Disclaimer: This wasn’t a planned part of my summer reading list.
Further Disclaimer: I’m not really a graphic-novel aficionado.
It happened like this: I went to the library today to turn in a volunteer application (still no luck with the job hunt) and pick up an item that I’d put on reserve (an old movie that I doubt you’d be interested in). As per my usual habit, I checked the new arrival stacks to see if anything looked interesting. By chance (okay, not really), I spotted a graphic novel called Outlaw The Legend of Robin Hood. Now, I’ve been a Robin Hood fan for as long as I can remember, so I decided in impulse to check the book out.
Now, like I said, I’m not much of a graphic novel aficionado. The only comic books I’ve read since starting high school (dating myself: 8 years) have been, in no particular order, V for Vendetta, 300, Watchmen, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, and a collection of graphic adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. Actually, come to think of it, most of those have been within the last year or so. But I digress…
The graphic novel covers several of the most important moments in the legendary Outlaw’s life: his first encounter with an outlaw, the heartbreaking tragedy that inspired him to learn the way of the bow, his time fighting in the Crusades with King Richard, his return to England where he discovered his people oppressed at the brutal hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and his transformation from roguish nobleman to the outlaw hero of the people. And, of course, his fight against the Sheriff and Prince John to save the throne, and his budding love for the beautiful Lady Marian.
Now, as I’ve said (repeatedly), I’m not really into comics, and I don’t have much experience with them, but in my opinion, the artwork in Outlaw is nothing to write home about. With the exception of a scene’s “establishing shots” (for want of a better term), the backgrounds of the panels are incredibly simple, sometimes only one or two colors with little to no detail. Similarly, the character designs are often simplistic, making it difficult to tell certain characters apart. The use of shadowing on characters’ faces only makes this worse.
However, once the reader moves past the surface, Outlaw really starts to shine. The story covers several areas of the Robin Hood Legend that are almost never addressed (Robin’s childhood) or else were not covered in-depth until fairly recently (his service in the crusades). And unlike in many retellings of the myth, Outlaw‘s Robin Hood is a deep, multidimensional character, one who struggles with the consequences of his actions and is haunted by his troubled relationship with his father. Make no mistake, Robin is still the roguish, dashing outlaw we’ve all come to know and love, but that is only one side of his personality. Actually, come to think of it, all of the characters (or at least most of the protagonists) are multidimensional, but none so much as Robin.
The writers also did an excellent job of capturing the brutality of life in England in the Middle Ages, especially the reality of the tensions and open conflict between the Saxon people and their Norman overlords. At the same time, however, they also inject a goodly amount of modern(ish) humor into the story. I mean this in a good way: it really fits. The humor actually gives the story a little bit of a Firefly-esque feel. About a third of the way into the book, Robin, who is still recovering from a nearly-mortal sword wound, draws his longbow (not an easy feat even for a healthy man) on a spy, disables him, wounds him and sends him packing back to the Sheriff, and then delivers a rousing speech to the outlaws, convincing them to stop hiding in Sherwood Forest and take up arms against the Sheriff, Sir Guy of Gisburne, and Prince John. When the outlaws turn to Little John (who had been leading the outlaws until this point) what they should do, John says that he will personally join Robin in his quest, though he won’t force the other outlaws to follow him. The outlaws all agree wholeheartedly to join Robin. Robin says, “Thank you, John. And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to pass out.” and faints dead away. Doesn’t that seem like a Captain Mal moment?
Even though it’s a pretty quick read (took me less than an hour to get through), I thoroughly enjoyed Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood and highly recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in the legend of Robin Hood and/or graphic novels. Or, if you’re looking to get into either one, this is a perfect starting point.
And now that I’ve finished reading Outlaw, I realize that I still haven’t seen Ridley Scott’s new film yet. I must correct this oversight…