Brush up on yer bard, bawd, and broadsword "cause the creative team of Kill Shakespeare is gettin" Elizabethan on your ass.
Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood marks the third volume of this critical-darling — those pull quotes from the New York Times and Washington Post ain't for show, fo sho — from writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col and artist Andy Belanger. Shari Chankhamma joins the gang of three on colors and one issue in she already shows the verve to match the smartness of this series.
What's past is prologue and so in three scant sentences McCreery and Del Col catch up novices and understudies alike on where their story stands. To explain it like Star Wars, think post-New Hope/pre-Empire Strikes Back except Han, Luke and Leia are played by Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and in this version, Luke's a whoring drunk while Leia and Han play house where they use a liberal amount of double entendres for cock.
Like a couple of Sir Toms, McCreery and Del Col don't ape Shakespeare, they get Shakespeare which allows them to play and as we all well know, the play is the thing. Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood is esprit de Shakespeare in the best sense.
Because this series makes its bones in a sub-subgenre, reviews of Kill Shakespeare can't escape certain caveats: "this-isn't-yours," "if-you-likes" and "you-don't-have-to-knows." What too often gets forgotten nowadays is that Shakespeare's plays (before they were co-opted by the academy) were/are popular entertainment — not stuffy or staged, but alive and vital. Shakespeare took characters from history and legend and made them real; McCreery and Del Col go and do likewise. Here Juliet is a general and Romeo is cast as a moody Hamlet and Hamlet, well, he's still Hamlet except now he's getting laid on a regular basis. Playful. Witty. Ballsy.
When the stage is set for Shakespeare and you've already burned through big bads Lady MacBeth and Richard the III (Vols. 1 & 2), why not go for a deposed Duke, the mad wizard, Prospero? Add his capable daughter Miranda, a book of magic and mix in a threat to destroy all existence and presto (!), you've got a quest to an island chock-a-block full of monsters and madmen.
As his self-published Black Church bears witness, Belanger is a master-monster-maker, a Rick Baker of comic book creature features. Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood #1 keeps the monsters in the margins, so far, which gives Belanger a chance to stretch his singular style and make the mundane distinctive. Even at this early point in his career, Belanger has a veteran's acumen for how to craft a visual narrative.
For example, a scene set early in the story shows Romeo, Lysander and a couple of soldiers in a kind of treetop "Night's Watch." Belanger places two large panels at the top and bottom of the page and then insets two rows of six smaller panels in the upper third of the page to show a spirited exchange between Romeo and Lysander. The nested panels create a montage effect — this technique has become a Belanger signature — that gives a cinematic feel to an otherwise quiet character moment between brothers-in-arms. It's a unique way to fit a story within a story and shows Belanger can go small and still make a story move and be equally as illustrative.
From a dream sequence to travel through a land of snow and ice, Chankhamma has use for a lot of blues and grays in this first issue. This dominate palette allows the colors of Miranda's crimson cloak and Romeo's blonde locks to pop whenever each character steps on stage. The yellow Chankhamma finds for Romeo's hair is echoed in a scene when Mr. Montague fights to save his life and that of the fair Miranda. It's as if this moment is a touch too heated for this point in the story, because like a firework the bright yellows get extinguished by the sobering whites, blues and greys as Miranda steps up and keeps Romeo from becoming a doggie chew toy.
This above all: Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood looks to be an adventure serial that might also work well as an early '70s or mid '80s actioner; the drama and tension of The French Connection or Dirty Harry by way of the smart-ass bonhomie of Lethal Weapon or 48 Hrs. I'd imagine genre splicers extraordinaire Messrs. McCreery and Del Col would warm — perchance to dream — to the infinite incarnations of what would occur if troublemakers like Martin Riggs and Romeo Montague were to butt heads or the priceless bon mots of a blue-on-blue bitch session between Murtagh and Hamlet.
Kill Shakespeare acts as more than clever wordplay on The Bard's name, it's a fiction's kind of fiction, a play within a play and Tide of Blood brings forth a brave new world into this sharp series.
Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood #1 will go on sale Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
ith Silva believes that Act V, Scene I of Hamlet is the high-water mark of Western culture. He has a Twitter (@keithpmsilva) and makes infrequent updates to an obscurely named blog that is not a front for swingers: interestedinsophisticatedfun.blogspot.com