I don’t know if you read it, but Toil and Trouble #5 was pretty intense. Everything that had been building – since issue #1, since the Romans arrived, since the first line of Act I, since the first woman laid down her life and humanity for Alba – came to a climax on that final page! It all leads to one of the most dramatic moments in one of the most beloved plays in the English language and the collision between Macbeth and the Third Witch.
So what do you do with a sixth issue? Well, if you’re Mairghread Scott, you don’t try to top that, but you do take the time to show why only you could write this story and to answer those nagging problems with it that just weren’t as sexy without context.
One of the greatest flaws of this miniseries throughout its run has been the fact that you can’t really forget that it’s a shadow on the wall of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Macbeth has been largely at the mercy of his island goddesses and they have been at the mercy of Shakespeare’s plot. So, basically, no one was fully in command. But Scott tackles those complaints head on. Admittedly there’s a moment where she has to do some creative justification in order to stay in line with the text, but all of the characters feel more agentive and that feels like both an answer to natural and reasonable criticism and an important story development.
Even more important is the degree to which Scott makes this story her own. For the last few issues this has been a very traditional story told in Scott’s voice, but here there’s a real feeling of who she is as a writer. Some of this will be familiar to fans of her work on Transformers: Windblade, but it’s much clearer than it usually was there. The definitions of words like sisterhood, victory, and strength weigh heavily upon this issue and, clearly, Scott’s mind as a writer. This feels like a story that could have been swept into a far more familiar ending by the tides of storytelling, a tragedy behind the tragedy, but Scott ably navigates those waters and steers it towards something more thoughtful and personal. Especially with a major revelation that some readers probably didn’t even think to expect, she refocuses this series as a pull between the nation and the individual and an examination of a lonely, heavy head’s insufficiencies in that regard.
Of course, you may notice that I’m using too many big words and metaphors, and that’s not a coincidence. Even with the emotional moments of this issue, Toil and Trouble remains heady to the last. Though it shows and tells, the series never escapes the sense of academic detachment. This series was born of passion and it’s perfect for tumblr, but it’s the intense, lengthy, deconstructive side of tumblr rather than the excited, feels-having side, despite trying to appease both.
I think my favorite scene in this issue is a confrontation between two of the witches that really drives home the restrained power that Scott can bring to bear. I love that it has become a recurring trait of Scott’s fiction that victories are less valuable than the work it takes to make and keep peace. Looking at this, it’s no surprise that Scott was drawn to a kingly tragedy. Even as the stories begin to diverge, questions of leadership and selflessness play an essential part in both the mystic and the mundane sides of this story.
I feel like this might be the least visually striking issue of the miniseries. That’s not to say it isn’t lovely to look at, but it lacks some of the majesty of previous installments. Comparatively, many close ups feel simple and the detail in long shots is lacking. Cait seems to be a frequent lightning rod for these flaws.
But, of course this is still the Matthews sisters, so it still looks gorgeous. The aforementioned problems can’t hide the fact that the color work is sumptuous, even as it leans towards a birthing white, nor can it disguise how much emotion is packed into the faces and the framings of the panels. But to say that on its own does this issue a disservice, for, without negating its weaknesses, it also just contains some gorgeous images, worthy of its predecessors.
The imagery of Macbeth’s second meeting with the Weird Sisters is phenomenal. From the hauntingly gorgeous designs of the witches as they appear to human eyes to the intensity of Macbeth’s stone-cold response, it’s an impressive page. And there are plenty of others. Clever and inventive panels tend to come with beautiful and expressive artwork and the Matthews don’t waste their last chance to bring out the inhuman beauty of Smertae.
With its final issue, this miniseries clarifies its mission and strengthens itself against criticism. Toil and Trouble #6 opts for solid storytelling and quiet moments over bombast or fan-service. It’s a declaration of who Scott is and how intelligent and honest her writing can be, not to mention a reminder of Nicole and Kelly Matthews’ talents. Ultimately, Toil and Trouble is not a must read book, but it remains, from start to finish, an intelligent, beautiful piece of work with much to offer fans of fantasy, magic, literature or meaningful relationships between sisters, between parents and children, and between people and their history.