Saturday, March 10, 2012

GN Review -- Kill Shakespeare, v. 1: A Sea of Troubles / Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, & Andy Belanger

I've often wondered how various of Shakespeare's characters would interact if they met one another outside of the plays in which they were written.  Would Falstaff and Feste hit it off, or dislike one another?  Could Hamlet be persuaded to relax by Don Pedro?  Apparently line of questioning has occurred to many others as well, as we get an interesting exploration of Shakespeare's characters more or less co-existing in Kill Shakespeare, v. 1: A Sea of Troubles.

In a strange alternate world, all is not well in Denmark.  Hamlet, having slain Polonius in a vain attempt to avenge his father, is banished to England, never to return.  And from that point, we basically leave Shakespearean cannon behind.  His friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will not turn him over to the English authorities to be slaughtered, but instead fight valiantly at his side when pirates attack their ship.  They are overwhelmed, and Hamlet awakens to the hospitality of Richard III, who entreats him to aid in a very strange quest.

Richard believes Hamlet to be the King of Shadows, destined to find the messianic wizard known as William Shakespeare, and convinces Hamlet to find him and steal his quill, which apparently contains great power.  Hamlet eventually agrees, and sets out looking for Shakespeare, with the help of one of Richard's men, Iago.  But Richard, who has schemed and plotted with Lady MacBeth to seize power, has not told Hamlet everything, and the people across his land are embroiled in rebellion as he lays waste to their livelihoods.

Hamlet is eventually separated from Richard's men and taken in by Falstaff, who takes him to a band of freedom fighters led by Juliet and Othello.  They believe Shakespeare to be a god, a creator of their worlds, and will do anything to see him safely returned to the world.  Uncertain of whose account to believe, Hamlet does some soul-searching of his own, and eventually falls in with the freedom fighters.  The cliffhanger shows that one of their number, the newly-joined Iago, has indeed remained on Lady MacBeth's side, leaving their fates uncertain.

Being a little more than passingly acquainted with Shakespeare's plays, I found this to be an intriguing and imaginative premise.  McCreery and Del Col weave an engrossing quest of discovery and hardship for Hamlet, arguably Shakespeare's most famous protagonist, as he ponders his own destiny and discovers firsthand the trials and tribulations of the people whose land he now travels.  It leaves little doubt as to who the heroes and villains truly are, particularly to readers familiar with Shakespeare, but keeps its protagonist off-balance and uncertain enough that one feels genuine suspense as to where he'll eventually come down.

I do think the characterizations of many denizens from Shakespeare's plays are dead-on, at least the ones I was able to recognize immediately.  Hamlet was, as always, a brooder and a thinker, and you wonder when he'll finally get off his duff and into the fray.  Richard, Iago, and Lady MacBeth are all true to form, scheming, manipulating, and otherwise bending others to their wills in whatever ways they know how.  Juliet's personality doesn't so much continue anything we'd have seen from Romeo and Juliet, but instead uses the events from it as a touchpoint from which she grows and matures into a more confident and competent woman.  John the Bastard is... well, a bastard.

There are many others I could talk about, but I believe I've made my point: the characterizations are good.

The artwork is very good, and serves the story nicely.  Andy Belanger has woven an interesting parallel world that is vaguely Elizabethan in period, but which at times also evokes the darkness, magic, and mystery that Shakespeare's works often depict.  His style is cartoony but very mechanically adept, and his characters are expressive, heroic, and villainous where appropriate.  Much of the tone is helped along by the lush colors of Ian Herring, whose deft sense of setting helps to weave an expressive and expansive world that ends up being as fun to look at as it is to travel through.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this story, and want to see how the rest of it turns out.  I can understand that some might find the use of Shakespeare's characters in this way controversial or somehow sacrilegious, but I think it takes a good imagination and a definite love of Shakespeare's work to weave a tale that certainly strikes out on its own yet leaves so many of the Bard's footprints behind it.  Highly recommended.

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