Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood
written by Tony Lee
illustrated by Sam Hart and Artur Fujita
Robin of Loxley has never understood his father. Ever since the day when his father killed a man—a friend—because he could not save him from the hangman’s noose, Robin has sworn to be better than that. If the time comes, he wants to be able to save, not to be forced to kill. Now a grown man, Robin is away fighting in the Crusades when he gets word that his father, Patrick, Earl of Huntington, has been murdered. Returning home to seek vengeance for the death of the man who taught him to fight, Robin soon finds out that his hardships have been nothing compared to those of the peasants in the poor villages of Nottingham. The local sheriff rules the district with harsh justice that favors his friends and his chosen ruler, the regent Prince John, more than it helps those he is supposed to protect. With the rightful ruler, Richard the Lionheart, being held captive in Austria, Robin has no one of power on his side, so he makes his own choice to rally the outlaws living in Sherwood Forest and fight for the right to live free from tyranny.
Lee’s addition to the mythology of Robin Hood takes bits and pieces from the many stories, poems, songs, television shows, and movies about the famous archer and mixes them into a tale that is sharp, snappy, and fun. Readers who know the Robin Hood stories will find themselves looking for those bits and pieces as they read, but they will also appreciate how Lee’s tale is still its own being. Lee sets his tale during the Crusades, making Robin the Earl come home from the fighting to save his lands and people. He has the intelligence, charisma, and leadership qualities of a landed gentry, but his heart is moved by justice, not by the fierce grasping for power of some nobles. Setting this tale during the struggles between Richard the Lionheart and his brother, Prince John, gives Robin’s fights with the Sheriff of Nottingham a new sense of urgency.
Lee also makes sure to add many of the characters familiar to those who love the Robin Hood tales: Maid Marian, here a recently widowed woman whose husband’s death is intricately linked with that of Robin’s father; Little John; Will Scarlet; Friar Tuck; Much the miller’s son; etc. The large number of characters and the intricate details about politics during the 1100s means that readers must pay attention and read carefully, but after the first few sections, the story is gripping enough where details and characters flow smoothly together. Luckily, Lee’s writing is strong enough that each character has a clear voice, which helps readers connect with the story.
One small quibble is with Hart’s artwork, especially as colored by Artur Fujita. Hart’s drawings are realistic and take their material seriously. People and settings look the way they probably would have looked in the Middle Ages, and he’s careful not to make things too clean or too orderly. On top of that, the action scenes are exciting and easy to follow, deadly without being too gory. But the shading is so heavy that faces are at times almost obscured, limiting the reader’s ability to decipher facial expressions or sometimes even tell characters apart. As with the numerous characters and detailed plot, this trouble lessens as the story continues and readers are sucked into the tale. This adventurous, romantic, and at times even funny story is a great choice for readers in middle school and older.