This issue is all about Hamlet and Juliet. It explores who they are as characters, both as Shakespeare created them and how McCreery, Del Col, and Belanger are using them here. This is a deconstruction of how tragedy and sorrow only make the world spiral down in on itself, but at that point other people must meet. It’s a sad tale but full of inherent hope. It’s just beautiful, in images and words, and it’s haunting, much as the bard would have liked it.
McCreery and Del Col decide to break this issue up into Acts, which is an interesting and entirely satisfying approach. Act I deals with Lady Macbeth and Iago as their machinations direct the overarching plot. Act II brings Feste and Belch into the town of Shrewsbury to perform their whimsical plays, which merely sets up Act III which holds the meat of the tale.
Hamlet is drawn into the play, ‘The Murder of Gonzago,’ and his hellish decent into the worst of his past is depicted across sprawling double splash pages of sheer glee. The scope of these pages make the play appear to happen all around us, as if we were sitting directly in its path. Eventually, Hamlet is driven into a house of mirrors where Juliet retrieves and comforts him. It is a glorious sequence as the conversation shows the deep solace these two characters each hold onto, and the illustrations paint the history and the pain in warped and repeated images behind them both. It feels like part history lesson and part character study but most importantly it is damn enjoyable on more than one level.
The pages flow like a concert band reaching for a crescendo and as the emotion builds and the time comes they collectively raise their instruments and hold their breath and then disappear into the silence. The final moment between Juliet and Hamlet is strong because it is silent. There has been nothing but voices and ideas and here we have something too raw to be expressed. It’s exhaustion and understanding and the beauty of the human condition. It’s a true moment completely earned and a fine way to give these characters a rest for thirty more days.
Belanger has been a showcase of this series throughout. He puts everything into each page to make the characters jump out at you and this issue is a great opportunity for him to show true emotion in his players. He has also always worked hard to create dynamic pages but here he truly expresses something different. He frames scenes with the velvet curtain of the stage and he adds so many layers to the imagery that you feel a sensory overload that weighs you down. He has stepped up his already incredible game here and elevated this issue into a modern classic.
While this issue is merely an interlude, a side-plot for the major game afoot, it is a necessary one and, more importantly, a very enjoyable one. Story is not the concern here, the characters are. Hamlet finally feels perfect on these pages and Juliet shows a softer side. The truth is present in these pages and they will have repercussions down the line. This issue is a tour de force of the storytelling marriage of words and art that make comics the perfect medium for this tale. It also feels like this tale has jumped from being some sort of pastiche homage to actually being its own beast. This isn’t imitation; This is evolution. This comic is serious and fun and emotionally draining in all the right ways; a pure pleasure to become immersed in.