Writer: David Hazan
Artist: Shane Connery Volk
Colorist: Luca Romano
Letterer: Joamette Gil
Editor: Chris Fernandez & Brian Hawkins
Book Designer: Diana Bermudez
Publisher: Mad Cave Studios
Available: March 3, 2021 via the Mad Cave website, your local LCS & ComiXology
I have to say, when I learned the good folk at Made Cave were queuing up their, well, madly reconfigured take on the legend of Robin Hood in the new 5-issue offering Nottingham, I was…less than enthused. I mean, how many iterations of the Merry Men of Sherwood do we really need (certainly one fewer Kevin Costner-infused one, at any rate!)? But, with the success of Boom!’s Once and Future (which if you haven’t, then do!) amongst other successful recent classic literature graphics, and being a bit of a closet Hood addict myself, truth be told, I resigned myself to taking a look…
Spoiler alert: Kinda glad I did.
In Nottingham, Hazan, Volk, Romano and Gil take a decidedly DARK (like, a matte black painted room, 500 feet below the earth in the middle of the night during a solar eclipse, with the lights off dark) spin on the Robin Hood mythology, setting the Merry Men as a gang of murderous anarchists, Sheriff Everard Blackthorne as a menacingly effective investigator/interrogator, Maid Marian as a conniving manipulator and Sir Robin himself as, well, one seriously scary dude.
And let’s get this out of the way right quick: this is not some watered-down Disney version of Robin Hood, with a nice, fuzzy Friar Tuck for the kiddies. This isn’t even a PG-13 Robin Hood, with American surfboy accents to make it all easy to understand. This is more like a collaboration between the Brothers Grimm, Arthur Conan Doyle and Quentin Tarantino Robin Hood, with violence, political intrigue, violence, double and triple talk, and violence.
So yeah, kinda not a book for the little ones.
David Hazan absolutely murders (almost literally) the Robin Hood we all grew up with. Reset as a medieval noir, the Sheriff of Nottingham becomes our central figure (I hesitate to employ the term “hero” to any of the characters in this book), tasked with investigating a recent rash of gruesome murders, targeting the king’s tax collectors and purportedly executed by the V for Vendetta-esque (but looking a little more like Camron Johnson’s Bonecheck bounty hunter) group known as the Merry Men. Hazan’s writing is dead-on, engaging us in the heretofore well-trod tale with immediacy and grit. Dialogue is brusque but always multi-layered, eschewing the romance and eloquence of classical literature for a more Hammett-style rhythm, and he moves his story along like an episode of a police procedural.
One of the things I really enjoy about Volk’s art in Nottingham is that, despite the overall impression of an attractive book, no one in it is pretty. I mean, Marian comes as close as anyone in the book, but even she’s less than perfect—as though she tries to portray herself as comely, but something is always just a tiny bit…dissonant. Almost as though the characters’ outward appearances reflect their darkened souls (or the fact they were living in England in the Middle Ages, I suppose), their faces are lined, their physiques ranging from nigh-hunchbacked and hulking to malnourished, but not a one of them will be confused with Errol Flynn or Olivia de Havilland. All faces and figures (except perhaps Marian) are scarred and heavily shadowed, the eyes of many as black as night.
And he plays a good deal with angles and perspective: some panels in extreme closeup where we see only a partial of a character’s nose and mouth, other times a panoramic, the figures small among a broad background—and frequently from unusual angles (down from height, off-centered, up from a diagonal position to the action)…all of which add visual interest, but also dictate the pace and flow of the story, forcing the reader to adapt to the presentation.
And much like Shakespeare’s use of physical distortion to reflect a character’s bent soul, no one has good posture.
Romano’s color palettes are rich and layered, with a lot of bright/shadow contrast. He is especially effective in amplifying Volk’s facial expressions, employing both deep shadow and more subtle color infusion, which really underscores the wickedness and/or intensity of the characters. Each major figure has their own set of hues and value, which both reinforces their individuality as characters but also their overweening mood state. A great example of the power of an excellent colorist in the graphic medium.
Gil’s lettering is consistent, well-placed and easy to read. Word bubbles are set so as to avoid disruption of Volk and Romano’s art, but still create good flow for the reader. In a book with as much dialogue and action as this one, that’s a serious challenge, but one that Gil handles with seeming ease.
So, my fears proven unfounded, I’m now kinda ticked at myself. Why? Cause the gol-dang book doesn’t come out until March, and I’ve got a four-month wait to see issue 2! Oh well…I promise to bump this review back up in time to remind you good folk to get your orders in prior to Mad Cave’s projected publication date of March 3. In the meantime, look forward to some hard-core ‘Hood noir, and Happy Holidays from the ‘Box!
Nottingham number one will be available from Mad Cave at their website (click HERE), your local LCS or ComiXology on March 3, for the paltry fee of $3.99 (provided those pesky tax collectors don’t get their mitts on them all first!).
Review by Andy Patch