Review by Frank Plowright
It’s not a comparison writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col make, but Kill Shakespeare works in the same way as Fables. Instead of uniting the characters from fairy tales, they geneate their cast via a sweep through the plays of William Shakespeare. While initially imagining there can be few connecting points and the concept is strained, the writers largely dispel such thoughts with an involving fantasy adventure.
We start with Hamlet, picking up with Act IV of Shakespeare’s play. He’s been exiled for the crime of killing Polonius by Denmark’s new King, sent with a sealed letter to the King of England asking him to kill Hamlet. From there events diverge, and Hamlet washes up on a shore to be taken in by Richard III who has identified the elusive Shakespeare as the author of all his troubles via a magic quill. Hamlet is considered the Shadow King of prophecy, upon whom powers have been bestowed.
Anyone intimidated by Shakespeare’s plays can approach Kill Shakespeare with confidence. McCreery and Del Col introduce multiple characters from the plays, but never in a manner that presumes knowledge. Those familiar with the plays however, will be a step ahead on occasion, knowing for instance what Iago’s true character is when he first appears, as the writers keep the personalities as prescribed by Shakespeare intact. Historians may now doubt Richard III was the murderer he’s always been presumed to be, but here it’s the uncomplicated villainy that’s portrayed. While mixing roughly contemporary rulers and their entourages is simple enough, we’re also introduced to some of Shakespeare’s more outrageous characters, and the more people Hamlet meets, the less convinced he is of having been told the truth in the first place. He’s a bright choice as main character, tormented, but hardly irredeemable and young enough to learn about life as he encounters others.
Andy Belanger is an artist who puts the effort into creating locations and atmosphere, but is more limited when it comes to the cast, among whom facial variations are few. Beyond that there’s an exaggeration to expressions, and a stiffness to people, when at times some subtlety would be the preferred option. As in Shakespeare’s plays, there are farcical elements, and Belanger’s art is more suited to these than the moments of emotional depth. The sample page highlights the problems and the ornate design skills. These count for a lot, and he improves as he continues over six chapters.
We also meet Falstaff, Juliet, Lady Macbeth and Othello in significant roles, and others with lesser parts, the writers including Shakespeare’s lines where possible or to make a point, whimsically naming pubs along the way after the plays. Attempting their own Shakespearean style dialogue is a mistake, but a few teething problems in a generally very approachable feature can be overlooked. At the end of this book we’ve reached the halfway point, and Hamlet unwinding whether or not he has a destiny concludes in The Blast of War. Both were later combined as The Backstage Edition.