Comics, Design, Gender, Religion

Review: Toil & Trouble #3

Toil & Trouble #3, Mairghread Scott (writer), cover by Kyla Vanderklugt, Archaia, 2015Toil & Trouble #3

Mairghread Scott (script), Kelly & Nichole Matthews (art), Warrent Montgomery (letters), Kyla Vanderklugt (cover)
Archaia
November 4, 2015

This issue, the midway point of this miniseries, finally reveals one of the most contested characters of Shakespeare’s canon—the engimatic Lady Macbeth.

Due to her enigmatic nature, interpreting Lady Macbeth is never easy. Analyses of Lady Macbeth veer from framing her as internalizing misogyny to claiming her as a feminist champion. That’s the thing about reading Shakespeare—his work is pretty wide open for interpretation. He’s tricky, that Bard, working to appeal to mass audiences (who are never as dumb as often depicted) while keeping his patrons appeased.

In these various interpretations of Lady Macbeth, the most common motifs that come up are those of mother and those of witch. While the wyrd sisters influence (or merely act on) Fate via witchcraft, Lady Macbeth herself uses witchcraft by conjuring their assistance to “unsex” her.

Toil & Trouble #3, Mairghread Scott (writer), Kelly & Nichole Matthews (art), Archaia, 2015

The infamous “unsex me” scene.

Witchcraft is deeply tied to women and motherhood. It is no surprise that these concepts overlap and inform one another in myriad ways. In Toil & Trouble #3, Lady Macbeth is an unsentimental woman struggling to conceive and bitter over the King’s disregard for her family’s loss (the death of her first son). She is sharp and drawn as such in the usually soft environment of the Matthews sisters’ artwork and even sharper in the cover by Kyla Vanderklugt. This depiction by both writer and artist successfully evokes the conflicted feelings I have for this character. I appreciate that I still cannot decide how I feel about Lady Macbeth even through the lens of other creators’ interpretations. Lady Macbeth is enigmatic, and in my mind, should always be so—this enigma is what makes her powerful as a character in the same way witches are enigmatic figures.

Scott, who is pagan herself, said in an interview with Comics Alliance:

“…part of the reason I’m drawn to these witches is the fact that I’m pagan myself and I’m really tired of witches being portrayed in a very Christian manner (either the Harry Potter style, which is really drawing on Occidental types of magic developed long after paganism was stamped out, or as demon-worshiping monsters). If I was going to write witches, I wanted them to write them more in line with actual druidic, wiccan, and pagan beliefs (at least as I was raised and researched to see them).”

This perspective shows in how she highlights the differing values of the witches. Smartea is unabashed in her favoritism for Macbeth, and Judeo-Christian dualistic thinking is murky at best among the witches. However, Lady Macbeth walks that thin line between pre-Christian thinking and the encroaching Christian culture of the era. This pre-Christian thought lingers like a specter in much the way it still does in contemporary pagan thought despite the passage of time. That’s what history does.

The Matthews sisters’ art is truly in line with the content—witchcraft, magic, war. The high stylization of the characters and landscapes adds a magical element that is grounded by pained facial expressions that juxtapose the softer shading and colors. They save the contrast for the most dramatic scenes, Lady Macbeth’s unsexing, death in battle, and the enactment of magic.

It all works well together—the Scottish play, the writing, the art. This will be a comic I end up revisiting, looking for what I may have missed the first or even fourth reading.