A review a day: <i>Demons of Sherwood</i>

It's time for Robin Hood! Robin Hood is perfect for comics, isn't he?

ComicMix has been putting comics up on-line for a while now, and then IDW publishes the print version (I assume they're connected somehow, but I don't feel like digging around). Now, I would say you shouldn't spend any money for these and just read them on-line, but as I've written before, I really, really, really hate reading things on-line, and I'm not adverse to spending the money for the print version. Yes, that makes me weird. I don't care. I certainly will read some stuff on-line, but I don't like it at all. Go ahead, call me a loser. I can take it!

So after a few years (this first appeared in December 2007, if ComicMix's web site is correct), we get the print version of Demons of Sherwood, written by Robert Tinnell and drawn by Bo Hampton. It will set you back 20 dollars.

Tinnell decides to set the book in 1327, much later than we usually associate with Robin Hood, which is during the regency of John while King Richard was off on crusade in the 1190s.

However, as the introduction makes clear, the 1320s were when a possible "real" Robin Hood lived, so it makes sense that Tinnell would set the story then. He decides to revisit Robin years after he became a legend, when he has become a drunkard and Marian is living in a convent, caring for a young orphan girl. The king (Edward II) comes to visit Robin and asks him for a favor. As we see early on, a gypsy girl tried to find sanctuary at the convent and was taken by witch-hunters ... who also scooped up Marian and Bronwyn, the girl Marian is raising. Edward tells Robin that she's being burned at the stake and he must rescue her and take her to Friar Tuck's abbey (where he's the abbot). Edward has gotten his gang back together, so Robin and the Merrie Men head off to Nottingham, rescue Marian and the others, and head off through Sherwood forest toward the abbey. And that's when the evil things start happening.

This is an odd mix of swashbuckling and horror, which kind of works. Tinnell doesn't do anything terribly surprising with the story, which is its biggest weakness. Tinnell telegraphs pretty much everything, from how Robin will win the day (sorry to give it away, but it can't be that big a surprise, can it?) to who will die in the course of the book. Even the revelation of the big villain isn't too surprising, because it couldn't really be anyone else. That's not really the point of the book, I suppose - we're reading this for the swashbuckling and the chance to see familiar characters interact in a slightly different story than we usually see them in, and Tinnell does a fairly good job with that. It's interesting to see Robin as a drunk who doesn't exactly inspire his men and must relearn that, and to see the Sheriff of Nottingham as a fat middle-aged man who really doesn't have too much of a quarrel with Robin anymore.

Robin's interactions with Marian are nice, too, as it's obvious to all that they still love each other, but there just might be too much bad history between them for anything to occur. If the plot is somewhat standard, Tinnell does a good job bringing the characters to life. Will Scarlet is arrogant, Little John is boisterous, Edward is feckless (although Tinnell's chronology is a bit off - Edward was deposed in January 1327, and this book clearly takes place during spring or summer, so the king would have been Edward III, who was only 14 at this time), and Abbot Tuck is earthy yet religious. It's a shame that Tinnell runs them through a somewhat bland plot, but he does keep it exciting. The biggest problem is the utter stupidity of Robin and his men at a very crucial point in the story, when they let the bad guy into their camp for no good reason. We know he's the bad guy, Robin and his men are diametrically opposed to him and talk about what a villain he is (they don't like him for different reasons than why we know he's the bad guy; for people who have read a bit, he's a stereotypical bad guy), yet they let him travel with them. They couldn't know what a bad guy he is, but Tinnell gives no reason for them letting him travel with them. It's strange.

Hampton is the big draw of the book, or at least he was for me. I always dig Hampton's work, and he seems especially suited for stuff that takes place in olden tymes, especially medieval days. He has a classic feel to his art, with good solid lines, a lot of detail, and a nice feel for people.

His characters all look different and distinctive and normal - they look like regular folk. Hampton also does a fine job with the horror in the book - he gives us a Sherwood forest that seems to close in on the characters and the horror scenes are well done, as he breaks the rectangular panels he's been using for most of the book to give us jagged triangles and irregular shapes slamming into each other, heightening the tension of the scene. The only problem with the art in the book is the same one that seems to plague all IDW books - the reproduction on the page. Every so often, it seems like the way they transfer the original art to the page makes the drawing fuzzy, and although there are a few times I know Hampton did it on purpose (at one point, something in the background is out of focus, mimicking a scene in a movie), at other times, I can't imagine it is. IDW's process on books, it appears, causes this sometime, and it's kind of annoying. Oh well.

Demons of Sherwood isn't a great comic, but it is an entertaining one. Tinnell doesn't really promise anything beyond a swashbuckling adventure, and that's pretty much what we get. It's better from having Hampton on art, because even if the story hits all the beats we expect, it's still very nice to look at. And if you're one of these new-fangled people who reads stuff on your computing machine, you can still check it out over at ComicMix.

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