A Graphic Novel by David Hazan
The Robin Hood mythos is so set in stone with our modern consciousness that we all know the entire story no matter how scant the reference might be. Many grew up with the antics of Errol Flynn in their childhood as he donned the feathered hat. WE all know it well – Robin, clad in a green tunic, flanked by a rag-tag group of do-gooders are trying their best to right the wrongs of the Evil Prince John whilst King Richard is off fighting the crusades. The sheriff of Nottingham grinds the populace under his thumb, and the land is filled with misery. There is only one hope, and that’s Robin of Locksley. But, what if this idea was flipped on it’s head? That’s exactly what happens here, as author David Hazan takes the known mythology and puts a dark edge to it. What if The Merry Men were actually somewhat of a terrorist organization?
As far as I can recall, the only real alterations to the story that I’ve seen up to now are the stereotypical iterations of any folklore story that proport to be “the real story of XXX”, which 99% of the time literally just means everything is brown and dreary and everyone frowns a lot in the mud. Look no further than the abysmal King Arthur movie from the early 2000s for an example. What we have here, is an honest alteration to the story, with everything practically flipped upside down. Rather than the noble cause of “stealing from the rich to give to the poor”, we can see that this version of The Merry Men are more attempting a militaristic coup on England itself, with the first phase being to push the citizenry against the Kingdom itself, seeing it as evil. What better way to do this than to literally kill all of the tax collectors? Once that’s done it’s time to try to take down the nobles themselves. Only one man can stop this, and it’s not who you expect.
For the longest time The Sheriff (named Everard Blackthorne here) has been a reviled man in almost every telling of the Robin Hood tales. He is generally depicted as an unjust tyrant who mistreats the local people of Nottinghamshire, subjecting them to unaffordable taxes. In this version, he is a career man, perhaps the only man holding England together as corruption eats at the court from the inside and a terrorist organization threatens to push the Kingdom to it’s knees. In many ways, if one were to compare this story to the popular HBO TV series/book Game of Thrones (which this is clearly inspired by), he would be a tragic lead much in the same manner as Ed Stark in that show/book. Assuming this hasn’t ended after five issues represented in this graphic novel, Ev hasn’t died yet – but his life has been grim and who knows what will happen?
“In this twisted medieval noir, the Sheriff of Nottingham hunts a serial killer with a penchant for tax collectors. The Sheriff’s investigation leads him to target England’s most nefarious power-brokers. That’s to say nothing of the Merry Men, terrorists lurking amongst the trees of Sherwood, led by, an enigma known only as “Hood.” Mad Cave Studios presents: Nottingham, but not as you remember it…”
I enjoyed all of the alterations to the story that happened here. We all know of the archery tournament, a ruse created by Prince John in order to trick Robin Hood out of hiding, it’s flipped on it’s head here. The Merry Men crash said tournament and massacre many of the court Red Wedding-style. Many of the normal people of Nottinghamshire, who see Robin as a folk hero, are aghast when The Merry Men start wholesale massacring most of them. For some, the idea of winning such a prize meant a chance out of squalor or perpetual servitude. Next thing you know a band of insurgents are storming the castle wearing masks chanting mantras related to England being sick, and saving the poor. We soon realize that the gold in the tournament could not be further from the reason for the attack. Little ethical asides relating to what constitutes an outlaw/terrorist vs a freedom fighter are well done here and were far bigger than what I expected this book to go into.
I particularly liked the art style in this book, all characters are angular and shaded with almost grotesque pen strokes. It’s a style I’ve seen in barbarian books and such, and it works well here. I particularly liked the character designs of The Merry Men as some sort of medieval version of V from V for Vendetta with every bit of the same sort of gray morality in place.
This book has been in my backlog for a little bit, and I honestly was not expecting to like it as much as I did. However, this is easily one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and I really hope the story continues on past where the book ends. I’m sure that some sort of story does similar stuff to this, but I have not seen a big media property try to tackle Robin Hood in this sort of way ever. I find this stuff VERY interesting, living in Western Missouri, as you have all sorts of mythology surrounding various members of Wild West outlaw gangs getting the same sort of treatment as Robin Hood, here – becoming folk heroes despite the atrocities they commit, being handed the Robin Hood moniker. But, what if Robin Hood was just as bad as they are? in that way everything would be coming full circle. I was not expecting the discussion of the philosophical conundrum of Robin Hood here, but my hats off to the author for doing it. Highly recommended book.
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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.