Previously in Once & Future:
A gang of British racists gets the bright idea to “reclaim” the UK by resurrecting King Arthur and siccing him on everyone they hate. Unfortunately for the racists, the revived Arthur sees them as his enemies due to their Anglo-Saxon heritage. Unfortunately for the UK, once Arthur’s slain the racists, he sets his sights on reconquering the rest of the nation.
Arthur is opposed by Bridgette, an elderly monster hunter who specializes in combatting stories and legends. She’s aided in battle by her grandson, Duncan: a sweet, well-meaning dork of a museum creator who it turns out Bridgette has secretly raised to play the part of Percival in the Arthurian Grail Myth. And since Bridgette’s estranged daughter Mary has made Arthur a Galahad, Duncan needs to play the role and play it well (Depending on the myth, it’s either Percival or Galahad who finds the Holy Grail — and this Arthur getting the Grail would be a bad, bad thing).
Despite hell and high water, Bridgette and Duncan succeed in keeping the Grail out of Arthur’s hands. His plan foiled, the undead king is warped and changed by reality diverging from his myth. Duncan’s lost all trust in his Gran, but agrees to step into her shoes as the UK’s resident monster hunter. And in the space between worlds, Mary meets a Merlin.
With Once and Future‘s initial conflict resolved, Old English sets about expanding the book’s world. Duncan, while still prone to screaming “ARGGGHHHH!!!” in the midst of unfamiliar terrifying situations, is coming into his own as a monster hunter. Bridgette is mentoring him as best she can despite their semi-estrangement. Rose, Duncan’s equally-new-to-this liaison with the UK’s government (and one-time date), is moving with the weirdness as best she can.
In his decaying Camelot, Arthur plots and Galahad strives to live up to the “perfection” he’s supposed to embody. Elsewhere, Mary — now playing the part of Nimue where once she played Elaine in the still-unfolding Arthur myth schemes — schemes with Merlin. Merlin longs to restore the Arthur he knew, the Arthur who recognizes him. To do that, he and Mary/Nimue decide to turn to another myth for aid.
If Mary sees Bridgette as “the mother of monsters,” why not set loose one of legend’s great monster-slayers? And so Beowulf enters the stage. With him comes Grendel. And with Grendel comes his Mother.
Illustrator Dan Mora (Klaus), writer Kieron Gillen, colorist Tamra Bonvillain (The Ludocrats), and letterer Ed Dukeshire (Power Rangers) are in full myth-making mode for Old English, and it’s utterly glorious.
Old English isn’t as zippy as the first volume of Once and Future, The King is Undead, but it doesn’t need to be. The King is Undead is a tale of crisis, one that demands momentum. Old English is a tale of changes, one that demands a more deliberate pace. All of Once and Future‘s players are getting used to new things and facing new challenges.
Arthur has literally been remade by the failure of his Grail Quest into a new version of himself. The proud Galahad submits to the Siege Perilous in the hopes of becoming even more perfect and emerges from the ordeal both horrible and true. Mary’s getting used to the name and the role of Nimue. Merlin’s adjusting his plans for Arthur on the fly.
Bridgette and Duncan’s relationship has been irrevocably altered by the events of The King is Undead, and the duo must navigate their new status quo as a family in addition to the issues they face as individuals. And, because a more deliberately paced Once and Future isn’t the same thing as a quiet Once and Future, Bridgette and Duncan have to manage all this while fighting off Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel’s Mother.
Dan Mora’s work is stupendous in general, but in Old English, his work with expression is really, really striking. Consider the following page:
Even with Galahad twisted into a skinless monstrosity, Mora makes the young knight’s haughty arrogance immediately identifiable. He still carries himself the way he did before sitting on the Siege Perilous and still holds Duncan in total contempt. Mora makes Galahad’s sneer unmistakable, even though he no longer has lips.
Mora’s monsters are as expressive as his humans. Grendel and his mother may not be quite as prone to terrified screaming as Duncan or dry one-liners as Bridgette, but they make their feelings known, usually whilst baring fangs.
Gillen’s long been one of my favorite comics writers. Whether he’s writing a metacommentary on the influence of Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s Watchmen or digging into the dark heart of Darth Vader, Kieron never tells the same story twice. He’s always looking for new angles to investigate. And he doesn’t forget to take joy in the craft while he’s working.
With Old English, Once and Future is poking at the nature of metanarratives. Arthur is changed by the disruption of his myth. Bridgette warns Mary that the role of Nimue is a trap. Mary, in turn, may very well have weaponized the metatext of Beowulf against her estranged mother in addition to sending the title hero and his monsters after her. All the while, poor Duncan is trying to keep his head above water and his soul intact. And the monsters aren’t hanging around for metacommentary. They’ve come to maul people. Mora and Gillen ensure the mauling is as memorable and fun as Once and Future‘s cerebral aspects.
Once and Future is a blast. The ways Old English expands its story are quite exciting. Mora, Gillen, Bonvillain and Dukeshire are operating in top form. I love this comic, and I’m so excited to see what this team will do with it next.
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