Every once in awhile, a comic just blows me away - not just because it's well written or well-drawn, but because it provides a very well-structured, thought out world. Rather than serve as mere mashup, it uses existing characters in a unique, clever way that drives compelling storytelling.
Welcome, dear readers, to the world of Kill Shakespeare from IDW. After having the privilege of reading Dynamite's Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini for I Hear of Sherlock and Zone 4, the authors invited me to check out all three trade collections of Kill Shakespeare - as well as the four-issue Mask of Night miniseries....and I'm damn glad I did.
This is one of those books that if you missed it....well, now's your chance to catch up. This is some of the best storytelling I've seen in a long time.
Part of what makes this series work is that it builds such an elaborate world using Shakespeare's characters. (Admittedly, I'm a Shakespeare buff). The elevator pitch of this series would be "all of Shakespeare's characters are real....and Shakespeare is a god", but the narrative is much more clever than that. The first two volumes - Kill Shakespeare and The Blast of War, focus on a quest for a quill - a quill that will bestow infinite power on anyone. Unfortunately, it's in the hands of.....but that would be telling.
Characters are used in very clever ways - any book that has Richard III team up with Lady Macbeth, or that has Juliet take on a more assertive role - and there's never a false note. The language is evocative of Shakespeare's writing without feeling pretentious or lacking clarity. Once we exit the events of the first two volumes, we go on a quest to meet Prospero in Volume Three (The Tide of Blood), and there's a good old-fashioned pirate tale in The Mask of Night. My personal favorite is a sequence in which Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream turns into a Lovecraftian entity....
....and rest assured: you don't need to be a Shakespeare scholar to appreciate this.
Although parallels could be drawn to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Fables, the world of Kill Shakespeare is much more elaborate and complicated. This is a literate, well-structured universe of characters that, by simply changing the character's names, would stand alone as a uniquely crafted book. The care taken in both the main plots as well as the backup stories in the three trades (my personal favorite: Brutus seeing another side to Caesar) really makes this series crackle.
The other major ingredient is the art, handled throughout the series by Andy Belanger. There is never a false note, and he provides a really strong, solid sense of composition to the book. Ranging from sea-bound sequences to interior scenes of intrigue, Belanger's art makes this one of the better comic reading experiences. (Again, personal favorite sequence - Puck as Lovecraftian beast. Well, that and the Brutus backup).
I cannot compliment Kill Shakespeare enough - it's the best comic reading experience I've had in a long time.
Hunt down the trades. Clear your schedule. Read Kill Shakespeare. And repeat the last two steps. Trust me, you don't be disappointed.