Many people are familiar with the story of Robin Hood, the hero who, according to nearly every Robin Hood story, “robs from the rich and gives to the poor.” They no doubt also remember his daring fights with the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. People are also familiar with the term “reimagining,” a word that might elicit groans from some as being a sign that an entity is creatively bereft. However, there are reimaginings that get some mileage by turning the readers’ expectations on their heads. Such is the case of Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes, which retells the well-known story of Robin Hood as a medieval noir.
Written by David Hazan and illustrated by Shane Connery Volk, the story recasts the Sheriff as a principled investigator looking into a series of tax collector murders. He believes that these murders are the work of the Merry Men, terrorists who even wear masks with exaggerated grins. They are led by a man known only as the Hood. What the Sheriff eventually finds is a conspiracy that soon grows, or perhaps metastasizes, into the legend everyone knows.
Hazan’s story reads at times like a police procedural, complete with the crime scene investigations and interrogations of suspects. The Sheriff in this tale is also fleshed out beyond a one-dimensional villain; he’s a grizzled veteran of the Crusades who has grown cynical of human nature. He’s also smart enough to see the shades of gray implied in the Merry Men’s activities. Indeed, Hazan’s tale totally flip-flops the dynamic of the Sheriff and Robin Hood. In this story, the Sheriff attempts to maintain his moral center if not being downright heroic, while Robin Hood and his men, especially his companion Maid Marian, are villains who commit some very nefarious deeds.
Volk’s artwork reflects the gritty and violent tone of the story. A lot of people die by various medieval weapons and in very graphic ways. The amount of blood and bloody violence in this book is comparable to what one would find in a horror graphic novel. While the masks of the Merry Men are exaggerated grins, the expressions of many of the book’s characters, while never descending into bad caricature, are either stoic or sneering. That does, however, benefit the noir tone of the story, since the shades-of-gray morality of this world gives the characters very little to smile about.
Nottingham, vol 1 has some good moments, but it also feels unfinished, especially by the end of the volume. There is a clear progression to the story arc, and there is a definitive if not wholly satisfying ending, but it also feels like this story skims over a lot of its own established nuances, like the Sheriff’s own military history and how it’s affected him. Overall, while not being flat archetypes, the characters are painted with some broad, and violent, strokes. However, their distinct personalities and stories might be explored more in future volumes. Some stories simply take a while before really finding their footing after introducing the world in which the story takes place. It should be up to librarians with patrons who might be interested in graphic novel reimaginings and crime drama whether or not they want to take a chance and see if volume 2, should it come out, goes deeper into its characters.
Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes
By David Hazan
Art by Shane Connery Volk
Mad Cave, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 16 years and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Australian