Created in the tradition of Jean Pierre Melville’s impeccable Le Samouraï, The Killer has some high standards to live up to.
In The Killer, our unnamed anti-hero spends the bulk of the first volume justifying his lifestyle as a high-class hitman. The spitting image of Jean Reno in The Professional, our main assassin introduces himself and his occupation as he endures a prolonged stake out for a target. A character seeking existentialism, the contract killer pays no loyalties to anyone, with his cynicism and cold demeanor colored entirely by the notorious impact of the Nazi movement.
Beyond the explanation of our assassin’s motivations (or lack thereof), the first volume of The Killer (in the American release, issues 1-4) follows our assassin’s fall from grace as a pure mercenary as he becomes trapped in an investigation by police and an operation of betrayal by his partner after a hit goes terribly wrong in Paris. With a villa awaiting on a remote island in Venezuela, our assassin has waited his entire career for his last big hit to finally retire, but once he realizes that a police officer has been on his tail and that his partner has hired another hitman to take him out, our main character needs to find out further details about his last target and also try to figure out his next courses of action as a hitman past his prime who is now completely alone in the world.
What makes a film noir like Le Samouraï so successful is its carefully calculated distance. Throughout the film, we get a sense of Alain Delon’s motivations, but we never really get too close to him. In addition, we rarely ever hear him pontificate about his existence, for his actions reveal his quiet ethical code. Jef Costello in Le Samouraï has no need, no desire to explain himself.
Unfortunately, our counterpart in The Killer does not maintain the same distance with the audience. His constant explanation about his ambivalence towards human life and his justification of his occupation by comparing himself to other examples of genocide and human rights atrocities suppresses the interesting plot line surrounding the betrayal and the mistake of the last target. Despite his unrelenting explanations about his own morality, as the narrative continues, our main character does have some level of humanity, as seen by some of his actions, but he must continue to persuade himself and his audience that he is an existentialist without any care for others.
With this constant explanation of the assassin’s morals, Matz completely misses the essential nuances and the general silence that make a film noir and a character study of an assassin engaging. When an author presents a flawed and villainous character as the protagonist, the audience does not need to hear rhetoric about why the life of the seemingly evil character is not as immoral as expected. The audience must gain empathy with the character by his/her actions and interactions with the surrounding people. The audience must have the ability to relate to the character in some way beyond his/her explanation of politics and morality. Matz’s assassin is fundamentally not a relatable character; he is less of a regular man trying to survive and more of a priest standing and preaching on a pulpit.
What’s a sin in all of this is Jacamon’s artwork. All of the art is drawn with a certain richness in its color and simplicity in its lines. Jacamon’s illustrations are simultaneously realistic and cartoon-like, making the setting of The Killer feel brilliantly fictional but not too far away from reality. Sadly, Jacamon’s fine illustrations become the understudy to the heavy handed political and moral discussions of the narration.
Sadly, The Killer does not achieve the status of the historical works it attempts to embody. Matz needed to make a decision about his work; should this be a didactic noir, or should this be a philosophical essay? He cannot seem to make that decision, and consequently, The Killer becomes a trite and heavy handed narrative about a sanctimonious killer who delusionally believes in his own existentialism. Yes, the assassin is in serious trouble. Yes, the assassin has been betrayed by his inner circle, which is never a pleasant scenario. Yes, the assassin has a point about other heinous actions in the world surpassing the ugliness of his own. However, by the end of his sermons, I simply do not care about his life or his ethics. I guess the nothingness he preaches has come to fruition.
The Killer is available in its English translation via Archaia Studios Press.