Previously, on Once & Future: Despite the best efforts of heroic would-like-to-be-retired monster hunter Bridgette, her grandson/protege/former nebbishy museum curator Duncan, and their covert liaison to the UK government/Duncan’s lover Rose, everything has gone to hell.
The unnamed Prime Minister of the UK, a vainglorious, power-hungry schmuck desperate for an enemy, revealed the mystical world to Britain’s populace. Thanks to the magic of myth, this healed a murderous, undead incarnation of King Arthur and merged his story-based plane of existence with our reality. Arthur, who has sworn to purge Britain of any and all Saxons (including the racist xenophobes who summoned him in the first place), promptly decapitated the Prime Minister and declared war on everyone.
In other words, pardon my language, the sh*t has hit the fan.
But here’s the thing: the world’s still turning. Bridgette, Duncan, and Rose are still alive. And for all that they’ve suffered, all they’ve been through, all the fates hanging over them, none of them is the type to sit down and wait for the end (I think they’d have a fascinating conversation with Berserk‘s Guts and his crew). Thus, they have no choice but to live. Live and fight for a way to keep as many people alive as possible.
As for Arthur and the Merlin (not his Merlin, but a Merlin) who aided him? They’ve won. But victory isn’t the end. The method they used to merge the realms was… unorthodox, a last ditch move. It had moving parts they cannot control, parts that are still moving. They may yet reap what they’ve sown.
I’ve got the new world in my view…
Good gosh, Kieron Gillen knows how to upend things. Once & Future‘s third story arc completely flipped the table on the world that Gillen, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, and illustrator Dan Mora had created. The old world is all-caps DONE, and there will not be an easy reset.
Gillen’s writing has long juggled a great deal, sometimes to the point that I’ve worried a book of his will get tangled up in itself and crash. Thus far though, his timing and rhythm have been impeccable. He’s followed every great sweeping change with a carefully crafted continuation. Once & Future‘s 19th issue continues that trend, swiftly establishing the book’s new rules through action and conversation.
It’s a thrill to read, both for its continually novel action (SWARMS! EVERYONE LOVES SWARMS! ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY’RE HORRIBLE MAGICAL SWARMS!) and for the turns it takes. The by-design mutable nature of Once & Future‘s magic has been one of its strongest narrative and thematic tools, and that remains true in issue #19. I am tremendously excited to read issue #20. Given what and who have been introduced, it promises to be both a prime chance for action and an opportunity to learn a bit more about Once & Future‘s wrathful, cheerfully merciless Arthur. By design, he’s been more a force than an individual, and I’m curious to see how he’ll respond to his latest foe and what that foe will bring out of him.
Tamra Bonvillain and Dan Mora use issue #19 to shift the focus and style of their work. Up until now, the mystical elements of Once & Future have consistently been grand and horrifying. They remain so here, but with the merging of the realms, the duo gets a chance to explore the less stupendous corridors of the world. Duncan and Bridgette must navigate a sickly forest and flee from a horde of dreadful fairies.
Unlike Arthur, Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, the downright Cronenbergian Galahad, the Green Knight, Lancelot and company, the fae presented here are not directly caught up the capital-S Story. It’s just bad luck that Duncan and Bridgette caught their attention. It doesn’t make them any less lethal or any less terrifying, just lethal and terrifying in a different way than most of Once & Future‘s rogues gallery. Bonvillain and Mora make them well and truly wild, insectoid creatures driven by instinct. In a book that reliably delivers stunning visuals, the fae stand out.
I continue to dig Once & Future. It’s a book I always look forward to reading, and I’m really glad that it’s back.
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