Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has been convicted of the murder of Lord Polonius. Sentenced to exile by his uncle, King Claudius, Hamlet’s closest school-friends have been given orders to escort Hamlet to England and see to his execution. But good Rosencrantz and Guildenstern decided to defy their king and stand by their friend as he plots a rebellion. Sadly, their alliance is short-lived and an attack by pirates sees Hamlet fall overboard as his friends die.
Hamlet washes ashore and is discovered by soldiers who escort him to their liege lord – King Richard the Third of England! Luckily for Hamlet, King Richard has as little love for King Claudius as Hamlet does. Indeed, Richard has need of Hamlet, or at least believes he does. For Richard has formed an alliance with King Macbeth of Scotland and the witches who serve the Scottish lord’s good lady wife have put forth a prophecy that speaks of a young man like Hamlet. They further speak of a Shadow King who can find the lost god-king creator of their realm – The Great God Shakespeare. Richard sends Hamlet forth with his best man, the honest and ever-loyal Iago, to find Shakespeare and kill him.
So begins Kill Shakespeare – a series which does for The Bard of Avon what the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series did for Victorian-era Literature. Such a comparison is unfair but inevitable. Kill Shakespeare defies easy categorization past its base concept of, “All of Shakespeare’s most famous characters live in one fantasy realm at the same time.”
Note that I say “most famous” characters and not “best,” for therein lies one of the odd paradoxes of Kill Shakespeare. We meet several of Shakespeare’s more obscure characters as the story progresses and the reader must be familiar with the whole of The Bard’s catalog of works to appreciate all the references. And yet, the most prominent parts are given to those characters a layman is most likely to know, to mixed effect. While recasting Othello as the general of the rebel army and Falstaff as the heart of the prodigal rebellion are inspired choices on the part of the writers, it strains credibility to turn Juliet Capulet into a warrior princess when there are so many other Shakespearean heroines better suited to a combat role.
The artwork is skillful enough, at least. Andy Belanger uses a broad, cartoonish style that befits both the high drama and comedy of the piece. Everything is exaggerated in a fashion fit for the stage or a 17th century woodcut of a Shakespeare play.
Kill Shakespeare is an amusing diversion for theater fans who like comics, but little more than that. The book has no official rating but could be read (if not necessarily understood or enjoyed) by teenagers without fear of warping their minds. They have a far better chance of finding excessive sex and violence in a local stage production of Titus Andronicus than in this book.