Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: Demons of Sherwood

Demons of SherwoodWritten by Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell; Illustrated by Bo HamptonIDW; $19.99

I apologize for the lack of art with this post. My computer decided that it doesn't recognize my scanner anymore. You can see all kinds of art for Demons of Sherwood though at ComicMix. I'll be over here deinstalling Snow Leopard. Update: Buh-bye, Snow Leopard. Hello, scans!

There were two things that always got me excited as a kid: pirates and medieval stuff. Whether it was King Arthur, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, or something else, I always thrilled to tales of chivalry, plate mail, and yew bows. But then I found Star Wars and everything else didn’t seem as exhilarating anymore.

Well, now I’m grown up and Star Wars has lost nearly all its shine. Jack Sparrow has rekindled my love for swashbuckling scoundrels of the seas, but so far nothing has gotten me excited about castles and wizards again. Not until Demons of Sherwood, that is. Bo Hampton and Robert Tinell’s webcomic turned graphic novel has everything a good medieval story needs: knights, damsels (sometimes in distress; sometimes rescuing distressed fellas), merry men, spooky woods, noblemen of questionable trustworthiness, holy relics, and enough of the supernatural to make things interesting without turning the whole thing into a fantasy tale. It’s also very grounded in reality.

I’m not talking so much about research or historical accuracy, though it may have those things going for it too as far as I know. What I mean is that the art and the script have weight to them. The story reads as if it’s happening to real people, in spite of the utterly fantastic things that are going on around them.

Which, really, is to be expected considering the creators involved. Robert Tinnell has co-written several graphic novels that marry extraordinary concepts with realistic storytelling. The Black Forest, for example, is about a WWI pilot and a gypsy fighting an army of Frankenstein monsters. The Living and the Dead is about – well, I can’t say what it’s about without spoiling it – but it’s a fantastic story about secrets that also happens to have some great genre connections. Bo Hampton is probably best known for Batman: Castle of the Bat, which combines Batman with Frankenstein, but his Legend of Sleepy Hollow adaptation is also amazing.

Demons of Sherwood is a sequel to the Robin Hood legend. Marian has left Robin and Sherwood forest for reasons she never shared and is now living in a convent. Robin hasn’t handled that too well and is now a drunk with hands that are far too unsteady to accurately handle a bow anymore. Unfortunately, Marian and a young girl at the convent are arrested by a witch-hunter for helping a gypsy woman escape a mob. King Edward – traditionally Robin’s enemy – rounds up some of Robin’s old friends like Little John, Will Scarlet, and Much to help convince Robin to attempt a rescue. As king, Edward can’t oppose the church, but as Marian’s kinsman, he can’t stand by and let her be burned at the stake.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the adventure doesn’t end with the rescue. Though Marian and her friend may not be witches, someone in Sherwood is certainly in control of some very real demons. Robin and the gang are begrudgingly forced to work with the witch-hunter to figure out who that is exactly.

The plot is outlandishly fun, but the characters and Hampton’s art sell it as genuine. I hated Robin for what he’s become – after all, he’s a childhood hero of mine – but I also saw enough of what I loved as a kid that I felt genuinely sorry for him. He’s hurt no one as much as himself and it’s heart-breaking to see. But it also made me very interested in seeing if he could be redeemed.

The other characters are just as well-rounded. Marian’s anger at Robin is justified, but only in a flawed, selfish way. Little John is a big, superstitious scaredy-cat. Will Scarlet echoed a lot of my thoughts. He’s pissed at Robin for what he’s done to himself and the Merry Men, but supportive of the mission. He sees it as Robin’s opportunity for salvation, but is skeptical that Robin will make good use of it that way. Much has a couple of nephews to look after (the sketchbook in the back of the book describes them as generic Merry Men, but at some point they became Much’s relatives; a good choice that creates more emotional investment in the whole group). The Sheriff of Nottingham makes a cameo appearance, but he’s married and settled down now and doesn’t figure heavily into the story.

Adding to the believability are Hampton’s drawings. Everything looks and feels authentic, from the costumes to the body language to the action to the sets, props, and backgrounds. Even the demons are modeled after real, medieval depictions of those kinds of creatures. They’re wholly believable and frightening.

Demons of Sherwood has single-handedly resurrected my love for medieval adventure. Now I just need to find more like it to keep that love fed and healthy. I’m looking at you, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe.

Five out of five Sherwood spooks.

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