As aesthetics go, Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood comes as close to perfection — to some sort of golden ratio of comic books — as any art aspires to achieve.
From the cover to the content to the cliffhanger, every aspect of this third issue fits its role while it also deepens the texture in the overall production, or if you prefer, play. As was said, in the hall of the Middle Temple on Candlemas Day in 1602: "It's tight, Yo."
Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood is a five-issue limited series, so this third offering has to act as a shuttle to weave the previous plot threads and knit them together with what's to come. What makes this issue and this series work so well (so far) is the writer's and the artist's confidence evident in their craft. Each also knows where the others are headed. The effort is symphonic and cinematic. The script and the art take great pains to reinforce each other and loop back upon themselves, not to mention the source material (Shakespeare) and somehow avoid getting tangled up in its own wit and intelligence.
In the opening sequence, co-writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col act as a couple of comedians as they craft dick jokes so clever, so base and so funny as to put a smile on the face of any swinging Richard. So quick are these two fools with puns, double entendres and other figures of speech that it would be a gas for them to attempt a comic comic — after all Shakespeare wrote more comedies than tragedies or histories.
Jokes aside, McCreery and Del Col are deft (daft?) at deconstruction of what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare. The whole of Shakespeare is adventure and romance and above all — be it tragedy, history or comedy — Shakespeare is always smart and graceful. To their credit McCreery and Del Col manage to keep their story from falling into pastiche or camp — it's easy to understand how suited they are in their roles as producers as well as writers.
The foolish back-and-forth of the sequence that opens issue three as player chats up performer provides a sense of proportion (and propulsion) to both the scene at hand and the overall story as well. Feste, the fool from Twelfth Night, appears, as most fools do, to be a seer and a truthsayer. He calls bullshit on "Free Will," who has recently (and metaphorically) stepped off-stage. Their exchange drips with dramatic portent as confessor counsels creator that something is rotten in the state of current affairs. "Free Will" must act if he is to save the players from the play.
Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood #2 was artist Andy Belanger's madcap laughs, his psychedelic paean to Dave Gibbons "Fearful Symmetry." In that issue, Belanger pulls off the Triple Lindy, not only does he pay tribute to Gibbons, Belanger also adds his own signature (his own riff on a classic) and, most important, what could have come off as a mere stunt works within the context of the story. It's this kind of instinctual know-how — the difference between a show and a performance — that sets Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood and its creative team apart from all comers.
As if Belanger's matching and matchless cartooning in issue two wasn't mind-bending enough, he turns it up to twelve (or at least eleven-and-three-quarters) with an Escher-esque decent into madness by way of introduction for Tide of Blood's villain, the mad wizard, Prospero. Letterer Chris Mowry finds an elegant way to separate Prospero's words from the rest of the cast to catch the spirit of the character.
In Prospero, Belanger's ''imagination bodies forth // The forms of things unknown, the [artist's] pen // turns them to shapes, and gives airy nothing // A local habitation and a name,'' to use a phrase from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Perhaps nightmare would better serve for Prospero. I would rather pluck out my eyeballs than spoil or reveal the look Belanger cooks up for this character. Leave it at this: it's like eyesight to the blind.
In fact, the eyes have it in Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood #3. Belanger draws such soulful eyes in this issue, it's like Romeo, Lady Macbeth and even Caliban are matinee idols — their eyes windows to the depths of their madness and their sorrows. Colorist Shari Chankhamma uses a harlequin green to shade Lady Macbeth's eyes which calls back to opening sequence, complements the character's oxblood locks and shows the envy and anger Lady Macbeth possesses in her very soul — talk about your woman, you should see Lady Macbeth. It's hard to say if this kind of detailed reflexive-ness is intentional, fortuitous or the result of a feverish mind, no matter, because it's there, it's in the eyes.
Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood #3 puts all of its pieces on the board, some move and others are moved.
Those at ease with playing the fool, the more drool among us, might call this latest chapter: an open book. Too often, the middle section of a story acts as only a way-station to somewhere else. McCreery, Del Col, Belanger, Chankhamma and Mowry make every word, every panel and every page count, nothing is superfluous and everything comments on everything else. Let Tide of Blood wash over you and soak it in all the way up to your eyeballs.
Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood will go on sale April 24, 2013.
Keith 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, Interested in Sophisticated Fun?, that is not a front for swingers.