Let’s be frank: Many people have simply given up on Shakespeare. Despite the Bard’s mastery of the written word and the cinematic efforts of Kenneth Branagh, Baz Luhrman, Joss Whedon, and others in Hollywood, the masses still view a Shakespeare piece as a dusty, dated, over-acted bore-fest. The truth is that the majority of the public has yet to fully realize the beautiful, violent, epic, hilarious, and utterly sexy true nature of Shakespeare’s written works. Well, the comic book crowd has always been a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to this type of thing (Kill Shakespeare, anyone?), and with the upcoming release of Toil and Trouble (written by Mairghread Scott and featuring the art of Kelly & Nichole Matthews) from BOOM! Studios, comic fans are about to get an exciting, new take on one of the playwright’s darkest, bloodiest, and most powerful tragedies. It may even inspire a craving in readers to revisit the Shakespeare play that theater geek’s refuse to name anywhere close to a stage!
(P.S. You need to pre-order this book now! As in today, August 10th! Go and do that now, and then come back and finish reading this review. Don’t worry. I’ll wait. It’s no biggie, I promise.)
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
Scott’s Toil and Trouble is an inspired retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth through the eyes of Smertae, one of three witches who, unbeknownst to man, act as the magical rulers and guardians of Scotland. Scott’s script reveals that there has been strife between the three sisters, but Smertae’s exile of nine years has been relinquished due to the presence of foreign invaders on Scotland’s shores who are preparing to clash with King Duncan’s forces (the very battle that proceeds the beginning of Shakspeare’s Macbeth). While the sisters agree that, once again, they must intervene (unseen) and change the course of history for the betterment of Scotland, Smertae finds herself questioning her sisters’ judgment in light of her exile, unsure whether she will be able to follow through with the plan and curse the innocent pawn, Macbeth, with an early death. The first issue of Toil and Trouble is an engrossing fantasy drama, subtly laced with a foreboding feeling that “tastes” of the heavy source material. Scott has a good handle on making the dialogue feel “Shakespearean” without making the book difficult to digest, and she weaves any intriguing tale in the form of a tragedy hidden within a tragedy. Smertae and her sisters, Cait and Riata, come off as interesting, complex characters in Scott’s hand, as do mortals Macbeth, Banquo, and Prince “I need a Tyrion Lannister-style slap to the face” Malcolm. Most importantly, one does not need to be familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth to read and comprehend Toil and Trouble, but there are elements that pay off for those who know where the story is headed.
Kelly & Nichole Matthews bring Scott’s story to life with warm, lush colors and magnificent depictions of the mortal and the mystical. The Matthews’ style comes of as something akin to the magical elegance of the visual style of The Last Unicorn or The Dark Cauldron, but mixed with the blood and grit of . . . well . . . William Shakespeare. (I told you that guy was violent.) Toil and Trouble #1 also features an amazing double-page spread of a medieval battle that is epically breathtaking, and I can’t wait to see what these talented siblings deliver as we descend deeper into the darkness along with these three witches and the poor fated fool, Macbeth.
FINAL VERDICT: As it says in the title of this review, it’d be a tragedy if you didn’t pre-order this one! Toil and Trouble is sure to appeal to a number of fans in the same way Game of Thrones has caught on with nearly everyone you know. While the comic is nowhere near the excessive violence and sexuality of Thrones, Scott has managed, in a similar manner, to make Shakespearean fantasy accessible to those you most likely have never considered picking up a copy of Macbeth before.
Best pre-order your copy now, lest some dark fate befalls you, courtesy of the three witches who serve as the magical rulers and guardians of the pre-order process. (I wouldn’t mess with them if I were you . . . )
You can find out more about Toil and Trouble by visiting the official BOOM! Studios website.
I’d also recommend listening to Episode #11 of Fanboy Comics’ long-form interview podcast, FBC Presents. That episode features my detailed discussion with Toil and Trouble writer Mairghread Scott on her exciting, upcoming BOOM! Studios comic series (back when it was called The Third Witch), its Shakespearean inspiration, the creative team involved, and much more. A link to the episode is posted below:
That’s all for now, comic book sniffers!
And, be careful out there, my friends, for in the words of Macbeth, “Something wicked this way comes . . . “
‘Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer