Art by: Andy Belanger
Ink Assist by: Adam Gorham
Colors by: Shari Chankhamma
Lettering by: Chris Mowry
Edited by: Tom Waltz
Published by: IDW
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
In comic shops today!!!
I’ll admit, I have a special affection for the creators of the Kill Shakespeare franchise. They were the first two comic book creators to come onto the completely brand new Part-Time Fanboy Podcast and give a little bit of their time (and lot of good humor…you can listen to that episode here) to a nascent media outlet that wasn’t necessarily going to draw the most eyeballs to their comic book. Granted, I’d loved their work from the beginning of their original Kill Shakespeare series but I’ll always remember them for taking the time to sit down with me on what was really my first podcast interview ever. So if you’re looking for a completely impartial review of their new book you’re probably not going to get it here. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery are probably two of the nicest guys in comics I’ve ever met. Not only that but they definitely seem to have their act together when it comes to making their own comic books and just getting their product out there. So I’m more than happy to see them achieve the kind of success they’ve been able to attain with their Kill Shakespeare comics.
I do have to add though that anyone who really knows me, or has listened to our podcast, will know that I can be distinctly honest about my likes and dislikes at times. Whether or not someone is a friend or not I do try to approach each new project that I come across with fresh eyes and see it exactly for what it is. I always try to separate what I’m reading from what my feelings are about the creators behind it. Truthfully, I think that that aspect of my character has cost me to unintentionally hurt the feelings of some people when writing reviews or commenting on my podcast. Thankfully that’s not a conundrum that I will have to be faced with during this review because Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night looks to be another terrific entry in Del Col and McCreery’s Shakespearean alternate comic book universe.
In this particular installment the creators behind Kill Shakespeare take the opportunity to introduce even more players from The Bard’s stable of characters. The Mask of Night presents a certain swashbuckling flair to the series by inserting a brigand of pirates into the mix. More specifically the characters of Viola and a certain pirate captain named Cesario are brought to the fore. In this iteration Cesario and Viola are not one and the same and, as usual, Del Col and McCreary have their fun at playing with the established lore of Viola’s background and the expectations of the names she adopts based on the original work she appeared in. If anything it seems as if this chapter of Kill Shakespeare is serving as a bit of a sequel to Twelfth Night in that it’s a bit of a loose exploration of why Viola chooses the name Cesario in the aforementioned classic play. For anyone who is an absolute Shakespearean purist this may seem as a bit of sacrilege but in the end I found this to be another clever take on character exploration that this series has become well noted for. Del Col and McCreary continue to do what they do best with this installment; they take the core concepts behind Shakespeare and have fun with them…and if you can’t at least have some fun with Shakespeare then, really, what’s the point?
As is the usual case with Kill Shakespeare, the actual story itself pretty much diverges from the playwright’s actual work and becomes very much a tale of its own. The action starts from the very beginning as the adventurer Cesario and his crew (which includes the lady Viola) are boarding the ship of another band of scurrilous pirates. It is here where the protagonists from the previous series, The Tide of Blood, and this book meet. Juliet and her crew had been taken captive by brigands following the events of the last series and find themselves somewhat liberated by Cesario. Cesario and Viola’s motives are not quite clear from the outset and when they discover that the valued cargo of their boarded ship are people and not actual booty, the machinations of the plot begin to really set in. Del Col and McCreery take the opportunity to really play with the characterization and motivations of Cesario. What seems to begin as an interesting opportunity for ransom becomes quite something else and there’s a nice twist in Cesario’s motives that makes what could have been a cardboard cutout adventurer of a character play out more sympathetically. It’s this kind of unexpected turn of characterization that makes this first issue and, quite frankly, the whole Kill Shakespeare series worth reading. The writers are consistently willing to play with a reader’s expectations and deliver a fresh and unusual take on material and tropes that have been around for centuries.
But the good stuff doesn’t just stop with the writing. Anyone who’s read any of the previous series will be familiar with the excellence of Andy Belanger’s work. Belanger continues to prove that he is one of the better comic book artists out there with this issue of Kill Shakespeare. His work here continues to be professional and display a great knowledge of comic book storytelling. Everything from the character design to the storytelling is terrific and Belanger continues to be an integral part of the Kill Shakespeare team. As much as I appreciate the writing of Del Col and McCreery I think that Belanger has become an integral part of the book and his artwork goes a long way to adding to my enjoyment of the series.
With the debut of The Mask of Night the Kill Shakespeare crew have proven, if they hadn’t already, that their concept is one with legs. I continue to be impressed with the breadth of imagination that the writers use when adapting Shakespeare’s creations for their own series. It’s becoming evident to me through these comics that the Shakespeare universe has plenty of concepts and characters that can be played with and that if anyone can be trusted to do the manipulating…it’s these guys.