Once and Future — Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Kieron Gillen‘s thrilling riff on mythmaking, Arthurian lore and British monster hunting — continues apace. Meek curator-turned-monster-hunter Duncan (who, thanks to the mystic nature of stories is both Perceval of the Round Table and Beowulf) and his Gran/legendary monster hunter Bridgette aim to stop a twisted King Arthur from claiming the Holy Grail and obliterating the United Kingdom.
Merlin (not the Merlin but a Merlin), aided by Bridgette’s estranged daughter Mary (who is Elaine and Nimue), aims to make the undead Arthur into something new. Rose, government liaison to Duncan and Bridgette and Duncan’s lover (who is Gawain), is caught up in the spiral with a small group of British soldiers and a Lord who has been tasked with handling the shadow world. Lancelot is in play.
Knowing the Arthur stories and living the Arthur stories are two entirely different things, especially when mutable myth meets solid reality and blends in unprepared-for ways. To paraphrase John Boorman’s Excalibur, the future can take root in the present, so too can a story take root in reality – for good and for ill.
The Spiral Expands. The Churn Continues. The Story Hungers. And There are Dragons
Good gosh, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain make marvelous monsters. It’s hardly my most analytical moment as a comics critic, but I am deeply, genuinely curious how much they enjoy making Once and Future‘s Galahad more and more frightening. If I were to make a wager, I would say they enjoy it a lot. Galahad’s gone from golden child to a flayed ghoul fused his armor to a flayed ghoul fused to his armor who is also a centaur. All the while, he remains as insufferably haughty and knightly as ever. He’s a brilliant bit of design work on Mora’s part, given a queasy menace by Bonvillain’s impeccable colors.
Indeed, Bonvillain’s depiction of the supernatural has consistently been one of Once and Future‘s greatest strengths. She brings shape and color to the comic’s magic as a whole, and within that specificity. Merlin does not feel like Arthur. Arthur does not feel like Galahad. No one else in Once and Future has Lancelot’s furious azure aura.
Likewise, Mora’s mastery of body language and expression is crucial to Once and Future‘s success. Duncan’s come a long way from the meek, scream-prone curator he opened the tale as, but he’s still a neophyte compared to Bridgette. He’s faced down Arthur, fought Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel’s Mother, but he can still be dazzled, as he is by Lancelot’s peerless swordsmanship.
At the same time, when Duncan needs to move, he moves. His days of frantically screaming “ARRGGHHHH!” are behind him. Though depending on if a certain new arrival survives the next phase of the story, they may not be gone completely, and that’s welcome. Mora draws terrified panic brilliantly, striking a balance between the comic and the serious and weighing it whichever way the scene requires.
His monsters remain stupendous, from Galahad’s increasingly twisted nature to Merlin’s eldritch, slightly woodland leanness. And, of course, there’s the matter of the dragon. Mora’s dragon is a splendid wyrm, full of fury and character.
Script-wise, Once and Future‘s 17th issue sees writer Kieron Gillen in a fun space for his work. Amongst Gillen’s body of work, Once and Future exists in a tonal middle ground between the aggressive zaniness of The Ludocrats and the increasingly unsettling murder mystery of The Eternals. Gillen’s longstanding passion for exploring the mechanics and metatext of fiction is present here, and he’s clearly having a blast setting various incarnations of Arthurian mythology on a collision course with each other.
Simultaneously, however, he calls attention to the consequences of letting a story rule a life — even if that is not always as literal as it is in these pages. Holding something up as absolute, undeniable truth, whether out of genuine passion or mercenary need, is a good way to give that belief teeth and set it loose on yourself, a good way to get devoured. And with Once and Future moving towards what looks to be a major clash, there may yet be an ideological feast.
As a fan of this creative team, I’m thrilled to see that they’re a continually solid crew. As a fan of Once and Future, I’m very, very curious to see what comes next. This is a damn good comic. I’m always happy to read it.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!