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Kill Shakespeare Past is Prologue: Juliet #1 (Review)

Kill Shakespeare Past is Prologue: Juliet #1
IDW Publishing, April 2017
Writer: Conor McCreery

“Kill Shakespeare Past is Prologue: Juliet” is a new comic book from American publisher IDW Publishing. It is a spin off from the “Kill Shakespeare” comic book series originally published in April 2010 to October 2010. The original premise of “Kill Shakespeare” is that William Shakespeare’s iconic heroes and villains are coexisting in a shared universe, along with Shakespeare himself. The Bard is portrayed as a mysterious sorcerer that Hamlet must kill using the same dagger that killed Julius Caesar.

The plot of the original is muddled. Indeed, the trade paperback’s back cover blurb did not even bother crafting a synopsis and just lazily and unhelpfully described the story as “‘Fables’ meets ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ with a dash of ‘Northlanders.’”

Fortunately for new readers, “Kill Shakespeare Past is Prologue: Juliet” does not require any backreading (or prior knowledge that the original “Kill Shakespeare” series and its two other spin-off titles even exist.)

The only prerequisite to enjoying “Kill Shakespeare Past is Prologue: Juliet”, despite being set in the same universe as “Kill Shakespeare”, is rudimentary knowledge of the classic “Romeo and Juliet” play. The comic starts after Romeo’s death. But the plague did not visit both houses, as promised by the dying Mercutio, the point of difference being that Juliet has not taken her life. Instead, she serves as the integral character and must cope with the loss of her loved one, while rebelling against her mother Lady Capulet’s insistence that she find another man to wed.

Along the way, the story tries to tease a return to the original yarn’s events as Juliet revisits the Crypt where she was supposed to have taken her own life. This is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a mysterious cat, then an equally mysterious bard who manages to convince her that were the roles reversed, her ghost would have wanted Romeo to move on with his life. But the twist is that the Bard does not necessarily try to convince her to let go of her anger. Instead, he cryptically warns her that her anger is much better controlled and devoted to a cause- apparently involving a series of deaths.

The first death becomes clear soon enough. A fire has broken out in the Capulets’ home and both her mother and stepfather are trapped inside. Here we see Juliet lose even more pieces of her life: the last memento of Romeo, the knife that was to take her life, is broken while trying to open the burning house’s door. But worse, her mother dies after being trapped underneath coals and burnt wood.

There is not much action in this story. The narrative is driven instead by engaging dialogue. There is genuine mystery being built through the presence of the Bard and his subtle, enigmatic nudging of Juliet towards an unknown goal. The comic is successful in taking familiar elements from Romeo and Juliet while laying the groundwork for something bigger and possibly more sinister. Perhaps, as Moth says in “Love’s Labor Lost”, “They have been at a great feast of languages, and stol’n the scraps.” But these scraps are a decent meal.