Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kill Shakespeare: A Sea of Troubles - Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col

Kill Shakespeare borrows heavily from Fables. This needs to be gotten out of the way good and fast. The whole premise - pitting a bunch of literary characters from various sources against each other - has been lifted. I'm not very kind towards blatant rip offs. It just seems mean. That said, it's such a strong concept its guiltily pleasurable to see it on a Shakespearean front. And lets face it, even if you aren't a big Shakespeare person, the concept of Othello, Or Juliet, or King Richard is so strong that you have an immediate response to them. It saves time. When Iago's being all sweet and nice, you know it isn't going to last. It's helpful to have such clear clues in regard to how you should feel about certain characters.

The basic premise is this: Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, and is exiled, never again to enter Denmark. Sailing for England, he is set upon by pirates and the ship is sunk. He is washed up on a foreign shore and taken into the custody of King Richard, who believes him to be The Shadow King, the prophesised one who is fated to kill the mythical William Shakespeare and retrieve his magical quill.

It's a cutesy premise, and the story is anything but. There's eye gouging, hand-chopping, walling-up-dudes-alive, various kinds of torture and bloodshed. There's some surprisingly unflinching choices, and some really queasy stomached ones. King Richard in particular is creepy on so many fronts, and the appetite for bloodshed he has is horrifying to watch. Unsurprisingly, but horrifying all the same. He and Lady MacBeth are an almightily intimidating pair of villains, although I'm a little unsure about Lady MacBeth's characteristion. I can't see this one going mad because she killed someone. She seems extremely unconcerned about bloodshed. But that said she's a great character, with a good design and an unnervingly goddess-like quality. Whenever she turned up someone was either going to die or get some action. Made for pretty amped up, action packed reading.

Hamlet, our main protagonist, is a bit of a nothing for me at this point. To be fair I think it's mostly because he's a bit of a victim and just reacts to everything. The peripheral characters are far more interesting to me at this stage. Othello is a colossal badass. I really want to see him pitted against Lady MacBeth down the line so we can learn who exactly is the biggest badass. He's also the only character who I thought was consistently well drawn. Which is my first big quibble about Kill Shakespeare.

I hate the art. I really do. There's no atmosphere, no thematic links, the characters change hair color and face shape between panels, and the general effect is really ugly. You can have some really nice panels:

And then some which are just odd and awkward.

Come now, whats happening on Hamlet's face, there? I think his whole face has been done in about ten lines. And things get even more confusing when other young, clean shaven men emerge i.e. Iago, Don John. THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. The "character" characters fare better due to their uniqueness (Falstaff, Othello, King Richard), but seriously I cannot tell Hamlet from Iago. I just can't. Whats perverse is that this is the exact opposite gripe I had with Fables - all the men were clearly unique, but all the women were identical with different hair. There's only two female cast members so far, but Lady Macbeth is a booby redhaired dynamo and Juliet is a boyish blonde resistance fighter. You aint going to confuse those two.

There's also the issue of Shakespearean dialogue. It comes and goes. And I enjoyed the non-Shakespeare far more. It moves the action along faster, it feels less forced, it doesn't seem out of place. The dialogue which isn't Shakespearean is a kind of Robin Hood-Medieval mishmash and it's serviceable. Moreso than the Shakespearean. It flows easier.

All that said the story is tight, and the action fast and continual. I do care about these guys, and the villain construction is fantastic. Don John, though his appearance is fairly late and a bit where-the-hell-did-he-come-from, is appropriately rapey and dastardly. I'm waiting in anticipation for the next sequence where Othello goes apeshit. I think he's my favorite.

I'd give it a shot. It's not long, and it's got redeeming points. My teens are going to go nuts over it.

Literary merit: 3 out of 5, guilty pleasure: 4 out of 5.


  1. isn't Hamlet always sort of a victim who just reacts to everything? And drives his girlfriend crazy?

    it does seem like an interesting idea, although yeah probably something I'd enjoy a lot more 10 or 12 years ago...

  2. Oh man, the creators twitter messaged me to say thanks for the review and now I feel bad. :( I HAD FUN I REALLY DID.