Previously, on Once and Future:
Due to the magic that runs through myths and stories, Duncan is able to oppose Arthur by taking on the roles of various heroes in myth and lore. Bridgette ensured that he’d grow up to be Percival, one of the Knights credited with finding the Holy Grail (the other being Galahad). He has also, by necessity, had to become Beowulf.
Duncan is not the only person to do so. Rose, the official secret liaison between the British government and the monster hunters, and Duncan’s lover, has become Gawain. Mary, Bridgette’s estranged daughter, is both Elaine and Nimue — (the increasingly terrifying) Galahad’s mother and Merlin’s student. Merlin plays this Arthur’s Merlin, in the hopes of molding him into an Arthur closer to his own.
The stakes are these: If Arthur gets the Holy Grail, he will remake England in his own image. Duncan and Bridgette have fended him and his forces off so far, but the battles are leaking into the real world. And there are those in power who would twist that to their own ends.
Stories, lies, and the truth are not the same things. Woe to those who would confuse them, by accident or otherwise…
Once and Future remains a gorgeous comic. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain‘s depiction of magic as a radiant force has always been striking, especially in the ways she has differentiated the different styles of magic that have appeared across the comic. The sickly green energies of the waning Arthur are distinct from the emerald flames of the dragon Rose has befriended. The ever-horrifying magical Cronenberg Galahad has become has a different texture than the similarly freaky Grendel family.
Bonvillain’s color work ensures that the myriad magics of Once and Future are distinct visual cousins. That distinction has long been a part of why Once and Future works so well, but with the turns the comic is now taking, it is downright intriguing. Once and Future has showcased a selection of magic during its run, magic that is now blending.
Dan Mora uses Once and Future‘s 18th issue to go intimate, staring from an opening that places the audience alongside the comic’s cryptic, sinister Merlin. As Merlin scries, the audience watches. In Merlin’s pool, Galahad flees from Rose, Duncan, Bridgette, and company atop a dragon. Behind him, Mary slips in with a gun. Despite the fact that a wonderfully expressive fire-breathing dragon is chasing a terrifying kitbashed centaur of a Grail Knight, Mora builds the sequence not on the action, but on the conversation between Mary and Merlin.
This tight focus provides a chance for Mora to demonstrate that his skill with body and facial language is damn near unmatched, particularly when working with faces that are not wholly human, like Merlin and Arthur. Mora works comfortably in both moments of intense drama — as seen in the image below, and in quieter moments, like those that make up the middle of the issue. It also makes for a striking contrast to events late in the issue, when the scale jumps dramatically.
The close of Once and Future #18 sees Gillen escalate the scale of events dramatically. Once and Future‘s next story will not be a matter of Duncan and Bridgette investigating a weird happening and following threads — literal, narrative, or otherwise. No. If ever Once and Future merited this famous clip from Bad Boys II, it is now. Through that escalation, Gillen echoes the first issue of the series, when bigoted megacreeps tried to sic King Arthur on everyone they hated and were pointedly introduced to Excalibur by the Necroking. It’s both a rather pointed bit of commentary on the cruelty and vacuousness of the current UK government and very bleakly funny.
Indeed, structurally a great deal of this issue recalls the end of Once and Future‘s status quo. Duncan, Bridgette and Rose are working together. Duncan is in over his head, but mustering a deep well of bravery. Bridgette has seen and done a great deal, but magic has a way of surprising/horrifying even those who’ve walked with it for decades. Rose is doing her duty as best she can, even while learning of new terrors by the day. Arthur is a juggernaut. Mary is a wildcard. Merlin has a plan.
But if the structure is similar, the circumstances are vastly different. These differences both portend some of where the team might go with the aforementioned dramatic escalation and open up some very interesting thematic doors. At present, I’ll refrain from discussing them in too much detail, but suffice it to say, Gillen’s interest in the roles people play – formal or otherwise – remains a major well for him.
Once and Future is a terrific, terrific comic. It’s a joy to review and a joy to read. Pick it up.
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