Toil And Trouble (originally solicited as The Third Witch)
Writer: Mairghread Scott
Artists: Kelly and Nichole Matthews
Archaia (Boom Entertainment)
Macbeth was one of my favorite plays in high school. I remember loving the darkness and intrigue, the murder and remorse. But twenty years later, the only parts I recall well are Lady Macbeth washing imaginary bloodspots out, Macbeth’s “Out, brief candle” soliloquy…
… and the witches. I can’t even remember what they did in the story. But I remember absolutely loving that this play, a story of a man who murders his king and suffers for it, opens up with three sisters and “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” agreeing to meet “when the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.” The mystery, the supernatural, it was catnip for a teenage geek, and I still love it.
This week, Archaia begins a six-issue limited series telling the story of Macbeth from the point of view of one of the three witch sisters, blending in more of the savage history of the British Isles and the pagan traditions of these warriors. Smertae is a pretty redheaded witch with spikes sticking out of her shoulders and hips, aligned with Cait (an earthy blonde whose image often blends with trees and nearby animals) to carry out subtle manipulations of the Scottish warriors according to the dark plans of grim sister Riata to raise King Duncan’s son up at the expense of Macbeth. Smertae has second thoughts about cursing her own people, and she hints at a grave history with Macbeth himself, so in the last moment, she possesses the Scottish Thane and saves his life, breaking the plan and probably triggering all the tragedy we read in high school.
This was a gorgeous book, the kind readers have come to expect from the Archaia publications. The dialogue floats along a dreamy path through Shakespeare’s original language and a broader, older element from the pagan histories, all to a lilting cadence that’s not quite iambic pentameter but suggests it. I couldn’t follow all of what the witches said to each other, but much like in Shakespeare plays, the thrust of the story is more about tone and character than recognizing every vocabulary word. The art is ethereal and compelling even when representing the brutality of the battle scenes, keeping the focus steadily on Smertae’s inner conflict.
If you haven’t read any Archaia titles yet, this issue is a great introduction to an intelligent, cultured example of the line. Come on down to Ultimate Comics in Chapel Hill or Raleigh to pick a copy up before they’re gone, or risk having to wait for reprints When The Hurly-Burly’s Done.
Matt Conner for Ultimate Comics & NC Comicon