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Robyn Hood: Dark Shaman Review

9 min read
Robyn and Ghosthawk travel to the American badlands to uncover the source of the Shaman Warrior’s power.

Pride comes before the fall … unless one is able to control it.

Creative Staff:
Writer: Joe Brusha
Artwork: Alessio Mariani
Colors: Juan Manuel Rodriguez
Letters: Taylor Esposito

What They Say:

Robyn and Ghosthawk travel to the American badlands to uncover the source of the Shaman Warrior’s power. Their search leads them to one of the most evil forces in Native American folklore … and into a battle they will be lucky to survive.

Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):

In the Badlands of North Dakota, a great evil is brought back into this world, being ordered by its immortal master to seek out two powerful warriors that approach, but as grim weapons are empowered by dark magics to drain their souls and the life force they contain, this is not the first time it has met worthy ones on the sacred battlefield, and it will not be the last. However, as Robyn and Jeb drive through this desolate wilderness, the blonde archer cannot but relentlessly question why she is in such a barren place, only to bluntly remind herself this is to pay her partner back for all the times he has helped when she was in trouble, by now searching for the meaning behind his recent visions. These dreams have always been the same, watching a large owl approach him while on the desert plains, but as it dives down, it stops and transforms into a shaman who declares time is short and he must come before it is too late, with the hallucination always ending after that profound announcement. As they approach a lone teepee and decrepit shack built against the mountain, Locksley cannot but wonder aloud if the medicine man is here, with her stoic friend stating he can feel is presence, and yet after Jeb offers her thanks for coming this far, they step inside and are greeted by an elderly man keeping warm by the fire, with him cryptically stating the answers Ghosthawk seeks cannot be found in the teachings of the white man’s world, they must be sought from his ancestors in order to unlock the mysteries behind his powers, and that means both must cross over into the Spirit World, a journey they might not survive.

As these ominous worlds settle into their minds, Robyn steps forward and finds the old man has passed, leaving them with no other choice than to go outside, only to find their truck and the shed are both gone, but as they search the barren surroundings for answers, an inhuman shriek echoes from above, the source a fiery horse and man mounted atop, with the stranger rider announcing death as come for them. Yet before they can call for answers, a pack of spectral wolves immediately surrounds the pair, glowing red eyes and drooling fangs showing they are hungry for prey and these unlucky humans are what they seek, rushing forward with every intent to sate their appetites upon tender flesh. But as her partner transforms into Ghosthawk and faces off against these savage lupines, Robyn and Makwa waste no time dispatching their own number of foes, with these supposedly fierce beasts causing no trouble for the resourceful trio, the surrounded group finding the one-sided battle less than challenging. While exhaustion was never a factor, Locksley questions where they could have come from, but as Jeb acknowledges the ghostly forces are retreating, he boldly declares the answers they seek are above, with Robyn regretfully following her friend up the steep rock face of the looming mountain.

In Summary:

Upon first reading the synopsis for this special and seeing the manner by which the nemesis’ name is displayed, utilizing the same graphic styling by which he was introduced in Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Dark Shaman, loyal fans cannot but wonder if we might see the return of Colby Cinders and/or her destined namesake rival, even if the conclusion of the aforementioned series never had a decisive ending, with our heroine leaping off a cliff firmly embraced around the transformed monstrosity that was her ceaseless foe. With the intensity of that story firmly steeped within Native American culture, the lengths by which a corrupted healer would go to avenge the perceived wrongs done to his people, and how a hesitant Colby finally cherishing her heritage and fought to free her kin from a meaningless battle, the incorporation of these ideals would make any future story more representative of the uniqueness of these people. Yet as writer Joe Brusha attempts to integrate such a fascinating concept within his special Robyn Hood: Dark Shaman, it is immediately confounding as to which direction he is driving the story, seemingly on the surface using the corrupted medicine man as a formidable trigger to confront Robyn and Jeb, and yet also leading them down a path which wanders along many differing routes to achieve a welcomed goal.

Upon the opening setting within the Badlands of North Dakota, and given that we can assume the foe which Robyn and Jeb will face will be associated with a corrupted medicine man, informed readers can conjecture the main antagonist will probably be someone connected to the indigenous Dakota Sioux of the state, the civilization which once lived in the surrounding area. However, when we take into account the aforementioned Dark Shaman being their chief nemesis as denoted by the unique graphics of the title, a confused audience cannot but question why Brusha is erroneously interchanging Native American cultures, particularly if one recalls the prime villain and Colby were descended from the Timucua people, who lived in parts of Florida and Georgia. Then we have the other curious notion of Jeb coming to this desolate land in order to make sense of his vision, discussing his dream with the elder who states ”You have forgotten the ways of our people.”, and yet Jeb is a descendant of the Seneca, as he proudly declares in Robyn Hood: Last Stop, once again causing us doubt why someone whose ancestors came from New York state, Oklahoma and Ontario, Canada would go so far west to consult with someone from his tribe. While most readers might not have noticed such grievous errors, those who remember Jeb’s introduction of how he helped Locksley battle the wendigo should consider how a frigid creature would not be found in the desert plains of North Dakota, causing us to ponder where he would gain helpful insight to aid Robyn. This inappropriate blending of distinct Native American cultures into a representative mélange of the original peoples is rather troubling, making us wonder why Brusha would commit such a literary mistake in hopes no one would recognize the changes, almost as if the once proud Timucuan Dark Shaman is incorporating distinct tribes via the Spirit World in order to do his foul bidding, utilizing their unique customs and civilizations to better reach a devious goal.

