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Legends From Darkwood: The Unicorn Hunters

If Tolkien and Tank Girl were to have some strange bastard love child, and then raised it in Japan, we might end up with something that closely resembles Antarctic Press’s Legends From Darkwood.

Part of their Amerimanga line, Darkwood is the tale to two girls: Raynd and Rose. Rose is the precious daughter of the mayor of Unicorntown, a girl who loves all things magical and wonderous, especially the majestic unicorn. It is widely reputed that only a virginal maiden can attract and touch a unicorn. This is true, but a maiden also might use this opportunity to be so close to these magnificent beasts to pop out a twelve gauge and make poor Mr. Ed into a very deceased horsy. Coincidentally, this is exactly what Raynd does.

Raynd is the unicorn hunter of Unicorntown; she’s the only hunter who can get close enough to kill these creatures and her reasons for doing so are not noble or just or even close to environmentally sound. No, she does it for the only reason to do it: unicorn meat sells like edible gold. This disgusts poor Rose, despite her father’s explication of the financial benefits of the unicorn meat trade, and Rose sets off to find a way to keep unicorns from getting killed, even if it means killing Raynd. Meanwhile, the horned horses themselves are beginning to get wise to the whole “maiden pact” and one quadruped in particular begins to go insane and desire massively gory vengeance on the masses.

Writer Christopher Reid has the unique ability to make utter insanity of concept into a workable plot. While it may not seem like it from the description, Darkwood is actually more comedy than high fantasy; in fact, Reid uses the comic to poke fun at the fantasy genre in general. One pub is actually called “The Old Man With Map Tavern,” where characters go to find adventuring jobs by checking the “quest posting board.” There is a subtle sarcasm to almost all of the characters, save for the naïve Rose that makes for good and funny dialogue.

Also of note is Reid’s choice to make Raynd and the Mayor completely amoral characters that do not care a bit about what they are doing to the unicorn population. They’re not evil per se; they simply care more about money than any notions of righteousness or fairness. They’re not foils to Rose, but probably more like teachers of “bastardtry,” that seek to educate Rose on the rigors of the real, non-idyllic world.

The artwork by John Kantz is good manga work that contains all of the conventions of the genre. This is both a good and bad thing; his expressions of surprise are sometimes the actual emotional rendering of the feeling the character is going through, and sometimes the character will be over emphasized (the eyes grow very large, tear drops of sweat appear, mouth opens like a cave, etc.), which is more conventional of Japanese comics, but something I find annoying within the sub-group. There are enough American style leanings that these instances of Japanese influence are not overpowering, and Kantz seems able to express emotions, though somewhat mutely, without the big saucer eyes of manga.

His artwork is also interesting in the way it switches from what appears to be inked pages, to sketchy, pencil pages that look somewhat unfinished. It makes for a far more visually interesting comic. Kantz seems to use crosshatching and other techniques to texture his backgrounds and characters, something that most manga are not great at accomplishing. Kudos to him for using them. Also, he has a great touch for character design, apparent in the distinct cast of characters that he has populated the world with, each one standing out in my mind as individual.

This is a great little pick-up for only $9.99, in which you get the first four issues, plus an illustrated character list, and a sketch gallery form the artist. It’s an excellent and fun read that for me, blends American and Japanese comic styles rather well, without letting either overpower the other.


Robert Sparling

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