By Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, Tiernen Trevallion, Jim Campbell & Jerry Brannigan (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a graphic joy beyond compareâ€¦ 10/10
Robert Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway. His father was a farmer who went to great lengths to ensure that his children were properly educated. Robert was schooled in the classics, French and Latin and began his creative writing when he was fifteen.
He led a successful, tempestuous life – particularly favouring boozy carousing and roistering escapades with the ladies – and died in 1796 aged 37.
As well as his dialectical and vernacular poetry, Burns selflessly preserved a wealth of traditional Scottish songs and folklore – particularly the bizarre arcane bestiary of supernatural entities God-fearing folk of the 18th century believed in – and is more popular today than he has ever been.
He is the only poet in history to have his own globally celebrated holiday, with his birth anniversary on January 25th an affair universally honoured by food, drink, recitations and well-loved scary storiesâ€¦
This stunning re-imagining of the venerable wordsmith by scripters Gordon Rennie (Necronauts, Cabalistics Inc., Judge Dredd) and Emma Beeby (Doctor Who, Judge Dredd), breathtakingly illustrated by relative newcomer Tiernen Trevallion (2000AD, Judge Dredd) and lettered by Jim Campbell, owes as much to the modern fashion for stylish tongue-in-cheek horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead, Lesbian Vampire Killers and I Sell the Dead as the beguiling and frequently fantastical works of the poet, but the skilful interweaving of Burns’ immortal lines with a diabolically clever but simple idea make this tale an unforgettable treat whether pages or screens float your particular boatâ€¦
Think of it this way: in all those sterling supernatural sonnets and sagas, Burns wasn’t reinterpreting his elders’ supernatural folk tales or exercising a unique imagination, he was simply quoting from his diaryâ€¦
The wee drama unfolds one night in Ayrshire in 1779 when rascally young gadabout Robbie finds himself on the wrong end of an angry man’s fist after playing fast and loose with the irate hulk’s intended bride. However, even though all the lassies fall for the blithe blather of the self-proclaimed poet, the battered man himself knows he has not yet found his true museâ€¦
Half-drunk and well-thumped, the farmer’s son heads his horse for home but is drawn to uncanny lights emanating from haunted, drear abandoned old Alloway Kirk. Dangerously enthralled he then espies a scene out of Hell itself as witches and demons cavort in a naked ecstasy of dark worship to the satanic master â€œOld Clootieâ€â€¦
The lad’s enrapt attention is only broken by a heavy pistol shoved in his ear by a stealthy pair also watching the shocking ritual. Old Mackay is a daunting figure kitted out like a wrinkled human arsenal but Robbie’s attention cannot stray from the dangerous codger’s comely companion Meg, the most astounding woman he has ever seen.
Unfortunately the confrontation between the mortal voyeurs has resulted in Burns’ â€œinnocentâ€ blood being spilled and the satanic celebrants have caught wind of itâ€¦
Soon all the denizens of Hell are howling after the ‘mazed mortals but things are not as they seem. The outlandish pair are actually Witch Hunters, ferociously skilled in sending all Satan’s minions back to the Inferno and always armed to the teeth with a fantastic array of ingeniously inventive ordnanceâ€¦
Having fought free of the black Sabbat, the mortals take flight with the screaming witches in pursuit and when one grabs Robbie as he rides pillion on Meg’s horse, the dazed, half-soused lad blasts the beast with one of his companions’ blessed flintlock pistols.
Tragically in the selfsame altercation the pursuing she-devil had opportunity to mark him with her talons and the would-be poet promptly sobers up when he is informed that he has only three days left to liveâ€¦
With mounting terror he learns that most mortals so infected become willing thralls of the hellions, but when a seductive minion of The Pit comes for him the next night, the scribbler somehow fends it off long enough for the suspiciously near-at-hand Meg to spectacularly despatch it back to the brimstone realmsâ€¦
Concluding that’s there might be something of worth to the Burns boy, Mackay and Meg resolve to teach him how to be a true Witch Hunter so that he can defend himself when the horrors come in full strength to collect the Devil’s due. Of course that’s only three days henceâ€¦
Renegade are a publisher who value fact as well as fiction and this superb full-colour hardback comes with a fine selection of factual features beginning with a lavish history and appreciation of Scotland’s greatest poet in Robbie Burns: a Biography’ by author and historian Jerry Brannigan as well as ‘Selected Poems’ which provides a tantalising entrÃ©e into the uniquely impassioned and eerie world of the grand imagineer with a sampling of some of his most famous works embellished and beguilingly illustrated with a wealth of Trevallion’s pencils sketches of Bogles and Brownies, Spunkies and Sirens and even senior Witch Hunter Mackay.
The rhythmic reveille includes Scots Wha Hae, the totally crucial, groundbreaking spooky saga Tam o’ Shanter (A Tale), the evocative A Red, Red Rose, A Man’s A Man For A’ That, the delirious AddressÂ To The Deil and most moving lament Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Severâ€¦
Smart, action packed, skilfully suspenseful, uproariously funny, divinely irreverent and genuinely scary or sad by turn, Robbie Burns Witch Hunter is a gloriously compelling and truly mesmerising romp: a doom-laden, wisecracking rollicking love story no sensitive soul or jaded comics fan could possibly resist. It’s even educational tooâ€¦
Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter Â© 2014 Renegade Arts Entertainment, Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby and Tiernen Trevallion.