Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1

There's no rest for the wicked, as the saying goes, and that certainly holds true for Hamlet, Juliet, Othello and William Shakespeare himself in this latest act of Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery and Andy Belanger's unfolding "Kill Shakespeare" drama. After their latest misadventure on Prospero's island leaves them broken in more ways than one, our stalwart players almost immediately get caught up in a swashbuckling battle on the high seas. With captivating new characters and an intriguing change of scenery, "Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night" looks as though it may take the series in its strongest direction yet.

Although Hamlet et al. make critical moves to further their own stories throughout this issue, including an especially wonderful scene between Juliet and Othello, Cesario and Viola easily steal the show with some of Del Col and McCreery's best exchanges to date. The characters' interactions are like a masterfully choreographed dance (or, perhaps, dangerous yet elegant swordplay). The hits come quickly, but the two are evenly matched, trading witty barbs that fit their conversation organically and deftly allude to the source material; their chemistry is palpable, electric, and downright fun. Even though so much of what we learn about them here comes from their relationship, they leap off the page as fully formed but separate entities, completing each other in the discrepancies between their personal desires. In Cesario's suave speech and Viola's candor, these characters are a breath of fresh air. What's more, where Del Col and McCreery have struggled towards naturalistic period speak in the past, they have really nailed it with these characters in particular.

As wonderful as it is to have these compelling new characters, the usual players get sidelined for much of this issue. Though this wouldn't ordinarily be a problem, Del Col and McCreery left a lot hanging at the close of their last volume, including a questionable (and very rape-like) scene between Romeo and Juliet that resulted in her pregnancy and has yet to be addressed. For this reason, her brief exchanges with Hamlet are extremely uncomfortable, but not in an enjoyable way. Further, Del Col and McCreery leave the reader uncertain about how to feel about this development. Of course, there is time yet for this to be rectified over this coming arc. As it stands, however, the authors' silence on this so far speaks more volumes than was perhaps intended; while Romeo's newfound villainy suggests that this act was indeed nefarious on his part, implications just aren't cutting it at this stage in the story. Although Del Col and McCreery have swung into a truly fantastic and fun new arc, Juliet's struggle is inherent to their "Kill Shakespeare" mythology and it will be a pity if this weighty topic is shunted aside in favor of new (if brilliant) material.

Andy Belanger provides some of his best work on the series so far with complexly layered scenes, frank figure work and ingenious layouts. Right from the get go, readers are greeted by a terrific shot of Cesario poised for battle, reflected in the eye of another character, for a bombastic and engaging introduction that's sure to reel readers right in. He moves quickly into an impressive splash page that packs in a lot about Cesario in a tight, succinct, and comprehensive way; with an imposing cutout of Cesario and his foe in the foreground, he provides action and swashbuckling fun while quickly powering the plot along. Though the fights can get quite gory, Belanger handles such scenes with grace, striking a perfect balance between too much and just enough. In fact, the action just bursts out of the panels, with characters overlapping the thick dark lines in a way that makes the movement pop. His figures are no less remarkable; he has a knack for expressions that transcends the page, which makes for striking scenes like Juliet and Othello's poignant encounter on the Boreas. Meanwhile, Shari Chankhamma gives the book a lively feel with bright colors while working in important clues, like Juliet's sickly pale skin against the ruddy pirates.

Picking up right after the events of "Tide of Blood," "Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night" is not a book for newcomers, but it is certainly the most fun yet. Del Col, McCreery, and Belanger have reached a distinct level of comfort with their mythos, resulting in dashing, debonair characters and a lively story. Fast-paced and action-packed, "Kill Shakespeare" has truly hits its stride with "The Mask of Night."

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