Title: Once and Future Volume One: The King Is Undead
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Authors/Artists: Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain
Price: $16.99 / $10.99
The king is dead. The king should stay dead. …. Duncan McGuire is the heir of a heritage he does not understand. When his Irish grandmother, Bridgette, suddenly disappears from her retirement home, Duncan abandons his date and runs out to find her. He finds far more than he expected, though, far more than he could possibly imagine: like a resurrected King Arthur, intent on reclaiming Britain — for Britons and only Britons. With a genocidal apocalypse looming, Duncan and Bridgette find themselves in a race against a legend, and their only weapons are the power of story and belief ….
I’ll admit it: I am not really a fan of Arthurian lore. Maybe it’s all the manly knights and the helpless damsels, and that the few powerful women in the stories are shamed for their sexuality or cast as dangerous witches. (Or perhaps I am being unfair.) Be that as it may, Once and Future still managed to catch my eye. The premise sounded intriguing, and the artwork was stunning. So I grabbed the first volume.
Once and Future is terrific. It is equal parts urban fantasy, literary studies, mythological studies, and meta commentary. It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up even by the last page. There are wild chases, narrow escapes, monsters, portals into other realms, and magic. There is also subtle and not so subtle analysis of the importance of stories, and their influence on the world, and how stories — especially myths — are rarely what we think they are. Bridgette warns Duncan several times to never trust a myth that can be interpreted more than one way. She also warns him against the seductive nature of stories; they will pull a person in, twist them around to meet the needs of the narrative, and never let them go. Once and Future even dives into contemporary tensions around ethnicity and migration, casting Arthur as a British warlord obsessed with keeping his island-nation “pure” (in part because that is what he was while alive, and in part because his story has been rewoven over time as the ultimate “pure” British myth).
I enjoyed the heck out of Once and Future. The writing is top notch and the artwork is amazing. To date, five volumes have been released, and I look forward to reading all of them.
Highly recommended to fans of Seanan McGuire’s Indexing series, The Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews, and the Trove Arbitrations series by Amanda Creiglow.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]