Created and written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, Art by Andy Belanger.
Some books come at you with great art, some great writing, some both. Then there’s another type of book, the type that comes at you with an absolute, guaranteed hook of a killer concept.
Guess which one of these kill Shakespeare is?
Killer concept. Absolutely. Take all the bard’s greatest heroes (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff) and pit them against all his most dastardly villains (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) in a big, epic scale battle. And then, to top it all off, put them all together in a quest to find and potentially kill a reclusive wizard called William Shakespeare.
The concept is just brilliant. It really is. And as is so often the way, the execution of that brilliant concept falls slightly flat. In many ways it was always bound to do so. Anything that has such a strong, simple and really, really cool concept will always struggle to live up to it’s own hype.
That’s not saying there’s not a good story backed up with some decent art by McCreery, Del Col and Belanger. Because once you get past the killer concept what you actually have is a rather decent, thoroughly enjoyable Shakespearean style literary romp of an adventure.
The story concerns young Hamlet, cast out of his recently deceased father’s kingdom, sent abroad with loyal servants Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or Guildenstern and Rosencrantz perhaps?) and destined to fall afoul of pirates along the way. On waking, he’s about to realise his story is no longer the one we all knew so well:
(Enter King Richard… about to offer Hamlet a task to kill Will. From Kill Shakespeare by McCreery, Del Col and belanger, published by IDW.)
Richard, and his fellow baddie Lady Macbeth convince Hamlet they have the power to resurrect his father and set him to a quest to kill the wizard Shakespeare. He is to be “The Shadow King“, a legendary figure foretold by the three witches, destined to kill the magical and godlike wizard – the very essence of “the creator“. Fiction meets metafiction and has a bloody good time along the way.
But the villains, being villains, haven’t Hamlet’s best interests at heart – all they want is Will’s quill, believing they shall rule with it. Although actually, being Shakespearean villains both Richard and lady Macbeth are plotting behind the others back continuously.
With a possibly traitorous Iago at his side (although traitorous to which side, this volume never makes clear) Hamlet is sent forth and meets up with first a full-bellied and lusty Falstaff, then Juliet and Othello, amidst the stirrings of a people’s rebellion against Richard.
(Lady Macbeth – lusty villainess bar none. Boo and hiss indeed. From Kill Shakespeare by McCreery, Del Col and belanger, published by IDW.)
The good thing about Kill Shakespeare is that McCreery and Del Col haven’t made it completely impenetrable to non-Shakespearean scholars. Sure, there’s characters here who need a quick google to really grasp their significance, but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the bard’s works will get who these people are and why they’re doing what they do.
They also work hard to introduce much that the bard would recognise, a hint of swash and buckle, some nods to debauchery and playing to the cheap seats for laughs with Falstaff, even a bit of cross-dressing. Add that to the epic war, intrigue, betrayal, mysticism, diabolical villains, lusty villainesses, patricide, mariticide, and I’m sure there will be a touch of a romance somewhere down the line.
(Falstaff adds a dash of humour – and shows us some of the best of Belanger’s artwork in that great facial expression. From Kill Shakespeare by McCreery, Del Col and belanger, published by IDW.)
The art is …. okay, with touches of really nice (like that Falstaff page above). Which is, I know, a terribly bland way to describe someone’s hard crafted work. But it is merely okay. It’s not offensive in any way upon the eye, it does a good job of storytelling and there are the occasional really nice panels and pages.
But there’s a back up strip here, exclusive to the collection “Et tu, Hecate” where the writer’s put Lady Macbeth back in the pivotal moments of Julius Caesar. The art is by J. Bone – and in just 5 pages he blows everything that’s gone before away. I’m a big Bone fan anyway, so maybe that’s just my own prejudice and opinions coming to the fore. But Belanger’s art is never really spectacularly good and J. Bone’s inclusion merely highlights this. Belanger’s art is functionally good, tells the story very well without excess or great style and is easy enough on the eye, never offensive but neither is it the sort of glorious spectacular I’d have like to have seen for the story the authors are trying to tell..
Kill Shakespeare isn’t the greatest thing I’ve read in a long time, but it did entertain. It was fun, relatively thrilling and executed very well. Certainly enough to make me think getting the second, and concluding volume would be worth my (and your) while. In the end, my enjoyment of the book could never really live up to my expectations of what is one of the best, and coolest, concepts I’ve heard for a long time. But then again, I doubt it ever could.
For your further enjoyment, there’s a Kill Shakespeare website here and here’s a very nicely done Kill Shakespeare trailer: