Title: Once And Future
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artwork: Dan Mora/ Tamra Bonvillain
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Like many young kids obsessed with fantasy and myth the story of Arthur and his knights always captivated me. A hero King fighting off savage invaders, wielding magical weapons and going on mythical quests, what is not to love? But what if it was all lies?
‘Once and Future’ tells a very different story to the Arthurian tales of old, the first volume introduces the reader to Duncan McGuire a mild mannered, clumsy museum curator who appears to be nothing special. With his Grandmother Bridgette Maguire, a retired monster hunter who is Duncan’s guide through the mystical Arthurian world and blind date turned companion Rose. The trio are pulled into a quest to protect modern Britain from ‘it’s Darkest Hour’.
Although the plot of ‘Once and Future’ revolves around myth and legend, due to its modern setting an allegory for certain current events can be found in the story. This can be found in the villains of the tale — a group of nationalists intent on resurrecting King Arthur — who, when asked in the opening pages what they want, reply, “England back.” After Arthur returns, he tests each of the group with a purity test, by tasting their blood to identify who are the ‘True Britons’. He then proceeds to slaughter most of the nationalists as they are ‘Anglo Saxon’ in blood. Gillen has said in various interviews that the book was influenced by some of the sentiments that fuelled the Brexit movement as well as sentiments from supporters of a certain former U.S. president who believe in removing those they consider not to be ‘true’ Americans from their country.
‘Once and Future’ explores the idea of how “story” influences reality with Bridgette chiming in throughout the story to Duncan that the Arthurian myths of old are ‘true’ but that is different from them being ‘real’ as the interpretation of a myth can change its meaning entirely.
The premise alone is intriguing and is only improved by the quality of writing provided by Kieron Gillen. The first six issues in volume one are expertly paced from start to finish. The first issue establishes the stakes immediately with the characters racing against the clock to defeat an undead evil, that creates an ominous and gripping narrative for the reader.
The main characters of the piece: Duncan and Bridgette are both well written and interesting presenting different opinions and voices to each dangerous situation. First off, Bridgette is a character that is written with a sarcastic wit and dry humour that gives each one of her appearances a memorable feel. This coupled with each of her revelations about the mysterious world of monsters and magic being mostly flippant off hand comments that ‘normalise’ the situation only adds to the charm of her character. Bridgette’s also a force to be reckoned with, dragging Duncan from one chaotic scenario to next, while most of the time holding a gun to him, and explaining how important his role is in a quest, he isn’t even aware of.
Bridgette’s Wryly and knowing character only works due to her direct contrast to Duncan’s naivety and mild-mannered nature. Duncan effectively plays the straight man to Bridgette’s chaotic character. He is a surrogate for the reader to understand the story asking the right questions at the right times to keep the plot running steadily. Gillen presents Duncan as a man who is true of heart and compassionate in nature. This combined with a bumbling personality provides a charming character, who can handle himself in dangerous situations but still chooses to do the morally right thing when others would not. These qualities make him a likeable character from the outset that has the makings of hero but isn’t quite there yet, like Clark Kent but without the superpowers.
The art of the book is fantastic, the illustrations from Dan Mora and colouring skills of Tamra Bonvillain help bring to life the characters on the page, bringing a sense of vivid energetic energy to each panel. The art paired with a vivid twilight pallet of purples and oranges adds a mysterious and dark tone to the entire book. The art combined with the free-flowing real time dialogue from Kieron Gillen creates a witty and fast paced story that has interesting characters who charm and entice the reader to be hooked on each page.
Overall ‘Once and Future’ is a masterful retelling of Arthurian legend that retains just enough of the original Mythology its based on to be familiar but introduces new and interesting concepts that keep it fresh and not overdone. If you are looking for a comic book that provides a fast-paced story with charming and interesting characters, that keep you entertained on every page and excited for the next step of their journey, then ‘Once and Future’ is the story for you.
Review – Once and Future: Volume 2
Review – Wynd Vol 1
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