Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart and Artur Fujita

Sometimes it’s best not to mess with a classic. Instead of adding a bunch of modern bells and whistles, sometimes it’s better to just polish up an old masterpiece and introduce it to a new generation, who will still love it because it’s just that good. That’s the case in this gorgeous GN that chronicles the traditional story of Robin O’ the Hood, the devil-may-care outlaw of Sherwood Forest who robbed the rich to feed the poor, wooed the lovely Maid Marian and was the scourge of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Although there are several versions of the Robin Hood myth, the author tied his adaptation as closely as possible to actual historical people and events, making me forget throughout the reading that Robin Hood, like King Arthur, didn’t exist in real life (though some scholars claim these folk heroes may have been based on a combination of real people whose stories have been lost over time). Whatever the origin, I was swept away by this romantic medieval re-telling, in which Robin of Loxley returns home to England from the Crusades where he had been fighting at King Richard’s side to discover his father, the Earl of Loxley, has been murdered and his lands usurped by the crooked Sheriff of Nottingham and his henchman Sir Guy of Gisburn. Determined to avenge his father’s death, Robin joins the gang of outlaws led by John Little in Sherwood Forest and entreats the people of Nottingham to stand up against the corrupt Sheriff and his men. Things get more complicated when King Richard is taken hostage by his enemies and a ransom is demanded of the English people. Richard’s weak and conniving brother, Prince John (who is in league with the Sheriff) makes a show of raising the money by taxing the poor people of Nottingham, but is really sacking it away to bribe local nobles into helping him throw Richard off the throne!  Robin Hood begins to steal the tax money, giving a portion back to the people and saving a portion for the king’s ransom. This pisses off the Sheriff, who arrests Robin’s love Marian for treason and threatens to hang her unless Robin surrenders! Plus there’s an archery contest, several daring escapes, a couple of bloody sword fights, some hand to hand combat and lots and lots of disguises and various subterfuges. The panels feature dark figures brilliantly back lit by rich jewel tones that convey mood or character (for example, Robin most often emerges from emerald green forests, while Maid Marian rises from royal purple shadows). The effect is ominous and gritty, adding weight to a myth that feels more and more like actual history with each passing page. Corpus bones, this is a cracking good graphic read!

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