While we may be able to momentarily set aside these cultural appropriations in order to enjoy the story, it is strange to see Ghosthawk take over a Robyn Hood story, our favorite blonde vigilante remaining incapacitated for a majority of the narrative, as her formidable partner takes on his own spiritual quest to rescue a friend. Although we may not initially realize the Dark Shaman is behind the demon warrior, it is pleasing to see the normally stoic Jeb to become troubled for his companion, allowing invested readers to witness another side of this noble hero, all as he furthers his comprehension of unknown powers. Yet as the special progresses, it is curious how many parallels Brusha echoes against the tone of Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Dark Shaman, beginning with both Colby and Jeb seeking to better understand their heritage, the young woman more concerned about enjoying herself while this seasoned man embraces his culture within the world of the white man. However, there are more similarities between their ever-changing stories, with both having to redeem the mistakes of their ancestors in order to gain what they need to combat this ancient rival. Then we have the method by which this spiritual being does battle against the brave protectors, oddly utilizing material forms to destroy those who would stand against him, at first corrupting the Timucuan animal spirits to transform into a bestial form but now using a demon warrior to do his bidding, while in contrast, his foolish nemeses chose to use those same cherished spectral beings as their allies, which leads into the Dark Shaman’s changed desire to stay in this world, before wishing to avenge the unjust deeds done to his people but now after his spirit was corrupted by those foul deeds, he has a more selfish need to extend his immortality by stealing the souls of the living. Although a familiar audience may recognize all of these matching story points, thus creating a somewhat formulaic narrative which we can modestly predict, it is clever how Brusha changes the dynamic of the special by allowing shared spirit guide Makwa to be a link to the past and present, using this spectral animal to take the last spark of Soaring Hawk’s essence and kindle it into the power which Ghosthawk now embraces, allowing disparate generations to renew their battle and avenge the injustice done to a proud warrior, without the arrogance to burden the purity of valiant quest.

Yet what makes this special so intriguing are the fascinating visual stylings of Alessio Mariani, which gently guides the audience forward due to the serene landscape of the barren Badlands, then gradually delving into the darkness of a sheltered cave, allowing Juan Manuel Rodriguez’s delicate illuminative manipulation to tease ephemeral elements before the reader, deeper along the path exposed to us and the foreboding presence hidden in the dark. Although the demonic warrior looks like the haunting embodiment of a popular biker patch of a skeletal Indian chef, it is thanks to the synergistic collaboration of line and tone that gives it a fierceness which seems ripped from our worst dreams, riding off to fulfill the foolish desires of a sadistic madman. However, when we return to the blinding daylight, the white framework of the following page seems too bright when compared against Robyn’s pale skin, ruddy nose causing us to wonder if she might be drunk, when in comparison to the stolid partner seated beside her, leading into an elegant depiction of the Spirit World, translucent shades of blue lending to the incorporeal presence of this dimension, with Mariani’s refined linework lending a delicate tone to the scene. We cannot but be immensely fascinated by the fleeting nature of Rodriguez’s palette, gossamer wisps of smoke when they commune with the elder wonderfully manifests crossing over to the other side, all while adding a fleeting veil of mystery to what is to come, and yet it is bold illumination during critical events which temporarily spoils the prior nightmarish ambiance, as if necessary spotlights off-screen are pointlessly shining so an audience might better see the actors, watering down the unsettling mood of the moment. It is not until we return to flame enhanced darkness does the ominous nature of this special fully settle around an entranced reader, the underlit profile of a shallowly detailed demonic warrior seat astride a fiery steed gazes down upon his prey, this singular image lets us know what is to come, and while we may snicker at the onomatopoeic effects text plastered across blinding panels of heroic action, it is the chilling turning point from an unlikely defeat which signals the worst of this special is yet to come.

Although Robyn Hood: Dark Shaman may attempt to revive the chilling nature of a despised villain, it is the curious mélange of misappropriated Native American cultures that creates understandable confusion amid an invested audience, making us wonder why so many indigenous tribes have been combined in order to create the necessary narrative to propel Ghosthawk to the forefront, when the stories of one people would have been enough to fulfill the goals of our heroic champion. Yet as we are entranced by haunting images and the ominous usage of color, there are times within the special when some scenes were too illuminated and spoils an established nightmarish ambiance, forcing the audience to momentarily dull their expectant gaze and hope for everything to blend into a unifying vision of terror, even amid the chaos which is an over lit exposure. However, as meaningful words and synergistic images combine for a ghastly moment before All Hallows’ Eve, we cannot but hope this will be the first of many gruesome pleasures yet to come, rewarding patient readers with the horrors meant to tickle and taunt before the end of the fall season.

Grade: A

Rating: T (Teen)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: October 18, 2023
MSRP: $5.99

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