Thursday, May 03, 2012


Fairly quickie review on two graphic novels:

"Kill Shakespeare" grabbed my attention when I saw it in the library. With a title like that, how could it not? I hadn't heard of any of the artists or authors before, but I loved the concept (all of Shakespeare's characters are inhabiting the same land and fighting or supporting one another, while they are all ruled over by a distant, possibly mythical figure called the wizard Will Shakespeare).

I was... a bit disappointed. The concept was awesome, and was SO awesome that I felt like they should have done a better job with it. The comic grabs a bunch of the most famous characters from Shakespeare, and pretty much has them play out their personalities like you would suspect: Hamlet is an indecisive and tortured soul, Richard III and Iago are brilliant manipulators, Lady Macbeth is power-hungry, Falstaff is jovial, and so on. Hamlet is the newcomer to the world, and we're learning of everything through his eyes. It may get better later on, but so far it just isn't doing much for me. I think my biggest complaint is the language, which flits between modern and Shakespearean speech, without ever being too impressive. There are a few cringe-worthy sentences like "Now thy face the wrath of the bearded whore!" Um... guys, "thy" is a possessive adjective, not a nominative personal pronoun. They also tend to lift several famous phrases from Shakespeare and either use them outright or slightly adjust them to the action; but, they don't seem to serve any real purpose other than knowing winks to the reader. I guess it might make people feel smart when they recognize them, but again, I wish that they would do more with such great source material.

On the whole, it's a bit of a waste. I suspect that the writers wanted to do something along the lines of "Fables," and I can't fault them for that (though I have my own separate issues with that series), but it just feels like a dumbed-down, gore-and-boobs plot that happens to be using characters from Shakespeare.

On the plus side: the art is really excellent. The character designs aren't hugely inspired (I had some trouble telling Hamlet and Iago apart), but they're well-drawn. Panel layouts are well designed with some interesting techniques, particularly in the battle scenes. The coloring was vivid and evocative; I was particularly impressed by the nighttime scenes.

It looks like Kill Shakespeare (which, I must still admit, is a phenomenal title) will be an ongoing thing, so I may check back in a few years to see if it has improved. The other graphic novel I recently read, The Griff, is a fascinating project from Chris Moore and... some other guy whose name I forget. (Sorry!) Unlike Kill Shakespeare, it's a self-contained stand-alone book, and it's great.

The Griff started life as a movie screenplay, and it kind of shows in the finished product. The style and pace of the plot really seems movie-like: you have an epic conflict that has shook the world, and then most of the story follows two small groups of people who are slowly moving towards one another. There's a total of about five major characters, two female and three male, who are young and mostly photogenic. The one who isn't handsome looks like he may have been written with Billy Bob Thornton in mind. Oh, yeah: and it also feels like a movie because there's a pleasingly high quantity of one-liners in the script. Er, I mean the comic.

The movie will never be made - as Moore writes in his introduction, because the world is filled with horrible people who tell you lies - so we can enjoy this comic. It's faster-paced than a typical Moore book (which, granted, isn't exactly slow to begin with), and filled with great action, suspense, humor, and a few mysteries along the way. I kind of doubt that we'll see more Moore in the comics world, and I'm glad that this entry was so strong.

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