Title: Romeo and Juliet: The War
Author: Max Work (based on the play by William Shakespeare, reimagined by Stan Lee and Terry Dougas)
Artist: Skan Srisuwan and Studio Hive
Publisher: 1821 Comics and POW! Entertainment
In this futuristic, science fiction adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues are a technology enhanced breed of super soldier created to fight Verona’s wars, and the Capulets are their genetically enhanced counterparts. Together they fought for Verona, crushing her enemies and making the city a center of great power. However, when all the wars were won, the Montagues and Capulets were left with no battles to fight, so they turned their blood lust on each other. Enter Romeo, a first generation Montague, son of the famed scientist, born into his power rather than grafted to it. Enter Juliet, a first generation Capulet, daughter of the famed scientist, born into her power rather than genetically modified. And before you can sing “Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but my dad would love to kill you, so climb my balcony maybe,” Romeo’s jumped to “but I think I love you, so marry me maybe.” It’s definitely love at first sight, and it is in the original too, but there’s really no development from one point to another. They meet, they introduce themselves, there’s a “oh hey, you’re kind of cute” moment, then Juliet’s dad interrupts, then Romeo’s climbing up her building. Juliet tells him she’s going to be married off to some guy she doesn’t even know, so Romeo suggests she marry him instead, then they can bring their families together with their love. Things pretty much play out as you would expect from there. After fighting in the streets and harming innocent civilians, the Premier (in the role of Prince Escalus) has forbidden the Capulets and Montagues from entering each other’s territories, and has ordered the fighting stopped on pain of death. The Capulets, angered that the Montagues crashed their ball, confront Benvolio and Mercutio. Mercutio dies at Tybalt’s hand after Romeo tries to interfere, then an enraged Romeo kills Tybalt. Rather than face execution, Romeo decides to flee, and Juliet agrees to go with him, but needs time to prepare. Unfortunately, to help “comfort” his daughter. Montague accelerates his daughter’s marriage to Paris, so Juliet decides to take drastic measures. In a science fiction take on the classic poison ruse, a Montague scientist implants a special chip into Juliet that will slow her heart and make her appear dead. The Friar attempts to send word to Romeo, but the message never makes it. Furious and distraught over Juliet’s death, Romeo launches an all out war on the Capulets during Juliet’s funeral so he can see her one last time. The story takes a twist here, altering the circumstances of Romeo’s death, and wrapping up in a literal blaze of fire.
Let’s start with the best first. The artwork in this book is breathtaking. The colors are absolutely gorgeous, and there is an incredible amount of detail on every page. Because of the book’s large, wide-page format, there are some truly amazing spreads, with landscapes taking full advantage of a double-page. There’s plenty of room for sweeping vistas, showcasing the futuristic landscape of Verona, illustrating large battles, and detailing individual fights. However, despite the high level of detail in the art, there are times when it’s strangely not taken advantage of. There is a scene where Romeo is about to punch Tybalt, and there is a closeup on Tybalt’s face as he sees Romeo’s fist come down. While his expression is solid, his eye, specifically the iris, is flat. Some sort of shadow over the iris’s glow, or even a reflection of the incoming fist would have been great, but the opportunity was missed. With so much detail in the pencils and colors already, there’s no reason not to go the extra mile and add some more delicate details for intense moments. Now to the text, which is…OK. The flow of the text is awkward at times, as is the plot itself. Everything happens way too fast, even by the original’s standards. And there are some elements introduced that are never really used. For example, Romeo explains to Juliet that if they marry, maybe it will bring peace to their families. Then they never tell anyone about it. Then there’s some complaining about how “oh, they only wanted to bring you guys together.” Well, of course it didn’t work. They didn’t even attempt to make it work. It might not have anyway, but there’s zero effort there from the characters. And when, for example, Benvolio finds out about it, he doesn’t really react in any way. There’s also the fact that the government of Verona seems to have abandoned the Capulets and Montagues. Little is done other than to try and curb their fighting so innocents aren’t involved. And apparently that’s not very successful. There’s no indication that the government tries to reintegrate or regulate their powerful soldiers that brought them so much security and power. These super soldiers fought Verona’s wars, and then were discarded. Yet that’s not touched on in the story at all. Another opportunity missed, or perhaps too much clinging to the original’s format.
The paperback version of Romeo and Juliet: The War will run you $20, which isn’t too bad at 140 full-color, high gloss pages. The hardcover version, at $30, has some bonus content, I think (it runs 152 pages). I picked mine up at Dallas Comic-Con, and they were running a special for the hardcover, where if you payed $50 you could get it signed by Stan Lee, so look for an opportunity like that if you’re interested. Visually, the book is incredible. The story is familiar, though at times a little too familiar. A few more pages could have expanded on the futuristic world that was created for this retelling. It stays true to the source, at least, and it wasn’t a bad read. It wasn’t a great read, either, as far as the text goes. However, if you’re a fan of the play, and you love some good art or are looking for a pretty new book for the coffee table, it’s worth the $20.