September 2, 2013

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Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight 2013: Kill Shakespeare



Welcome to another 2013 Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight entries. Over the course of this week, I will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at another of my favorite conventions, the Baltimore Comic-ConYou can check out all of my spotlights for the Baltimore Comic-Con from both this year and prior years here.

Of all the authors to have his characters re-imagined, I can think of no better person than William Shakespeare, who was himself the master of the retcon when it came to working with classic stories. If he was in fact just one person, arguably the greatest writer working in English of all time borrowed heavily from the legends created by others, playing with ideas and themes and applying them to his modern world. Shakespeare was able to show thousands of later writers how to slip commentary right under the noses of those who most hated the idea.

For that alone, comics owes him a debt.

Working within the genre of comics and literature that puts a new twist on classic characters that perhaps is best embodied in Fables, Kill Shakespeare takes the characters from the best known of Shakespeare's plays and throws them together in a world that's been abandoned by its creator--rumored to the Bard himself.  Cleverly putting characters together (or ripping them apart), we get neat things like Othello working with Juliet, Iago trying to redeem himself--maybe--and Hamlet, that most confused of young men, trying to figure out just what his path should be, even as this world is opened to him alongside the reader.

The creative team of Connor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger do a great job of creating a sandbox for these folks, trying to imagine what it would be like if all of the plays existed in the same universe. The fact that they left themselves room to expand, as we saw in the latest storyline, "The Tide of Blood" really shows a lot of foresight, as it slides effortlessly into the realm of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.

The series does have a few hiccups here and there. I loved the first volume of stories (review here) but thought the second one really fell apart, to be honest (review here). Instead of trying to do new things with the characters, it lapsed into predictable patterns. I felt like they were going more for a movie vibe than using the medium of comics to its fullest.

Fortunately, the series takes an uptick upon its return. The remaining characters are still dealing with their changed status, and the Hamlet-Romeo-Juliet trio gets put through the ringer as their feelings are tormented in a tempest of raging emotions and ideas. That one gives me a lot of hope for the future of such a great idea. Even though we are still dealing with archetypes, I felt that the writing team did a much better job of stretching themselves out. The characters really grow and change in this story arc, as they become ever more human.  The conclusion of the story is amazing, even if it is a bit harder on the female characters than I'm comfortable with, and doesn't leave Shakespeare's figures stuck playing out the roles they had in immortality.

It's a very strong bounce-back, and I can't wait to see what the creators of Kill Shakespeare have up their sleeves and quills next.

Speaking of quills, artist Andy Belanger's is incredibly talented. I said in one of my reviews that he "draws the hell out of this story" and that's so true. I don't want to give too much away, but from his broad farce Fallstaff to a truly chilling interpretation of Prospero and his supporting cast, Belanger is a big part of why this series is so good. He nails emotions, takes advantage of the limitless potential of the comics page to create sets no stage could replicate, and always keeps the story grounded no matter how fantastical it gets.

At Baltimore, the team should have copies of Volume 1 and 2, along with t-shirts and other related items from the Kill Shakespeare world. If you are a fan of stories like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen then you absolutely must check out Kill Shakespeare.

Out to revenge a dead father and can't make Baltimore?  You can find Kill Shakespeare here, and their comics are also on Comixology.