The first comic that really expanded my idea of what graphic novels could do was Camelot 3000 by Mike W Barr and Brian Bolland, which I read as a young adolescent, then again less than a decade ago. It certainly was not as good for me the second time around, but I’ll always treasure the book for really opening my eyes to the possibilities of the medium.
And now here we have Once & Future, a new comic title based on a similar premise: the resurrection of King Arthur and how history attempts to repeat itself, to varying degrees of interesting success and even more fascinating failure. Instead of being set in the far future like C3000 tho, it’s set in the modern-day. Also unlike its predecessor, I’m fairly confident it won’t make me cringe on a re-read a dozen or so years from now.
An old scabbard is found on an archaeological dig in Cornwall shortly before the man responsible for the find is shot and killed. Hearing the news, independent senior citizen Bridgette McGuire takes off from her nursing home, prompting her athletic if dorky grandson Duncan to cancel a dinner date in order to come find her. The last thing Duncan expects is to find his gran digging up a small arsenal of weapons, right before a mythological creature attacks! Gran seems to be coolly taking everything in stride, to the utmost consternation of poor Duncan, whom she’s raised not to believe in monsters or fairy tales. Now both such things are appearing before his very eyes, and he’s not sure how to handle any of it.
Gran, however, believes that violence is almost always the answer, and has him take her to Glastonbury, where she wants to intercept the people responsible for the theft before they can set in motion their wild plan to resurrect King Arthur. She knows that the prophecy of him returning in Britain’s darkest hour is double-edged: while it might mean he could come back to save them, it can also mean that his return will herald the worst era the isles have ever known. But Gran will need allies in her quest, and might not even be able to rely on Duncan once he learns the truth about who she really is.
Y’all this was so great! It totally satisfied the part of me that enjoys a good retelling, as well as the part of me that enjoys Arthurian legend, as well as the part of me that just loves reading excellent comic books! Kieron Gillen is my current favorite comics writer for a reason! He’s always so good at pacing and plot and dialog: I actually shouted in surprise at one reveal (and chortled at the historical inevitability of Arthur’s disdain for some of his first supplicants.) I loved how Mr Gillen worked with Dan Mora to make sure that every single panel made sense, or perhaps needed only a brief second glimpse to tell who was doing what and why. The expressiveness of Mr Mora’s characters was especially inspired. And wow, there’s a reason Tamra Bonvillain is credited above the line on this title. Her colors are integral to the storytelling here, and do an excellent job of conveying that slipstream feeling of traveling between one reality to the next.
This is absolutely my front runner for the Hugo for Best Graphic Story now, tho I still have Mr Gillen’s Die Vol 2 to get through. I gave Vol 1 the laurels last year, and am still sad it didn’t win (and really want to try playing the RPG he wrote for it! One day, I’ll find other players and tiiiiime.) We’ll see whether Die Vol 2 will pip this title for the lead!
Once & Future, Vol. 1: The King is Undead by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora & Tamra Bonvillain was published March 31 2020 by Boom! Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including