger is the fact that the mark they bear means that they are fair game for anyone who wants to take them out. They are forced to rely on one another, which is incredibly difficult considering who they are as characters.
For characters that are robots, Ramondelli has tapped into his background working on Transformers well and has given these mechanical men very human personalities. The most visually intimidating of them is the Wrath, a gigantic, hulking warrior robot, part of a caste of holy soldiers tasked with stamping out blasphemy across the stars. We never really get much in the way of specifics about this holy war they were engaged in, but it’s obvious that whatever happened to the Wrath has done little to shake his faith. He is a noble character, but his willingness to kill and his seeming lack of consciousness about what he has done in the past sets him up as a nice foil to the other morally damaged characters in their troupe.
The second member of the group is a Laborer class robot, hopelessly addicted to this universe’s version of alcohol. Guilt stricken by the events that lead to his exile, he is frequently seen as one of the least reliable members of the team. Constantly fighting his desire to drink himself into oblivion, it’s only his devotion to the youngest member of the team that keeps him from allowing himself to be eliminated entirely.
Where The Kill Lock really shines is in the last two members of the ramshackle team, the Child and the Artisan. The child is an innocent, not guilty of any crime other than being built with an unspecified flaw that makes him a danger to this society. He is clearly added to the group to make them more susceptible to elimination since his ignorance and trusting nature make it hard for him to understand how precarious their situation really is. Watching him lose his naiveté throughout the course of the story is heartbreaking, and following his plot from the beginning is the real narrative treat of the book.
The last member of the team, the Artisan, is hands down the best part of The Kill Lock. He is a psychopath, who would happily murder the other three and leave them behind if he thought there was any way he could. He spends quite a bit of time throughout the series torturing and killing other robots and has no moral compass other than his devotion to perfection. He spends a good deal of time in the book frustrated with the actions of his cohorts, and even more frustrated with his inability to murder them. This not only helps set up the tense dynamic of the team but also a motivation for all of them to work hard to save themselves from the lock as quickly as possible.
The group dynamic alone is enough to make The Kill Lock worth the read, but Ramondelli’s art is the real highlight of the book. He counts Ralph McQuarrie among his inspirations and that really shows. As I said before, Ramondelli has worked on the IDW Transformer’s series for a while and this experience shines through in this series in numerous ways. The robots are all unique and interesting in their designs, with a believability to the structure that mirrors the tasks each was originally designed for. Ramondelli has also mastered the art of showing expression through body language, which is important when your characters, particularly the Wraith, have unmoving faces.
As I said at the start, The Kill Lock is exactly what I love to see from indie comics. Taking an old premise and injecting fresh new life into it, creating new characters with unique and interesting backstories, and building worlds where stakes matter and actions have consequences are all areas where indie comics thrive. From the beautiful art to the tense, tight storytelling, Ramondelli has written a work that I think will stand up to the test of time, and hopefully lead to other works set in this universe.
I for one can’t wait to see more.