Kill ShakespeareA comic review article by: Bill Janzen
Kill Shakespeare is a highly ambitious tale for a comic book seeking to do for Shakespeare's characters what Fables did for classic fairy tale characters, bringing them all into one shared setting and overarching narrative. This trade paperback, collecting the first six issues of the series so far, begins the tale as we follow main character Hamlet. Having to leave his home kingdom Hamlet quickly finds himself torn between two factions. One faction is led by King Richard and sees him as the prophesied "shadow king" who will kill the wizard Shakespeare. The other faction is led by Juliet and believes Hamlet is being manipulated, and it is King Richard that is evil rather than the wizard William Shakespeare.
With the vast array of content to draw on in Shakespeare's writings, the rich drama and huge number of characters this seems like a comic a brilliant idea for a comic series that's just been waiting to happen. Unfortunately all of this promise breaks down when idealized potential meets reality.
Fables quickly became a beloved comic series and on the surface Kill Shakespeare seems like such a similar concept. However the similarity breaks down when one realizes that there is a big difference between how familiar the random reader generally is with the simple stories of fairy tales compared to how well one might know the details of the characters from Shakespeare.
For example, if I name Peter Pan, Cinderella and Pinochio I would guess most people could give a basic summary of their stories and/or characteristics. On the other hand, if I named Iago, Polonius, and Falstaff...? I can tell you that before I read it I would have characterized myself as being slightly more knowledgeable than most of my friends regarding Shakespeare. After having read it? I clearly don't know enough.
One writer cited on the back cover describes Kill Shakespeare as having "Lots of cool Easter Eggs for the literary-minded, but still plenty entertaining for the rest of us dummies!” Well, as apparently one of the "dummies" I can tell you that I didn't find it entertaining.
Instead it was simply a story that, compared to other professional comics, has sub-par writing and so-so art. The story dragged on with little in the characters that caught my interest. Some characters simply seemed completely misrepresented compared to the original Shakespearian writings. For example, Juliet is the fighting leader of a rebel group? And she has no significant connection in the story to basically absent Romeo? Frankly I saw nothing actually connecting her to the original Juliet character other than sharing the name.
Belanger's artwork isn't bad, but neither is it impressive. He has consistency and in a few areas I even found his story telling impressive, however the overall work still seems too rough and lacking in detail.
I could go on (for example the dialogue switches between the old English of "thy" and "your" rather than staying consistent"), but I think you get the idea.
The original concept sounds great, but the final product is simply not that interesting. If you want to see this kind of literary combination in a comic environment there are better options. If you want to enjoy Shakespeare's characters or just want to seem intellectual, you're better off with just reading Shakespeare.
Bill Janzen started collecting comics at about 7 years old. Like many, Bill stopped collecting comics during the '90s, but was drawn back in when his wife Beth, thinking his childhood hobby was cute (and not knowing what she was starting), suggested he should pick a comic book and try to collect it from start to finish. Years and thousands of comic issues later, Bill still loves superheroes. He lives in South-Western Ontario, Canada and when he's not writing reviews for Comics Bulletin or stopping bullets with his mind he is also the pastor of a Baptist church.