When I first learned that 1812 Comics and Stan Lee were working on a futuristic Romeo and Juliet retelling, I was skeptical to say the least. I have always been hesitant to accept people altering Shakespeare’s work because it rarely goes well (anyone remember that Romeo + Juliet remake with Leonardo Di Caprio a few years ago?). With the expectations I have developed for works of this nature, Romeo and Juliet: The War was a pleasant surprise and after it debuted at number seven on the New York Times Best Seller List for Graphic Novels, it seems the I’m not alone in this sentiment. The story followed the same path as the original and only deviated where needed to compensate for the differences between time periods. All of the most notable scenes from the play made their way into the graphic novel and were changed very little. In fact, with the exception of some back story, it seems that the only really noticeable changes made were to add to the allure of the fight scenes and the art itself.
Romeo and Juliet: The War still takes place in Verona, but it takes place in the distant future, when Verona has become the most powerful nation in the world. Even in this distant future, the Motagues and Capulets are still feuding. However, this feud is no longer a squabble between families, but an ongoing gang war between former military factions. In this future, the Montagues and Capulets aren’t families, but super soldiers named for the doctors that created them. The Montagues were enhanced cybernetically while the Capulets underwent radical gene therapy to create two separate, yet virtually equal types of super soldiers. This change in the background of the feuding sides provided for far more intense, action packed battles between the two. Finally, the one difference that sincerely disappointed me was the manner in which Romeo and Juliet died. The setting was similar, and the end result was the same, but the fact that their deaths weren’t caused by poison left me somewhat disappointed. I’ve always felt there is something poetic about lovers dying together by poison in such a manner and feel that the story lost something by taking that away.
One thing that I personally loved about this rendition of Romeo and Juliet was the artwork. I’m not sure I have ever seen art quite this realistic in a comic or graphic novel before, and it looked superb. The attention paid to detail by artist Skan Srisuwan is unparalleled by anything I have seen in this medium. I particularly enjoyed the fact that, when published, the book included several sketches and concept art drawings that were not included in the final cut of the story. This provided a look into the development of the art style rarely seen on this side of the page.
While many of you may be skeptical about a book of this nature, I’d recommend giving it a shot. The story strays very little from Shakespeare’s original telling of the tale and enhances the combat situations to nearly action movie levels. The enhanced action supplied by the changes in back story mixed with the incredible art provide eye candy that any comic book fan should love. If you’re a fan of Shakespeare or science fiction, check this book out next time you’re in your local comic shop.