‘Macbeth: The Red King’ – Graphic Novel Review

In the wind-swept lands north of the Roman built Hadrian’s Wall, the tumultuous history of Scotland unfolded over the centuries. A wee five years into the last millennium, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (1005 – 1057) was born and probably raised in the county of Moray, where the lad became Mormaer of Moray in the early 1030s. He later became King of the Scots until his death in 1057. The name Mac Bethad may sound familiar for some readers; he is after all the king who inspired William Shakespeare to pen The Tragedy of Macbeth over 500 years later. Make another quick time leap to 2018 and land at writer Shaun Manning and artist Anna Wieszczyk’s Macbeth: The Red King, a comic book due to release soon from Lucha Comics/The Shooting Star Press Inc.

In an interview between Patrick Hickey Jr. and Manning (Review Fix, dated February 15, 2018), Manning shares that his interest in this historical character came from acting in a production of Macbeth and learning that all of the characters but two – Banquo and Fleance – were real people. Macbeth: The Red King is a different project from his past titles that fall into other genres, and he explains that he researched Macbeth’s life through reading available texts, as well as visiting some of the sites in Scotland to get a better feel and understanding of the locale. While Shakespeare presented a negatively skewed Macbeth to align with the monarchy of his era, Manning states he wanted to present a Macbeth that is more balanced in retrospect.

Macbeth: The Red King is told in four parts that span Macbeth showing fidelity to the English king Canut in 1032 to his death in 1057.  In this 100+ page book, Manning has written an epic adventure story that captures the twists and turns of political maneuvering that one reads in historical nonfiction books about Scotland and England’s long, chaotic relationship with each other. Although historical, it does not mean that Macbeth: The Red King is a dry read; Manning injects some moments of dry wit and lively, crass behavior contrasted with poignant moments. If there is any fault, it would have helped to have a few narrative boxes to cue readers to locations and flashbacks. Otherwise, Manning hits the mark he set out to do, and then some.

Artist Wieszczyk has collaborated with Manning in his past titles, and the creative partnership bears visual fruit in Macbeth: The Red King. Like the text, often this reviewer paused to enjoy the sweeping scenes, accentuated by billowing caps and flag banners for example. Wieszczyk’s thick ink lines, splashes of colors - such as red and black - and blocky/solid backgrounds are bold and dramatic. The extreme close-ups of facial expressions powerfully punctuate beats of the narrative. The color palette is rich and effectively explored throughout; the transitions between sections, characters, and events via Wieszczyk’s color choices create a majestic journey for the eyes.  Additionally, the lettering is clean, and the speech balloons are well placed. And, the section title pages are nicely done with the argyle pattern, which ties together the Scottish tale.

Manning has provided a well-researched story about a historical person whose life warranted a revisit. With Wieszczyk’s visual illustrations collaborating with Manning’s text, this historical retrospective about Mac Bethad mac Findlaích’s life is riveting and engaging. Macbeth: The Red King will not disappoint. Readers who are looking for comics that have a historical focus will enjoy this story, and audiences interested in reading sweeping epics will find this title worth their time.


Creative Team: Shaun Manning (story), Anna Wieszczyk (art)
Publisher: The Shooting Star Press Inc. / Lucha Comics
Click here to pre-order.

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