Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kill Shakespeare #1-3 Review

Imagine if all of William Shakespeare’s creations coexisted and his most enduring character, Hamlet, was out to murder him. That’s essentially the premise of Kill Shakespeare from IDW Publishing. This week marks the release of the third issue (of six) for the miniseries from the creative minds of Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col. To celebrate the series reaching its halfway point of this mash-up, I was granted a look at the first three issues. Does Kill Shakespeare live up to the hype of its bizarre concept? You’ll have to hit the jump to find out.

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger and Ian Herring
Letters by Robbie Robbins, Neil Uyetake, and Chris Mowry
Covers by Kagan McCleod and Andy Belanger

In a world populated by some of The Bard’s most memorable characters and concepts, Hamlet must track down and kill the fabled magician and/or god, William Shakespeare.

When I first heard that this was the concept behind Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col’s Kill Shakespeare from IDW Publishing, I wasn’t sure if it was the single greatest or single worst idea that I had ever heard. I was mostly baffled by the audacity of the premise. To even propose a concept like this takes guts; to pull it off would take a certain level of genius.

You can mark this one in the genius column.

Kill Shakespeare opens shortly after the death of Polonius in perhaps the most endearing of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet. Facing banishment in his homeland for the murder, Hamlet is sent away to England where Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are ordered by King Claudius to see to Hamlet’s execution. This should be familiar territory for this book’s intended audience (and most high school students that did their homework), but that is quickly broken when the duo actually warn Hamlet of Claudius’s plan. From there, all hell breaks loose.

After a bit of insanity and a battle with pirates, Hamlet awakens to find himself in the court of King Richard III, who reveals to our hero that he is the prophesized “Shadow King”—the one who will find, and potentially kill, William Shakespeare. Richard says it is Hamlet’s destiny to kill the playwright/magician/god and return his quill to the king, which will bring about an era of prosperity and unity to the land. In return, the Three Witches of Macbeth fame will resurrect Old Hamlet, our hero’s father.

As Hamlet reluctantly begins his quest, he is joined by Iago (which should give you an indication of Richard’s true intentions) and crosses paths with the Prodigals, who are Shakespeare loyalists that believe the Shadow King will find their god and return him to the land rather than slay him. By the midway point of the series, Hamlet is pursued by representatives of both sides as he decides exactly what he will do upon finding Shakespeare.

This concept could not work were it not for McCreery and Del Col’s understanding of the plays, characters, and concepts of William Shakespeare, which they skillfully mash together. Although The Bard never would have dreamed of crossing Hamlet over with the likes of Richard III or Falstaff with the likes of Puck (and even more obscure characters like Tamora), the writing duo remain true to the characters in the way that they would interact with one another and what roles they would play. The story is tailor-made for the characters and I can only assume that a painstaking amount of research was done to craft it in such a way that no substitutions from the dozens of notable characters in Shakespeare’s plays could take the place of one another in this story. Shakespeare wrote many Kings, but none could take the position that Richard has within this story without fundamentally altering it.

As someone that vehemently opposes Shakespeare’s plays being taught or read in anything but its original Early Modern English (EModE), I am pleased that the writers have made a generous attempt to bridge the gap between the Early Modern and our Modern English without coming across like you are reading a 1960s Thor story. The dialect of the characters is simultaneously accessible and anachronistic. Being a “mainstream” (or just a smidgen left of mainstream) “adaptation” (or more than just a smidgen left of adaptation) of the works of Shakespeare, I wouldn’t have raised any qualms about using contemporary speech. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the approach that the writers took.

Artist Andy Bellenger and colorist Ian Herring are given the lofty task of bringing this insanely creative world to life and, for the most part, I’m very pleased with how they do. In the initial pages of the first issue, I was slightly disappointed with the somewhat dated and not terribly polished look of the art. It wasn’t as sharp as I’d like and its lack of a clearly defined style gave some of the characters a somewhat bland look.

Upon finishing all three issues, I do stand by my criticisms regarding the polish and sharpness of the art, but I found myself very thankful for the loose style. As more characters from separate stories appeared, the style allowed for each to have their own unique flair. In the grand scheme of things, all of the characters clearly belong to this story, but the individual design touches make it clear that they are taken from entirely different worlds. When Lady Macbeth stands side-by-side with King Richard, it’s clear that they do not belong together, but they still gel on many levels.

In the end, the art really started to grow on me and I think that there is a tremendous amount of potential for this art team. Throughout the first three issues, I clearly saw flashes of Cameron Stewart, Phil Hester, and Michael Avon Oeming. If your art is going to show influence from anyone, these are a definitely names to take inspiration from.

Let’s face it, the premise behind Kill Shakespeare is completely ridiculous. To some, it is practically sacrilegious as the works of The Bard are held in such high esteem that making an action-adventure oriented story that mashes them all together borders on blasphemy. Honestly, the people that would think these things are the same people that will be this title’s biggest supporters if they were to give it a shot. The creative team behind Kill Shakespeare have crafted an ingenious story out of an insane concept that celebrates all there is to love about Shakespeare while simultaneously thumbing its nose at it.

Verdict: Must Read. I’ll put it this way, remember the last time you probably heard the premise behind a comic that was this bizarre? Chances are, it was probably Chew, which was one of the most critically acclaimed comics to debut in 2009. At its halfway point, Kill Shakespeare is the Chew of 2010. It’s seriously that good and you seriously shouldn’t miss it under any circumstances.

Interested in Kill Shakespeare?  Check out the official website

Related Posts


Ryan K Lindsay said...

This series is seriously good. It's a fun romp through the bard's better players but it's also pretty damn smart. I'm hoping if people don't go out and get the back issues, and ish 3 out today, then they'll at least book mark this as a must buy for the trade. There aren't enough series out there like this one.

And the art is pretty top shelf too.

Matt Duarte said...

Damn, Ryan, how quickly did you read and review this thing? You posted it before I could even crack open my review copy!

twobitspecialist said...

Wow. This seriously looks like fun. I think I'll read the trade when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

Actually its going to run Twelve issues, not just six. Just wanted to point that out.

Post a Comment

Thanks for checking out the Weekly Crisis - Comic Book Review Blog. Comments are always appreciated. You can sign in and comment with any Google, Wordpress, Live Journal, AIM, OpenID or TypePad account.