Kill Shakespeare Volume 2

Written by Connor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Illustrated by Andy Belanger

Richard and Lady MacBeth mass their forces for a final assault against those who defend the name of their creator, Shakespeare.  Even with Othello and his former ally Iago training the rebel forces, things look bad unless Hamlet can overcome his demons and bring back the one man who can save everyone--Shakespeare himself.  Time is running out for the many players involved in a complex plot to...Kill Shakespeare.

It's been a long time since I read the first volume, but I remembered liking it a lot, which is why this collection was such a disappointment.  After setting up some really interesting concepts in the first half, everything here falls into standard story cliches.  The bad guys end up double-crossing each other, but it's not surprising because we knew it had to happen and the way it plays out could be mixed and matched from just about any other movie where one baddie turns and shoots his former partner.

I would have been okay with that, except that the non-surprises kept coming as I turned the pages.  Iago betrays everyone and ends up as a manic creature who returns one last time.  Falstaff plays the noble comedic character who dies nobly to spur the hero to action.  Shakespeare won't help initially, but changes his mind.  Hamlet and Juliet fall in love, their pasts buried as they take on their new roles.

I don't have a problem with recycling story ideas, as I feel strongly that there are only so many original ideas in the world, and the key is seeing how the writer works within a particular theme.  My problem here is that the themes created by McCreery and Del Col are played so normally that there's nothing to hook me and make me want to tell others to read how they riffed on the "reluctant hero" idea.  Instead, I'm left wanting to warn you that Hamlet, despite his pedigree, has nothing to add to the reluctant hero genre.

That's a shame because there are moments in the comic that are quite good.  I like how they used the "play within a play" idea to almost drive Hamlet mad, but the resolution just didn't work for me.  The use of Puck is still pretty cool--especially near the end of the story--and the Iago/Othello scenes really sing.  But overall, there's too few innovations and too many things that could be in the latest summer action flick.  (In fact, I wonder if the swing towards a standard action plot might be an attempt to make this more movie-friendly.  Right now, the success of comic book films is a plague on good comics storytelling, but that's for another day.)

Despite the challenges of a weak script, artist Andy Belanger draws the hell out of what he's given.  On multiple occasions, his work brings out the best in the story.  His depiction of the deadly dagger was awesome, showing chaotic movement while keeping a narrative framing together.  I also loved the way he showed the ghosts of Hamlet and Juliet haunting them as they build their inevitable relationship.  Multiple times, Belenger takes the background and twists it into panel borders, an effect that never fails to work for me.  I also like his character positioning, which really drives the action wherever possible, drawing the reader's eye to important moments by clever perspective or changing camera angles.  I'd love to see what he could have done with a more innovative script.

William Shakespeare is the greatest playwright for a reason.  He was able to take ideas from others and improve upon them, using characters that had already been used and make them his own.  Unfortunately, McCreery and Del Col don't follow that mold.  They try in places to put their own spin on the characters, but too often, it's a trait we've seen in everything from the A-Team to Inception, right down to an ending that's far too neat for the complex work of the Bard.  I'm afraid this volume kills Kill Shakespeare for me, which is a shame because the first volume held so much promise.