As a young lad, I really enjoyed reading the Roger Lancelyn Green Robin Hood stories, and their tales of rebellious derring-do as Robin Hood and his colorful band of warriors protected the disenfranchised of England from the evil Prince John while King Richard the Lionhearted was off on the Crusades. Merry Men #1, a new comic from Oni Press, is true to the Green stories as well as the various legends and ballads they were based on, but with an excellent twist: all of Robin Hood and his followers fall somewhere on the LGBT spectrum. Robin Hood and Little John are a power gay couple, the flirtatious bard Alan a Dale is bisexual, and Scarlet is a trans woman. There is even a Middle Eastern character named Sabib al Hasan, who is skilled with the scimitar. Writer Robert Rodi, artist Jackie Lewis, and colorist Marissa Louise transport readers into an alternate version of 12th century England where Robin Hood is exiled not for some political reason or hunting the king’s red deer, but because of the man he loves. Rodi and Lewis do ensure that the conflict between the Anglo-Saxon and Norman inhabitants of England is a factor, like in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, but it mostly takes a backseat to the Sheriff of Nottingham’s oppressive homophobia.
In Merry Men #1, Jackie Lewis’ art captures the feeling of breakneck action and passionate romance, which has made the story of Robin Hood such a timeless and entertaining tale. She also captures the dirt and grime of cluttered towns in the High Middle Ages and the relative freedom of woods of Midlands England. Lewis also draws very attractive and sharp featured men that becomes immediately evident during a sequence early on as it looks like a Merry Man is running from an enemy, but it is actually a friendly chase that turns into a lover’s embrace for Alan a Dale and Arthur.
Lewis’ art is nimble and active, which comes in handy when Robin Hood tries to recapture the cleverly named town of Elton where his friend and Scarlet’s lover, Daniel of Doncaster is being held captive as he stealthily and brutally takes out the main guards. She works well with Rodi’s writing in a later scene that captures the heady blend of tender love and violence in Merry Men as Alan tells Scarlet that the Merry Men believe in equality for everyone, but protect it in a way that can be bloody. These high ideals are juxtaposed with a montage of hacking and slashing from Robin Hood and the Merry Men as they take out Prince John’s men in Elton. Marissa Louise also uses more jarring colors like blacks and dark pinks whenever there is fighting in contrast with the warm verdant palette used for Sherwood Forest.
Rodi and Lewis use quite a large ensemble in Merry Men #1, but the narrative is fast paced as Rodi combines the guerrilla type fighting found in most Robin Hood stories with the liberation plot of Braveheart as they actually try to capture a town instead of just being a nuisance to Prince John’s soldiers. He also explores the implications of recapturing one small city in a huge kingdom and its effect on the LGBT population when Prince John returns with a larger army by cleverly using this problem to create a larger group of Merry Men instead of just the seven that Robin Hood starts out with. Rodi lays a foundations for fun, yet emotionally poignant stories in Merry Men by giving each main Merry Man (or woman) a signature moment in either words or fighting as Much the Miller’s Son demonstrates his sharp scouting ability, Alan a Dale gets to be poetic and super amorous, and Scarlet has a beautiful coming out scene combined with a silent panel of her skill with a slingshot. I can’t wait to spend more time with these characters and see how Rodi and Lewis show the romantic relationship between Richard the Lionhearted and Robin Hood.
Merry Men #1 has all the thrilling heroics and swashbuckling of an Errol Flynn (Not a Russell Crowe or Kevin Costner.) film with a fun cast of gay, bi, and trans characters, who have different body types and attitudes to the world around him. It is a book that as a bisexual man, who grew up reading the stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Greco-Roman mythology before I ever picked up a comic book have been waiting for my entire life. As an added bonus, there is a two prose story about the real LGBT people of the Middle Ages starting with Alcuin, a scholar in Emperor Charlemagne’s court, who was a part of the (Carolingian) Renaissance way before it was cool.
Story: Robert Rodi Art: Jackie Lewis Colors: Marissa Louise
Story: 9.5 Art: 9 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy
Oni Press provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.