Sequeling Shakespeare

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Based on the novel “The Kouga Ninja Scrolls” by Futaro Yamada, “Basilisk” tells a story similar to Romeo and Juliet’s with all the Shakespearean drama and treachery.

My experience of Shakespeare is very similar to Darwyn Cooke’s. The Eisner Award and Harvey Award winning writer of DC: The New Frontier (the book that reignited my interest in “mainstream” DC superhero comics, as opposed to its Vertigo series). He wrote in his introduction to Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col’s Kill Shakespeare,

There is no love lost between myself and the Bard in question. As a matter of fact, in high school, if someone yelled “Kill Shakespeare” I’d have zealously seconded. My memories of high school Shakespeare are not unlike my memories of French language class: vague and irritating.

Yet Shakespeare everywhere. The reiterations of Romeo and Juliet are as diverse in setting as they are in quality. Hamlet’s Emo rant, Othello’s insecurity, and Lady Macbeth’s ambition, established the archetypes for bad humans with gripping stories.

My own Shakespeare sob story begins senior year of high school and ends a little more than two decades later on a rainy Sunday afternoon surfing the cable channels. I caught the opening sequence to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet — An old-timey TV set playing a news report read in Shakespearean English about “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona.”

Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet is pieced together like a music video or comic book storyboard — significant objects and telling glances in quick cuts. It was the visual connection I needed to make sense of the Shakespearean gibberish my English teachers swooned over. Wikipedia quotes Luhrmann on the film:

With Romeo and Juliet what I wanted to do was to look at the way in which Shakespeare might make a movie of one of his plays if he was a director… He was a player. We know about the Elizabethan stage and that he was playing for 3000 drunken punters, from the street sweeper to the Queen of England – and his competition was bear-baiting and prostitution. So he was a relentless entertainer and a user of incredible devices and theatrical tricks to ultimately create something of meaning and convey a story.

Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col’s Kill Shakespeare does more than entertain. It successfully develops the characters Shakespeare introduced in his plays in interesting and sensible ways. For example, the Hamlet in Kill Shakespeare is a rational development of the Hamlet at the end of Shakespeare’s play. Though I am hesitant to use Cooke’s original more colorful language, his description of the Prince of Denmark as Emo is spot on. Banished from Denmark, Hamlet sulks around England, suffering episodes of honor and chivalry.

Hamlet is the “hero” in Kill Shakespeare. He is the “Shadow King.” The one the Prodigals believe will join the Bard in ending King Richard’s tyrannical reign. On the other hand, Richard believes Hamlet is the only who can kill the Bard and stop the threat to his rule. Richard is joined by Lady Macbeth, who commits the act of treachery that made me a Kill Shakespeare fan.

I am also very curious about the casting of Juliet (from Romeo and) as the leader of the Prodigal rebellion. She joins the ranks of Batman, the Arrow, and the Green Hornet as someone Iago (from Othello) refers to as being born into privilege and blessed enough to chose their wars. It’s not revealed in the first volume, so I am eager to read the second to see if McCreery and Del Col reveal what drove Juliet to lead the rebellion. Was it the loss of Romeo? Or is he still alive? The murder of her cousin Tybalt? Or is he still alive?

Unlike Cooke and me, McCreery and Del Col were early fans of Shakespeare’s plays. It shows in their portrayal of the Bard’s famous characters in new adventures. I am hesitant to call Kill Shakespeare a much delayed sequel or spinoff to Shakespeare’s plays but because McCreery and Del Col’s interpretations of his characters are so well informed, I would be remiss not to at least bring the idea up.

However, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare fan to enjoy Kill Shakespeare. It can stand on its on as a well written and engaging story. To quote Darwyn Cooke again:

Deft handling of dozens of known characters and a quest driven plot that keeps the story rolling forward… individuals such as myself with only a passing knowledge of these characters are given everything we need to enjoy the story without having to read dense thickets of expository narrative… it all comes together organically through dialogue and action.

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