Once & Future Review: A Dangerously Great Retelling of King Arthur

A scabbard without a sword inspires few legends and has never led to the murder of an unprepared archaeologist. Most would brush off the tragic end to a man lost in a senseless crime; thefts and their fallout are nothing new to the 24-hour news cycle. One grandmother knows better, however, and once she hears that this particular artifact was located at the bottom of a lake in Cornwall, Great Britain, she knows there is almost no time left to save her country. She quickly forms a plan. Light a cigarette, escape from the senior center, call her grandson, and get the guns. This is the setting set by Once & Future.

The cover of Once & Future by Boom Studios
The cover of Once & Future by Boom Studios

How to Set the Stage for a Modernized Classic

Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine) modernizes the classic Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table trope and elevates it to life and death stakes in our current timeline. His comic sets the stage by jumping through each narrative quickly for the different players in the game and gets them quickly moving to either save Great Britain or destroy it. It's the good guys' brains versus the bad guys' brawn and it's hard to not have a vested interest in either side as both are equally dynamic and interesting.

On team brawn is the mysterious Elaine, her son Galahad and a team of bulked up soldiers; all who plan on reviving the long-dead King Arthur and empowering him to put an end to anyone outside of British bloodlines. It's here that Gillen succeeds in turning what would be a stereotypical retelling of the Once and Future King on its head, instead of reimagining the traditional King and his knights as half-dead nationalists and quite the opposite of heroic.

A preview page from Once & Future by Boom Studios.
A preview page from Once & Future by Boom Studios.

On team brains, it's Gran, her grandson Duncan, and his failed blind-date Rose who boasts a Ph.D. in history. Under Gran's tough love tutelage, the trio attempt to solider their way across the country to prevent Galahad from attaining various legendary artifacts to empower King Arthur further.

Once & Future and its Love for Arthurian Lore

Once & Future, from Boom Studios, was compiled and released to local comic shops this March and has enough packed between its pages to attract any history buff or mythology aficionado. Gillen's research for the comic is obvious, calling back to real historical events and utilizing them in exciting ways to perpetuate new legends. Those more astute in King Arthur lore will appreciate the callbacks made to Sir Percival, the knight who preceded Sir Galahad in early stories about the conquest for the Holy Grail.

Paired with the artwork from Dan Mora (Klaus) and colors by Tamra Bonvillain (Rat Queens), Gillen utilizes real-time dialogue to move the story forward rather than relying on third-party narration, allowing readers to be in the moments with the characters as they happen. Mora also shows particular skill with facial features and draws believable emotions which marries well with the storyline and leaves no disconnect between the art and Killen's words. Having legendary characters with the modern people in this story can leave some confusion in this fast-paced trade, however, especially as most persons go by multiple names from past and present.

A preview page from Once & Future by Boom Studios.
A preview page from Once & Future by Boom Studios.

Ultimately, Once & Future managed to be a fun read despite its darker content and offers a refreshingly new take on a story that at times has felt overdone. Gran is a knockout of a new character, who would kick more ass and take names if it weren't for her age and years of chain-smoking. At $16.99, there's enough story here to read more than once and with it ending on a cliff-hanger, there is, even more, to look forward to. Once & Future Vol. 2 hits shelves this December, and the regular series comic comes out monthly so don't worry about missing out on what's coming next for this series as there is more than enough time to pick it up.

Until then, as Gran warns us all: "be careful with people who chase monsters too hard".

About Chelsy Bloomfield

Chelsy Bloomfield is an artist, cosplayer, writer, and comic book aficionado. She is the founder of Utah’s Graphic Novel Book Club, the first of its kind in Utah, and has hosted monthly meetings since 2011. If she is not writing or preparing for the next book club meeting, she can be found yelling about conspiracy theories on the internet or playing with her perfect puppy, Puffin.