The back cover calls this comic “‘Fables’ meets ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ with a dash of ‘Northlanders,'” but those comics all have something that this one’s missing: quality. The comparisons don’t really even make sense. “Northlanders”? Because some of these characters have swords and/or come from northern Europe? That’s a tenuous comparison at best. And unlike “Fables” or “League,” there’s no sense of any sophisticated understanding of the underlying connection between different kinds of stories in this comic. No, this is a simple-minded comic about some of the most complex characters ever created in the history of literature. And that’s a sad combination.
Andy Belanger does a fine job on the art, particularly when he’s depicting the supernatural elements of the story, but the writing is almost universally terrible.
Even with its pretty-great hook — Shakespeare’s characters want to break free from the bard’s control by killing him, or at least stealing his quill — this is a comic that’s insipid and anti-intellectual. It takes a less-than-Spark-Notes understanding of the plays of Shakespeare and mashes it with all the depth of a “Salvation Run” issue. For anyone who knows Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, this comic is an embarrassment. For anyone who doesn’t know the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, why would they care about these fictional characters?
Writers McCreery and Del Col get Hamlet wrong, for starters. His best-buddy treatment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern goes against the sardonic irony he displays in the Shakespeare original. This isn’t the guy from the play, it’s some made-for-TV movie version. Casper Van Dien in “Hamlet’s Pals vs. Pirates,” but without any sense of humor about itself. And though the concept of a Shakespeare All-Star team up sounds good in theory — or at least it sounds good to me — the meeting between Richard III and Hamlet might as well be the meeting between two completely original, and dull, characters. They don’t act like themselves, and they speak like second-rate Stan Lee Asgardians at best. Even the hags from “Macbeth” don’t do anything except quote lines from that play and act ominous.
Is that kind of thing really on par with “Fables,” never mind “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”? That’s a rhetorical question, and I wouldn’t be able to hear you answer anyway, but I assure you that the answer would be “no.”