One of the measures for great literature is its endurance of time…a text that remains supple enough to adapt to an unknown future bolsters its chance at enduring and remaining relevant to some fundamental element of humanity that it reaches and can touch past its age of origin. Shakespeare is really good at touching.
The current story arc in Kill Shakespeare takes the characters Romeo, Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Miranda, and others and launches them on new adventures. Telling new adventures with old characters is nothing new, especially in comics. New adventures of Spider-Man, Batman, the Avengers, and the myriad incarnations of the X-Men have been entertaining readers for over 40 years, so it seems about time that Juliet, Hamlet, and friends cavort in some new tales.
Idolizing great literature as a “hands off” artifact ensures its death faster than instant viewing on Netflix. These adaptations, along with entertaining, serve as fresh corridors for readers to find their way to the plots, scope, and dirty jokes of Shakespeare’s original dramas. Likewise, they serve as fresh lens for those comfortable with plays and poems to consider the works from a different perspective.
The opening four panels mimic the readers’ experience of progressing into a world of fiction. The first panel is a square of black with what looks to be the edge of a leaf of grass cutting into the square from the upper right hand corner with a dew drop hanging from the edge (and another drop following close behind. The tension of the hanging drop mimics the anticipation of the reader at the beginning of the book; where a read still holds onto reality, but gets ready to fall into the story. The second panel has the water drop fall, springing the leaf the up amidst a “V” of tan cuts into the black square, similar to the jolt readers sometimes experience when dropping into the story. The third panel has the drop bursting on the sleeping temple of Romeo with the text of “Bestir…” at the cusp of awakening into a dream of a fresh story and vibrant fictional world. The fourth panel has a wide open eye that looks like Sauron’s eye after a Visine treatment. The text reads “…Bestir, Romeo.” The fully open eye mimics the reader awakening fully into the story, completely absorbed in the tale that unfolds on the page and imagination. Here the reader falls into the tale, fully awakening into the dream world of the story just as Romeo awakens into his own dream within the dream of McCreery, Del Col, and Belanger.
For first time-readers dropping into the third installment of Kill Shakespeare, the creative team supplies them with the needed information to drift into the story. The basic plot of this issue involves a drunken Romeo trying to come to terms with Hamlet having stolen his girlfriend, and an odd set of dreams involving Prospero’s daughter Miranda. When Miranda appears in person, Romeo tosses aside his flask (although one suspects he has a spare) and sets sail with Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, and Miranda to Prospero’s island.
The story is fanciful and fun and there are no pretensions or obscure Shakespeare scholarship that readers need acquire to enjoy this tale.
Visually, Belanger’s inks hold and fascinate the eye. His lines in the panels remain dynamic, but are at their best when chubby and broad in demarcating boundaries. On page 21, the central panel of nine panels depicts Miranda stating “I come to beg for thy assistance.” The up-tilt of Miranda’s head, the thick line of her lower-right eyelid and the lower line on her lower lip convey a subtle lushness to the character that simultaneously anchors her in the panel and contributes to her pleading, adding a subtle mark of attraction and beauty to her request for aid.
Miranda stands before a collapsed Romeo who, at the end of his dream, states “I am banished, alone.” One can imagine Caliban echoing this phrase upon Prospero’s island. Yet Miranda’s reply is kinder than the words Caliban would receive from Sycorax, “You are not. I shall come to thee…I promise.” This statement gains gravity with Miranda’s looming stance over Romeo, the hood covering a third of her face gives her the power and presence of one of the Fates, the clutched grimoire and flowing hair express the knowledge and active intention that physically supports her uttered words of support.
Scenes such as these permeate the pages of Kill Shakespeare and reward those willing to read new adventures of some venerable characters in English literature. While reading Hamlet never gets old, and holds rewards and surprises upon rereading; it’s still refreshing to read him in some radically new adventures.