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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood #1

Easily one of the best comics to fly under the radar of most during the last five years was Kill Shakespeare.  With their comic, writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery were able to take something most people today find boring (Shakespeare) and craft an epic tale which combined the Bard's greatest characters.  Now, almost two years later, McCreery and Del Col are back to continue the story of the faithful followers of the god known as William Shakespeare.

Picking up three months after the events of the original comic, Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood sees Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo preparing for the possibility of war against the mighty Titus (of Titus Andronicus).  In addition,  Romeo rescues a young woman who has come to warn the heroes that a dark evil is seeking to end the world in the form of her father: Prospero.

I am not ashamed by any means to admit that I am a huge fan of Shakespeare.  While this should come as no surprise considering the B.A. I have in English, I feel that my enjoyment of Shakespeare predates any inklings of becoming an English major.  Whether or not you enjoyed having to read his plays in high school does not matter.  The works of William Shakespeare speak to us as human beings and are filled with characters, archetypes, and scenarios whose relevance extends well beyond the Elizabethan Era.  Shakespeare is timeless and his works are open to any number of interpretations.  That is precisely the reason I enjoyed the original Kill Shakespeare comic so much.  Not only was this a character-blending story done in the style of series such as Fables, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and The Unwritten, but finally someone had the guts to adapt Shakespeare to comics. 

One may easily feel a bit apprehensive about picking up The Tide of Blood perhaps not because of the use of Shakespeare, but because it is a sequel.  Such worries are completely justified.  While certain moments in this first issue would certainly be much more clear if one has read Kill Shakespeare, I have to give McCreery and Del Col credit for crafting a sequel story that is still accessible for new readers.  You may not remember the plot of their plays, but everyone is undoubtedly familiar with the characters of Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello.  Much as they did in their original story, Tide of Blood adapts the language of Shakespeare to make it readable while still sounding Shakespearean.  If that alone interests you, then I feel you would be fine sampling The Tide of Blood to see if Kill Shakespeare is something you may wish to read.

Let's talk about the actual issue itself.  Not only is this story accessible for new readers, but it does a great job of developing many of the threads we were left with at the end of the first story.  Romeo is a man wandering the world without purpose.  While it is a bit expected that such a man would turn to whores and booze, both are afflictions which people during the time period very much so dealt with.  As Romeo gets much of the development in this issue, it was interesting to see him regain his confidence in his ability to be a hero.  While we got a great plot twist in this issue with the revelation about Prospero and Hamlet, I get a real since that this mini-series is going to be Romeo's story.  This will be a potentially good thing for McCreery and Del Col as this will be able to free them from having to make every single Kill Shakespeare book focus on Hamlet.

While Romeo is the focus of this issue, Juliet and Hamlet also get some good development.  We see that they are very much so in love, but they obviously care for their friends.  Hamlet does not have too much to do in this issue, so it is difficult to really see how he has been in the three months since the battle against Richard III, but I hold out hope that we will get some development for the Prince of Denmark soon.  I will give credit to McCreery and Del Col, however, for making a very nice Macbeth reference in a scene between Hamlet and a rooster.

What really makes The Tide of Blood an exciting story is the way the world of Kill Shakespeare is starting to expand.  Titus Andronicus is going to be a force to be reckoned with (his play is so violent one could almost compare it to a Tarantino flick).  As excited as I was to see Titus Andronicus used as he is often an ignored character, I am absolutely pumped to see how Prospero is going to be utilized in the issues to come.  The Tempest is one of my all time favorites of Shakespeare's plays (Lear being my #1) so the inclusion of the mysterious wizard and, presumably, his servant Caliban will make great additions to the story of this comic.

My only major issue with this comic thus far is that Othello was barely present.  Othello stuck out during Kill Shakespeare as one of the most fascinating characters, so it was a bit sad to see him be little more than decoration in this issue.

On the art front, I will admit that Andy Belanger's art takes some getting used to.  It had been a while since I had read Kill Shakespeare so it took me a few pages to get used to his style of artwork again.  Once one has become accustomed to the art (and it does not take long), one can at least appreciate the uniqueness of it.  The art is particularly great during large action scenes or the moment where Miranda opens Prospero's book of ice.

Overall, if you are interested in seeing the continuing adventures of Shakespeare's characters, Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood has a ton of potential.  Do not feel like this will be an impossible read for you if you are not as steeped in Shakespeare's lore.  One of the strongest aspects of this book and the ones that came before it is the ability of McCreery and Del Col to give you a good story that is only improved by a knowledge of Shakespeare's characters.  A B.A. in English is not required to enjoy this comic, but you may finish it wanting to give the Bard a second chance.

Rating: A+

Summary:  Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood #1 does an excellent job of developing the character of Romeo while also setting the stage (no pun intended) for a potentially fantastic conflict with one of Shakespeare's greatest characters.
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