To the average high school student, the most dreaded word he or she can possibly hear is not really a word at all, but rather, a name. The same name that never fails to elicit collective moans and groans from English class after English class. Shakespeare, as in William Shakespeare, one of the most recognizable figures in the history of the written word, has been a thorn in the side of English students for many a year. His landmark works, while mandatory texts for practically every student of English or literature the world over, have also been adapted countless times for a variety of media in an effort to not only capitalize on the Bard’s classic stories and characters, but also in an attempt to present his lessons and messages to a variety of audiences.
One of the latest attempts at such an adaptation might also be one of the most unique. Kill Shakespeare, a comic book by IDW, is an elaborate adventure tale that attempts to intertwine characters and plots from a variety of Shakespeare’s works into one shared, bloody, over the top universe that may appeal to both fans of the Bard and also to those that have had no previous interest in the legendary writer’s work. Kill Shakespeare begins, as many Greek tragedies do, in medias res (in the middle of things). Specifically, during the events of Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most well-known works. The title character has just killed an innocent man, and runs away from his homeland to avoid punishment for the crime he has committed. The disturbed young man runs into trouble, however, when he is attacked by pirates. The battle is fierce, but he receives some welcome aid in the form of King Richard III, the nominal character in another of Shakespeare’s plays.
Richard tells Hamlet of a prophecy that declares Hamlet to be someone that will come to be known as the Shadow King, the defender of good in a battle against an evil, all-powerful wizard. The wizard’s name? William Shakespeare, of course. Del Col and McCreery don’t just stop at the characters; they throw ol’ Willy himself into the mix. Richard’s motives are not as noble as they may appear however, once his alliance with the scheming Lady MacBeth, fresh off of the betrayal of her husband in the darkly glorious Shakespeare play, Macbeth, is revealed. Not to be out done, however, Othello’s villanious Iago has plans of his own for Shakespeare. As the story progresses, Shakespeare enthusiasts will be delighted to also run into a number of other Shakespeare favorites, like Puck, and the somehow-still-living Romeo and Juliet, romance’s defining couple.
One thing is clear right from the outset of this lengthy 12 issue compilation: the book’s co-authors have a passion for the source work. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, the two men behind “Kill Shakespeare,” are no doubt very familiar with Shakespeare’s plays. The characters are familiar, but also fresh and unique, as the writers’ present their own interpretations of them. While the language used throughout the series is, not surprisingly, hardly as difficult to decipher as Shakespeare’s actual work may be for some, the authors have made an effort to retain an antiquarian style of speech that tends to work fairly well.
You won’t need to be well-versed in Shakespearean lore to be able to follow the story, but it would be untrue to say that it doesn’t help. If you haven’t read much of the Bard’s work, or simply don’t remember it, you’ll probably head over to Google at least a few times throughout your reading of the series. The story itself is diverse, packing in some dark and often violent action, as well as a fair share of romance. At its core, this is an epic adventure that borrows not only from the ideas of Shakespeare, but also recalls other graphic novels or films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or the Pirates of the Caribbean series. You’ve got ghosts, knights, magicians, pirates, witches, and wizards. It’s a fantasy fan’s wet dream.
Andy Belanger, the artist that helps bring Kill Shakespeare to life, does an adequate, but unspectacular job. Like the story itself, Belanger’s art is simple. These images are not out of the ordinary, but they get the story where it needs to go. Particularly praise-worthy is Belanger’s use of colors, which tend to be bold and eye-catching.
Kill Shakespeare is an entertaining story, and once you start reading it, you’ll find yourself drawn in. Still, after concluding the story, you may find yourself feeling a bit empty. That’s because, despite it’s unquestionable entertainment value, Kill Shakespeare doesn’t deliver much depth. There is no real overarching point to this venture. There is no one grand idea that ties this all together, that allows you to understand why these characters needed to be brought together. It feels like someone thought to throw all of these characters together not because there was a real reason to, but more like . . . why not?
Kill Shakespeare is fun and exciting, but don’t read it expecting it to revolutionize these characters for you. Despite the sentiments of your average high school student, the Bard knew what he was doing, and a graphic novel isn’t going to change your perspective on Hamlet or his mental state.