In Review: Toil and Trouble #1

A clever and cool concoction that shows that magic had a stronger presence in the Bard's classic tale.

The cover: The Main cover is what drew me to this book. I liked the style and coloring. Once in my hands, the title struck a nerve (being a high school English teacher, it had better), and after flipping it open I had to purchase this. Kyla Vanderklugt did this frontpiece which shows the three witches: to the left is Cait, looking the youngest and most mischievous; in the center is Smerate, casting a spell that’s creating blue flames; and Riata, leaning against a sacred stone, her hair whipping around the rock and her eagle perched on her shoulder. This image and its text has this looking like a classical fantasy, and I’m more than willing to give it a shot. The BOOM! Ten Years Variant is a startling composition on white: Riata is on the left, Cait on the right, and Smertae in the middle. The two sisters on the sides are hugging Smertae in the middle, who’s clutching a gigantic number ten. While her two sisters look completely lost in love as they embrace her, Smertae’s eyes have gone almost completely white and her hands are covered in blood, and are beginning to sully the number. This image is just a little more than the top half of the cover, with the bottom being completely white, save the small anniversary text at bottom center. This is by Meredith McClaren and it’s beautiful and creepy. The final variant is by Haemi Jang. Set atop a pale tan background, the three witches each display different moods and weapons: Cait holds a staff of dark wood and she looks concerned, Riata holds a scythe and appears to be puncturing Smertae’s throat with it, while at the bottom is that witch who proudly looks upon the reader while offering a dagger. Above the trio is the large image of a raven, and below is a ram’s skull. Resembles a Vertigo cover from the early Eighties. Nice, but leaves me with more questions than an uniform idea. Overall grades: Main A+, Variant McClaren A+, and Variant Jang B-

The story: Ever read William Shakespeare’s Macbeth? This will seem vaguely familiar. Never read that tale or know anything about it? Doesn’t matter because this will still be enjoyable! This first of six issues opens on the shores of Scotland as invaders arrive. Having come in with the Norwegians, since her sisters exiled her nine years ago, Smertae speaks to a white crab that she brought on her shoulder, which soon transforms into a horse. As she leaves, brief dialogue between two fighters is heard, including that the defeat of King Duncan will start the toppling of the country. Riding a distance to a green hill complete with sacred stones in a circle, Smertae sees a snake and addresses it. “Hail and honor, Paddock. Where is your mistress? Where is Cait?” A mossy tree moves off one of the rocks to reveal her younger sister and they embrace. Their joy is halted at Riata’s arrival, who asks if Smertae wishes “to rid our shores of the filth you came here with?” Showing sharp predator teeth in a smile, Smertae responds, “A more fitting welcome does not spring to mind, Riata.” The older sister states her plan and there is instant conflict between two of the siblings in how to proceed. Two have a task that deals with Macbeth and his troops, though it makes one of the witches ill. Mairghread Scott’s story continues to show events that happened before the familiar tale of the Bard’s begins, shedding light on how events actually occurred, with the witches begin the source of all the play’s misfortunes. This story takes place before the first scene of the classical tale, and it’s a very clever piece of writing that maintains the original story but includes new perspectives to put a twist on things. By focusing on the witches, Scott has made this tale much more supernatural than the original, though the magic is unseen by humans, but it effects them nonetheless. I especially liked how one of the witches doesn’t agree with what she’s doing, but obeys orders. As much as I like the play, I’m really looking forward to seeing the conflict between the sisters when the familiar plot begins. This was a clever and cool concoction. Overall grade: A 

The art: Once I realized what the title of this series was referring to I had to see the art; for if it looked good, I would give this a try. It’s not good, it’s excellent. Artists Kelly & Nichole Matthews, who also supply the colors, do a beautiful job on this book. The opening panel on the first page is a pristine beach with dark blue water holding three ships with colorful sails, all set against a gorgeous cloudy, blue sky. The characters looks as if they are from an animated movie, they are designed so well. I love the looks of all three sisters; they are equally beautiful and dangerous. Each incorporates different elements of the earth into their design: Cait is the earth elemental, wearing a brown tunic, with vines of plant growth sprouting from her; Smertae is covered in subtle spikes that match the hard shell of her crab familiar; and Riata glides about like an eagle, with talons on her feet and hands. I really like the black feather-like tendrils that are constantly whipping about her. The emotions that each gives to the reader are terrific, with scenes of a future-not-to-be being devastating to a spell caster. As the witches make their way through Macbeth’s camp, the soldiers, beasts, and armor are cursed, and how the Matthews show this cursing is very, very cool. I’ve not seen magic done this way before; it is classical and modern simultaneously. There is one double-page splash in the issue as the forces clash, and there are three characters focused upon to show how the curses have played out. It is excellent. The final three pages are very tense, with the art and coloring being incredibly strong — Page 20 is my favorite of the issue for what is shown and the magnificent coloring on the character in the bottom left corner. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: Dialogue, narration, sounds, curses, and next issue’s tease are by Warren Montgomery. I am pleased beyond measure to see that he’s differentiated between the dialogue and the narration, as they are two different forms of communication they should be. The sounds in the issue are also strong, and I really love the curses that appear on Page 17 –creepy cool! Overall grade: A 

The final line: Magic is shown to have a much stronger presence than previously known in the Bard’s iconic tragedy. The story is smart and the visuals outstanding. Using my magical abilities, I can see that this will be a highly enjoyable series and should be read by anyone who enjoys a classical supernatural tale with just a pinch of Shakespeare tossed in. Recommended. Overall grade: A

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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