Kill Shakespeare: Past is Prologue—Juliet #2 ComicWow! Review

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Conor McCreery is one of the creators of Kill Shakespeare (the other is Anthony Del Col).  McCreery and Del Col were nominated for both a Joe Shuster award (Outstanding Comic Book Writer(s)) and a Harvey Award (Best New Series).  McCreery has also worked on Assassin’s Creed, the First Law of Mad Science, and Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini.

Corin Howell is somewhat new to Kill Shakespeare, but he has a strong overall history as a comic artist, with work ranging from Hello Kitty and Adventure Time to X-Files: Origins and Star Trek: Waypoint.  Howell’s work also appeared in Ghostbusters, Revolution: Transformers, Back to the Future, Jem, Bat-Mite Ben-10, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and more.

The conceit of the series is simple – Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, Kings Richard and Lear- and more- all coexist.  To a certain degree, the characters begin as Shakespeare created them, but they have changed due to the complexity and intricacy of plots that go far beyond the classic original plays.

In the previous issue, a still grieving Juliet has to endure another death – the murder of her mother (her father dies shortly after the events in the Shakespeare play). She soon realizes that her life is in danger as well.  She goes on a covert hunt for the man behind the plot.

In this issue, Juliet (now titular head of the house of Capulet) discovers the man behind it all.   She is hamstrung, not only by her “reputation,” but also by her position in Verona society. Not only is she regarded as slightly unstable and impetuous, but also as a young woman in a highly patriarchal era.

Still, she has resources, strength of will, and cunning.  Aided by Benvolio, she goes to one of Verona’s darker corners, seeking an assassin. Who she meets and what happens next are nothing short of amazing.

The central conceit—bringing some of Shakespeare’s greatest creations together and putting them into fascinating situations—ones far out of their normal depth is inherently fascinating  (please ignore Steve Coogan’s play within a movie, Hamlet 2, which featured “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus”).  On one hand, Juliet settling into a nunnery or getting married and living happily ever after would not be much of a story. On the other hand, Juliet using a time machine to go back and fix everything (the Steve Coogan movie) would be a farce that strains credulity.

McCreery and Del Col resolved the problem by taking the existing characters and bringing them together through a minor chronological sleight of hand. Shakespeare’s world included many forms of magic, from Friar Lawrence’s humble potions to the witches of Macbeth to the Gods and metahumans of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. These storytellers have chosen to use a vague reference to hidden magic.  By not examining too closely, it fades into the background, and readers can enjoy the characters and their interactions.

McCreery has been unjustly criticized both for failing to write in iambic pentameter and for having the temerity to use the Shakespeare’s characters.  Some accuse Kill Shakespeare of disrespect to the Bard, as if these characters were somehow part of a sacred writ.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Shakespeare’s plays were the pop entertainment of his day.  He wrote his plays to appeal to a mass audience, and the fact of their continued success (he died in 1616, 401 years ago) proves that he did his job well.

McCreery’s writing smoothly morphs these characters from creatures of their era into deeper, more complex, and often highly conflicted characters.  His skill at developing and re-visioning these characters is profound.

Corin Howell’s artwork here is very much in keeping with his work in the X-Files and Power Rangers.  The characters are very serious, and the action scenes are very well-crafted.  It is, however, more fantasy-oriented, in keeping with Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons.

Kill Shakespeare – Past is Prologue: Juliet is a fascinating concept, well written, and well-executed.

Written by: Conor McCreery

Illustrated by: Corin Howell