Scottish writer John Lees reinterprets Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth as a tale of the 80s pro wrestling territories in The Crimson Cage. New Orleans, 1984. Chuck Frenzy is the main event star of the local Louisiana pro wrestling territory, but yearns for something greater. A fateful encounter with a trio of terrifying beings in the Bayou gives Chuck a glimpse of championship glory beyond his wildest dreams… if he is willing to do something terrible to achieve it.
Though it might not seem logical at first, Shakespeare and pro wrestling is somewhat of a match made in heaven. Afterall, wrestling at its core is a combination of combat sports and live theatre. The setting is also perfect for a tale of betrayal and revenge. The southern 80s wrestling scene was known to have a good number of unsavoury characters and double-crossing was a common occurrence. That’s not to say it’s all focusing on the negative aspects of the scene though. Lees and artist Alex Cormack do a terrific job of capturing the drama that could occur in a classic wrestling match, with the grittiness, athleticism and blood on full display.
Lees clearly has a strong understanding of the wrestling business and its history which he puts to good use. Little details like the whispered smaller speech bubbles to show the wrestlers conveying instructions to each other helps establish the more theatrical side of the sport. Additionally, plenty of panels are dedicated to wrestlers cutting promos (basically a sales pitch for a wrestling match) which is another faithful showcase to a classic era of pro wrestling.
Despite being in a vastly different setting, this is a very faithful adaptation of Macbeth. Chuck has the right level of ambition and unfortunate moral failings as the lead whilst his wife/valet Sharlene is the perfect Lady Macbeth stand-in, possessing high levels of cunning and ruthlessness in her desire to reach unspeakable heights in a male dominated industry. In a particularly creative part, the three witches are represented by three Bayou sisters which not only makes perfect use of the setting, but also leans further into the horror elements.
The art is also a key factor in what makes this comic work. Cormack creates a world that is very faithful to the 80s Southern style of wrestling that will make any older fans nostalgic. He also holds nothing back when it comes to the horror and gore making this definitely not one for the faint of heart. The action is vivid, and the drama and passion on display is never drowned out by the copious amounts of blood.
The Crimson Cage is a unique reimagining of the Scottish Play that will delight wrestling fans and surprise those well versed in Shakespeare. Plus the storytelling, drama and art will be more than enough to attract those who might not be well versed in either.
The Crimson Cage is out now from Artists Writers & Artisans (9781953165336, p/b, £8.99)
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