Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Book Review: Legends from Darkwood: The Unicorn Hunters.

In a word, yuck.

Legends From Darkwood #1: The Unicorn Hunters, written by Christopher Reid and illustrated by John Kantz. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2004. 129 pages. $9.99. ISBN: 1-932453-49-0.

Deej is out of town doing his archaeologist thing. That means nobody is looking over my shoulder as I post to this blog. That means nobody is rewriting my posts after I've finished them. That means no one is "editing for content." That means I have no obligation to use that stupid rating scale. That means I can get revenge for when Deej called me a freeloader.

Okay, so the other day, the Deej goes and reviews children's Amerimanga and flaunts it in my face. So I think, hah, two can play at that game. And then I remember, oh yeah, he's right, I do hate Amerimanga. And Legends From Darkwood reminds me why.

So, let's break this down. This appears to be an attempt to take fairy tale and fantasy conventions and render them cynical and slightly raunchy. The story opens in Unicorn Town where a woman named Raynd uses her virginity to--shock and horror!--hunt unicorns because people find unicorn meat really tasty. Out to save the unicorns is young Rose, the spoiled daughter of the town's greedy mayor. When Rose decides the unicorn-hunting has to stop, she does the logical thing and tries to hire a hitman to have Raynd offed. When that doesn't work, she attacks Raynd with a surefire aphrodisiac bomb instead (apparently available at any pharmacy, even to minors). Rose's timing is poor, however, because a fed-up unicorn has just fed on human flesh, sold his soul to the devil, gained the ability to breathe fire, and prepared an attack on the town.

Unicorns, as most people know, are attracted to, or at least feel safe around, virgins. Christopher Reid, author of this comic, clearly believes in all sincerity that using virginity to kill unicorns is a novel idea. Unicorns trust virgins, right? So why not just kill the unicorn when it comes to her? Hah! They'll never see that coming!

Okay, it's no secret that I, a dragon, hate unicorns, and so the opening slaughter scene in this comic is kind of pleasant. (Unicorns are just so smarmy and so uppity, and besides, they hog all the good virgins.) But this isn't a new idea: people have been hunting unicorns with virgins for a long time (hasn't Reid heard of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries?). Probably the only remotely unique idea in this comic is in having the virgin do all the hunting and killing herself rather than acting merely as bait.

If Reid really wants this to be dark, edgy, and slightly raunchy, he wouldn't have to dig far into unicorn lore to find his material. It is a standard part of the lore that a virgin lures the unicorn to his doom and that the trusting beast rests his head in the virgin's lap. Medieval illustrations sometimes depict a unicorn in such a pose with a naked woman, a suggestive image sure to give a Freudian a spasm of joy. And according to Medieval Folklore, "an early Syrian [bestiary] is quite explicit: The unicorn approaches the virgin, 'throwing himself upon her. Then the girl offers him her breasts, and the animal begins to suck the breasts of the maiden and to conduct himself familiarly with her'" (vol 2, p. 1011).

What I'm saying here is that this comic is making a big error in thinking that by being "dark" it is doing something to fairy tales that has never been done before. An ad for Legends from Darkwood describes it as a "truly grim fairy tale." Did the author of that ad ever actually read any of The Brothers Grimm? How about the story of "The Goose Girl," in which the villain is at the end thrown in a barrel studded with nails and dragged around town until dead? Is that not "grim" enough for you? Plenty of fairy tales are already gruesome, sexual, or otherwise "edgy" without any help from the likes of Christopher Reid.

I'm also annoyed that Reid could think of nothing better to do with a unicorn than eat him, what with all the interesting uses for unicorn horn. If you make a cup of unicorn horn, it will sweat in the presence of poison, for example. Selling such cups could be a profitable business in a universe like Darkwood where casual murder is an accepted practice. Unicorn horn can also be ground up for an aphrodisiac; had Reid wanted, he could have made unicorn horn the aphrodisiac Rose uses on Raynd. That would have been ironic.

What I'm saying is, you better get up pretty early if you want to impress Snuffles the Dragon with an ironic, "fractured," or otherwise unusual take on fairy tales. I have watched numerous episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle. I have seen Into the Woods. Both of those do a fine job of sending up fairy tales.

Speaking of Into the Woods, that musical arguably has the same moral as Darkwood, a moral which may be summed up as "Life isn't a fairy tale." The difference is that Into the Woods presents the moral cleverly, first mashing together a number of fairy tales, telling them in a straightforward though humorous way, and then deconstructing them, mostly by killing off characters (they even kill the narrator, and that's no easy feat). The musical still manages something like a happy ending, though not a happily-ever-after ending. Darkwood, on the other hand, is so impressed with itself for being dark, it overdoes it. Here's the last word from the character Raynd at the end of this first volume: "For starters, this isn't a storybook. No one ever learns their lesson, no one ever saves the day, and no one will ever hesitate to take advantage of you. We just screw up worse and worse everyday--and finally we die" (p. 130). My only recent screwup was buying this comic--but oh yeah, I did it with Deej's money.

The Sci Fi Catholic apologizes for the cynical and slightly raunchy content of this book review. Please direct all complaints to Or, you know, you could get off the computer and get a life instead.
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