Once And Future #1
Arthurian myth clashes with the modern-day in Once And Future #1, by writer Kieron Gillen, artist Dan Mora, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, and letterer Ed Dukeshire. This first issue nicely sets up the stakes of what’s to come and introduces readers to the heroes of the piece. A tough as nails old grandma and her clumsy, rugby-playing academic grandson.
At a dig site in Cornwall, an ancient scabbard is found. The head of the dig is surprised that an expert has arrived so quickly… and even more, surprised when her colleagues get there. At a nursing home in Somerset, news of a murder at the dig site piques the interest of an old woman, and she asks if she can go outside for a cigarette before her grandson shows up. That night, on a date in Bristol, said grandson, Duncan McGuire, is blowing it, having spilled wine on his date. He gets a call from the nursing home telling him his grandma has disappeared then one from her, telling him to meet her. He finds her digging in the middle of the woods and is surprised at what she’s unearthed- a large arms cache. As she explains why she all of this, they are attacked by a giant beat, what she calls a questing beast. With her help, Duncan chases it off, and she explains why she escaped her nursing home and why she needs his help. Elsewhere, the “expert” from the dig site and her compatriots come across the burial ground of one of Britain’s greatest legends.
Gillen does a fantastic job of setting things up right out the gate, and he does it mostly by focusing on the main characters. Gran (she’s given no other name throughout the issue) is a tough as nails old woman. Her first line in the book is threatening someone who is about to turn the TV channel with broken fingers. She’s also hilarious, with a dry kind of wit that lends well to things. She knows way more than she lets on about nearly everything. Duncan is introduced to readers after spilling wine on his date, and it gives readers a bit of a glimpse into who he is- a good looking yet a socially awkward man. His default setting throughout the book is amazement once he gets to Gran’s weapons stash, but as the audience surrogate, that’s fitting. Gillen could throw readers into the deep end right off the bat by introducing the threat first and then cutting to the main character, and in a way, he does this. However, he chooses to focus on Gran and Duncan more than the threat, letting readers see who they are, and this pays dividends. He gives readers something to care about immediately beside the conflict.
That conflict looks like it’s going to turn Arthurian myth on its ear. Gran brings up the legend of King Arthur’s return at the end of the book. Myths are a fascinating thing because of interpretation. Arthur is a hero to the British for uniting Britain, but he also crushed a European empire, making him a villain to some. He’s said to return in Britain’s darkest hour, but Gran wonders if he’s going to bring about that darkness. By looking at the people looking to bring him back, a group of skinheads who look right out of a UKIP rally. The UKIP is the United Kingdom Independence Party, and they are super-duper racist. That darkest hour might be darker than Gran can imagine. It looks like Gillen is going to use this book to say something about the tides of nationalism sweeping a lot of Western democracies now. Tides that are frequently entwined with the racist ideologies of the past. How would Arthur feel about modern-day Great Britain, a country that has changed ethnically since his death? What happens when you bring the past back to the present? These are questions that it looks like this book is going to tackle, and with a writer of Gillen’s caliber onboard, the answers will definitely be worth it.
Dan Mora’s art is wonderful. His style is a bit of Greg Capullo and a bit of Francis Manapul. His character acting is top-notch. Readers get a feel for who Gran is immediately because of how good he is at capturing her expressions. Same with Duncan. His reactions give readers a throughline into his head that the visuals reinforce. The standout segment is with the questing beast, a monster straight from Arthurian legend. It has a snake’s head and neck, the body of a leopard, and the feet of a hart and it looks great. The chase scene between it and Duncan is wonderfully kinetic, and Duncan’s expressions of fear and bewilderment perfectly illustrate how he feels at the moment.
Once And Future #1 is a fantastic beginning for an intriguing new series. Kieron Gillen takes a myth that exemplifies Britain and mixes it with the ugliness of a movement that talks about keeping the country as “British” as possible. He also introduces two great protagonists, giving readers a throughline into the story that isn’t just about the antagonists. Dan Mora’s art makes the whole thing pop. His detailed, expressive pencils are just what Gillen’s script needs, and they don’t disappoint. Even before being released this book already sold out two printings and if this first issue is any indication, this series will be stellar.