It is said that legends never die, they merely become retold in different ways from one generation to the next. Whether dubbed "mythology" or "folklore" or "tall tales" as they are in America, characters from these ancient stories and ballads from Gilgamesh to Hercules to King Arthur and John Henry continue to appear and reappear in modern fiction. Comic books are no exception, but in a market as crowded as the direct market is, one always has to come up with a unique twist when retelling an old tale. To this end, writer Shane Berryhill and artist Daniel Hillyard have come up with their own unique spin on the story of Robin Hood with their new series from "12 Gauge Comics", "Sherwood, Texas" (or "Sherwood, TX"). Having been a strong feature back on Free Comic Book Day, this week sees the official release of the entire first issue for only a dollar.
The premise of the series is that the legend of Robin Hood, the charming robber defending the weak against the corrupt alongside a band of "merry men", is being retold not in ancient England but modern Sherwood, Texas. Naturally this means that the cast of characters have been re-imagined in more modern ways, with biker gangs taking the place of armed horsemen and classes of lords and serfs. To this end, the star of the series is "Rob Hood", who has just come back from a tour of duty in the Navy to help bury his father, Richard "Richie the Lion" Hood alongside his estranged half brother, Will. Both he and his father were members of a biker gang called "the Jesters", whose rivals are the more upper class gang, "the Nobles". Although it seems as if Richard's death was officially considered an accident, it quickly becomes obvious that the Nobles (including their leader, "Prince") had more of a hand in the man's death than the law knows. Naturally, part of the charm of this is seeing how Berryhill and Hillyard will recreate the iconic characters of the folklore. To these ends, "Friar Tuck" is now "Padre Tuck" conducting the funeral, "Little John" is a hulking bruiser dubbed "L.J." who runs a pool hall that the Jesters hang out in, and "Maid Marian" is now "Maria", daughter of the sheriff of Nottingham (the key city of Sherwood). Said sheriff is perhaps the simplest recreation, as he's still a gruff and corrupt lawman, only his uniform and weaponry have been updated.
The artwork by Hillyard (flanked by the colors of Charlie Kirchoff) does a great job of matching a script which shifts between urban gang drama and moments of supernatural premonition. The story may not be a comedy but Hillyard's style is simple and iconic enough to pull off the drama and gun play without being bogged down in a lot of "photorealism" or stiff character models. There is some charm in seeing some of the classic bits of the old legend play out in new ways, such as the brown and green color scheme of Rob's clothes or a pool cue serving the role of a quarter-staff in a conflict against "L.J.". The ending pages which offer that aforementioned hint of the supernatural may catch some readers off guard, but as the retelling of an ancient legend it works to set the tone.
In fact, the only downside is that this debut issue is the same story as the free comic book day issue, merely eight pages longer. Not every publisher has the budget of the "big two" and one could call the free comic a "preview" of this official, and still cheaply priced, first issue. It effectively introduces the premise and cast and sets up a tale of redemption and revenge for its' lead hero. The character designs are great and while a cynic could claim this is a straight forward biker gang saga with a gimmick, it is so far a well executed biker gang saga and a well played gimmick. Being a five issue mini series automatically gives the arc a natural length to tell its' story and a reader's mind is left buzzing with how age old Robin Hood tropes will be retold with this set up. Will Rob Hood have to storm a warehouse instead of a castle, guns a-blazing? Speaking of which, will he be a sharpshooter instead of an archer? The possibilities are endless! The fact that there really is a Sherwood, Texas only adds additional strength to Berryhill's narrative (even if the real life ghost town is smaller and farther north than the version mapped out in the opening pages).
To repeat a theme from May, "Sherwood, Texas" has a lot of potential. This opening issue lays the cards out for the series with a fast pace, smooth art and a simple yet engaging story. At twenty-four pages it offers plenty of value for a mere one hundred cents, as well as little excuse for fans to not give it a try. For lack of a better pun, "Sherwood, Texas #1" for a dollar is quite a steal.