Comics have given us plenty of youthful butt-kicking youngsters over the years, but what we don’t see so much of is a badass, weapon-wielding grandma fresh out of the old folks’ home. And after reading the first instalment of Once And Future, it’s a trope that I’m already dying to see more of! For clarity, this review will focus on Once And Future Volume 1: The King Is Undead.
Written by Kieron Gillen, author of the hit comic series, The Wicked + The Divine, Once And Future centres around a young, slightly awkward College Professor named Duncan and his feisty yet seemingly harmless grandmother, Bridgette. Brigette has taken up residence in a nursing home so as not to be a burden to her grandson and, on the face of it, lives a relatively quiet life. However, Duncan is about to be hit with a few terrifying truths when he receives a phone call saying Brigette has run away. In a panic, Duncan quickly catches up with her, only to learn that she’s not the frail old lady she’s led everyone to believe but a gunslinging monster hunter and expert in the supernatural!
Now, that’s a pretty fun concept in itself. But just to make it even more intriguing, Once And Future focuses primarily on Arthurian legend and British mythology, with Bridgette coming out of retirement to deal with none other than King Arthur himself, risen from the dead by the modern incarnation of the Knights Templar. However, their revered zombie King turns out to be quite a bit more ruthless than they bargained for.This is a pretty towering concept and a lot to squeeze into six chapters, which does show at times, with the reader being swept along at such a rapid pace with little to no breathing room. But, overall, Gillen pulls it off pretty well. Thrown into the action right from the get-go, the story has a clear goal in mind, opening up with a compelling plotline that carries itself through from the beginning, middle and end, laced with a few unexpected twists along the way!
The dialogue itself is a joy to read, with unique character voices shining through with every passing panel. Gillen’s script gives every character a distinctive personality that’s instantly recognisable through dialogue alone, as well as weaving in a surprising amount of humour amid the inherently macabre nature of the overarching plot. Seriously, the chemistry between Bridgette and Duncan is everything! The two have a relationship filled with witty banter, alongside a more sombre, underlying tone of familial trauma that’s subtly woven into their dialogue throughout. A constant tension hanging between the two, the way Gillen discreetly worked in this awkward paternal rift is something I really enjoyed.
Gillen’s script paired with Dan Mora’s artwork is a match made in heaven. The vibrant panels flow beautifully with the high-paced plot and humorous dialogue, emphasising the shifting mood of the script through its gorgeous use of colour and style. The style itself is reminiscent of shonen manga interwoven with classic Western details, making for a consistently pleasing aesthetic, which is well-formed and expressive both in its scenery and characters. Also, the design of the undead King Arthur is magnificently frightening!
I must say that after reading the first arc, I did feel compelled to continue with the story. Volume 1 presented some really good world-building and offered an interesting take on the classic Arthurian myths. Rather than revering Arthur in his usual high regard, we see a far darker depiction of these classic Brittonic tales, which makes sense when bringing an ancient King into a contemporary setting – it’s to be expected that some of his ideals won’t have aged too well. Often seen as a benign being, it was exciting to see the more ruthless and sinister side of King Arthur, and I’m interested to see where else they might take it – so keep an eye out for that!
What mythologies do you enjoy seeing depicted in comics? Let us know your favourites in the comment section below!