Writers need to be careful when combining violent action with Christmas tales. They need to avoid the cynical and the obvious. Adult fantasy writers in particular have to navigate their words with precision. Otherwise, they can find themselves producing really pedestrian and obnoxious stories within the already overdone framework of the Holiday Special. Thankfully Robyn Hood: 2015 Holiday Special isn’t a simple riff on the Krampus legend. Nor is it just another twist on the story of Scrooge. It fuses both and places them into the darkly comedic world of Robyn Hood excellently. A quick recap brings us up to speed and establishes Robyn as a woman between adventures. Hidden away from pursuing forces, she and her friend Marian are trying to celebrate Christmas with friends. Robyn's melancholy thoughts make it clear her future is uncertain. So she thinks of the past. The book flashes back a year where Robyn, an archer and detective, is avoiding Christmas. With a back-story that reads like an exploitation cinema confluence, Robyn has become tough and wary as a form of self-defense. She's doesn't do Christmas because she believes the holiday is literally cursed. Marian seems to be in a more traditional Christmas special, believing Robyn is a grump in need of some old fashioned holiday spirit. But, no, Robyn explains; Christmas is literally a cursed holiday. Well, Robyn's Christmas is cursed at least. So she's determined to stay inside until the holiday and the danger pass. Much of this gets conveyed through naturalistic and breezy dialog lacking many of the overblown declarations one might associate with fantasy fiction.
Then a client arrives. Robyn's strong sense of justice hews toward brutal vengeance. She empathizes with the charity worker desperate to protect his homeless shelter from a greedy businessman. Unfortunately, the protection he seeks involves a misapplication of dark magic. So the ladies turn him away. Our protagonist knows what it's like to forgotten, left in the cold, away from an old and comforting warmth. As a result, she requires little time to reflect and little object motivation before she springs into poorly planned action. Then things get weird. Thanks to The Venture Bros. we’re all familiar with the Krampus, right? Should I take it as read that we know about Santa’s vengeful counterpart? Well, he shows up. There's violence. It's pretty impressively illustrated.
The art handles quiet scenes just as well as it renders action beats. Other than the characters' sometime inexpressive eyes, I have no complaints on this front. Manuel Preitano really makes economic use of panels and pages. He also employs some really subtle sequential storytelling tricks. Panels are designed to match the energy of the action they're containing. Much of the emotion is expressed through subdued body language. Repeated shapes pop up to reinforce themes of isolation or connectedness. The hits and stabs and falls look painful without getting gratuitous or pornographic. And I can't say enough about the way Robyn is rendered with power and speed without being an impossibly skilled fighter or a cooing, pouting sex ninja.
This comic delivers a subversive, yet still uplifting Christmas tale. It's an adult story that doesn't trade genuine emotional depth for vapid violence. There's plenty of violence, to be sure, but it always feels earned and always feels like it propels the narrative. In the end this Christmas story has a message, but it's bent and a little cynical. It's a message meant for our troubled protagonist more than for the audience.
This is my first exposure to the Robyn Hood character and I will probably seek out her further adventures.
Robyn Hood: 2015 Holiday Special Writer: Pat Shand Artist: Manuel Preitano Colorist: Viviane Tybusch Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment Price: $5.99 Release Date: 11/18/15 Format: One-Shot; Digital/Print