Toil & Trouble #6
Mairghread Scott (words), Kelly & Nichole Matthews (art), Warren Montgomery (letters), Kyla Vanderklugt (cover)
February 3, 2016
Disclaimer: This review is based on an advanced review from Archaia and may contain spoilers.
The final issue of the miniseries based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth dropped at the beginning of this month. As per usual, I had to sit on it for awhile and mull over the end to this intriguing series.
Considering how many comics are ongoing or continuously rebooted, there’s something immensely satisfying about reading a miniseries like this. Not only for its quality, but for its focus. The plot structure is tight throughout, as is the characterization. By the end of the series, you feel you understand the sisters and their motivations. Because of this, the stakes feel higher, and the emotional impact of the story more acute.
Because of this, I don’t want to give anything away about the conclusion of the series. If you’ve read Macbeth, you can probably fill in the gaps yourself, but I appreciate how Scott sets the conclusion up the way she does. The witches’ story may be coming to an end, but we know how it will end for Macbeth. Scott keeps the focus on the witches, and by allowing the reader to fill in some of the gaps, she shows that she values the intelligence of the reader.
As I have mentioned in my earlier reviews, you don’t need to have read Macbeth to read this story. At some points, I have said that it does help to have read the Scottish play, but now I wonder if the opposite may be true. In a recent update on her website, Scott describes crafting this comic as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” That much is clear—the time and thought that has gone into this comic is evident via the attention to detail, symbolism, and structure. As a scholar, when I read a series like Toil & Trouble, my brain swirls and immerses itself in the symbolism. In trying to write this review, I started thinking maybe if I hadn’t read Macbeth I could appreciate the series differently—appreciate the obviousness of three sisters being divided on an issue, the youngest and middle child fighting with the oldest playing moderator. The obviousness doesn’t make it any less of a story; in fact, it makes the story more touching in some ways.
But there is, of course, much more going on in this series as well. A Shakespeare scholar would have a heyday with this comic, and it is the kind of comic that I wish to accompany reading Shakespeare in English classes.
Oh, and the art. Like, seriously, the art. This comic is particularly special for me because Macbeth is a fantastical play with cosmological concerns about fate, magic, and religion. There are things you cannot capture on stage, or even in film, which is why the art in this comic is such a sight. It is the beauty and magic that Macbeth should have, and it encapsulates what comics can provide for storytelling that other mediums cannot. For example, look at this page:
Notice even how the panels are not traditional, angular panels, but they swirl like the potion of the three witches’ cauldron. There’s such movement and transformation in this still image via the nontraditional paneling. Further, this paneling is enhanced and echoed by the lines and shapes within the panels. For example, the presence of the snake in the lower left panel mimics this sort of swirling motion. And the snake has a long history of association with ancient goddesses and female deities, yet it is also an important figure in Christianity due to its association with Lucifer, a male deity. The tension between ancient Pagan religions and encroaching Christianity is an important theme in Toil & Trouble, one that Scott specifically addressed in an interview, and the art serves to reinforce this theme.
It’s transformative work like this, fanfiction in some ways (and no, that isn’t derogatory) that can expose students to the beauty of Shakespeare and the excitement of the comic book medium. Toil & Trouble can make Shakespeare fresh and relevant, all while shifting the focus from solely male leads to female leads.
For reviews of previous issues from the miniseries, click on any of the following links: