June 24, 2014

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Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1

Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1
Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Illustrated by Andy Belanger, Adam Gorham, Shari Chankhamma and Chris Mowry
IDW Publishing

Remember when Hamlet, Othello and Juliet teamed up to battle the evil Richard III? No? Then you've been missing out. Kill Shakespeare is the series from writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col and artist Andy Belanger that takes many of William Shakespeare's characters and puts them in a battle royale pitting his (mostly) good vs. (mostly) evil characters in a war for control over a shared universe. Alliances form, people are betrayed, and there is bawdy behavior, brooding, and bloodshed.

Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1 is the first issue in the new volume of the series. In the previous volumes of the story, Hamlet made his way from Denmark across the sea to a strange island populated with characters from William Shakepeare's plays, and enters into an alliance with Juliet, Romeo, Falstaff and others in order to do battle against the oppressive reign of Richard III and Lady MacBeth. Shakespeare himself is known to the characters (in the beginning, only as a mythical godlike figure), and becomes one of the characters in the story.  As things progress across the three prior volumes, more characters are introduced, and the problems that plagued them in their titular plays start to really play out, as some characters, like Romeo, can't handle the new dynamics and they find that Lady MacBeth isn't the only person lusting after the potential power of creation.

As the new arc begins, the focus is on the mysterious pirate Captain Cesario, who has seized control of another ship, this one holding the cargo of Othello, Juliet, Hamlet and an injured William Shakespeare - they are all taken prisoner aboard Cesario's ship. Cesario's second in command is Viola (of Twelfth Night), and while in bed with Cesario she expresses some amount of jealousy over his interest in their prisoner Juliet. Juliet was one of the leaders of the "Prodigals," those characters who stood against the brutal reign of Richard III and Lady Macbeth. Now she is here with the others, including Othello, who since he left the island is somewhat delusional as he imagines his dead wife Desdemona. Juliet confronts Cesario, who surprises and angers Viola by saying that Juliet and the others are free to do as they please, and that he intends to join the Prodigal cause. Viola takes her anger (at what joining the Prodigal cause will do to the life of freedom that she loves) out on Juliet, when their ship is attacked by the Lavinia, the ship captained by the fearsome Titus Andronicus.

I mention all this in detail to show you a) just how many of Shakespeare's characters are involved and b) the way the creators have worked hard to do more than just "mash-up" the various plays. There is real interaction and integration here, going past the surface and into detailed, intricate plotting that carries over from arc to arc.

This is an engaging first issue that throws you right into the middle of the story. It has a different focus than the previous arcs (as we move from the mysterious island to a nautical setting), but it helps to have read prior issues, or at least to be familiar with the story. (That's the downside to the intricate plotting.) Viola and Captain Cesario are fresh introductions to the series, as they are entertaining, swashbuckling characters with clearly mixed motivations. Viola was more than willing to pass their passengers along to Titus Andronicus, and she dealt quite harshly with Juliet, who was just recovering from trying to calm down a delusional Othello. Her evolution from pirate to hero should make for an interesting arc.

The art on this series continues to be engaging, as Belanger and the art team bring great detail to every aspect of the page. Anatomy and layouts are strong, and the setting aboard Cesario's ship the Boreas is rendered precisely. The action has a strong, kinetic feel, where the thick inking provides a sense of motion on the page. The facial acting from the characters is also effective - this is big, fun action, and the characters' emotions are rendered in a slightly exaggerated way which works for the setting.  


As detailed here at Panel Patter, the Kill Shakespeare team are taking an innovative storytelling approach on this newest volume of the story by tying the plot of this arc directly to a new Board Game.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the story itself. If you've enjoyed this series, or if you're a Shakespeare fan, or if you enjoy the idea of taking literary characters and putting them in different situations, then this is well worth picking up.