It’s not every day your grandmother turns out to be very comfortable not only holding a gun, but pointing it at you. It would be an understatement at this point to say Duncan is having a bad day. Unfortunately for him, it’s only going to get worse and weirder, because it turns out magic and myth are very real and he has a role to play in this new version of the Arthur legend. Then, once he finally seems to be getting his footing, Merlin and Nimue pull a surprise summoning that throws even Bridgette for a loop.
Duncan’s grandmother, Bridgette, as it turns out, is not just an endearingly cranky woman with wild stories. She is, in fact, at the center of this re-weaving myth of Arthur, and her secrets have secrets. Rose, once Duncan’s disappointed date, is now his guide. Honestly, so much happens in Once & Future that it’s hard to summarize without getting really vague or quickly fall into spoiler territory.
And the writing is good, as I’ve come to expect from Kieron Gillen, though I felt the first volume had some problems. Tension building is excellent—very action movie, but there are leaps in plot that feel like a bad edit. Suddenly people are referring to a term that hasn’t been mentioned before, with no context, and it never gets explained. It made for a frustrating read, but the second volume levels out and slows down on introducing new concepts, vocabulary, and plot elements a bit. There’s also a heavier emphasis on the family drama element of the whole story in Volume 1, which really drops away in the second. Bridgette really stole the show as the most interesting character in the first volume, so it was nice to see Duncan get serious character growth. And honestly, sticking it out to read Volume 2 is worth it to see how Gillen starts to weave the different versions of the Arthur myth as well as other English stories and myths.
Ultimately, this is both great and a problem because Once & Future is really a series marketed towards a somewhat niche audience of people who are into the Arthurian legends as well as other early English stories and myths, like Beowulf. I absolutely respect that there are several pages in the second volume of sometimes only lines from the poem, and in their original Old English, but I don’t know that many other readers will love and appreciate that.
Then again, Once & Future is very much a creature of its own in a lot of ways, because the art is heavily reminiscent of 1970s era fantasy art and media. Dan Mora does a fantastic job of keeping up with Gillen’s writing, and the heavy use of black in scenes really help with tension and drama. And Bridgette is most definitely an older woman; Mora does not shrink away from making her face lined, her stature small and frail looking in some scenes. It’s not just her, either because we have quite a few older characters and they all look like real people. Then there’s the way Mora shows the difference between the real world and myth; at first it seems like it’s something just for the reader to know, but then in volume 2 it’s made clear those effects are actually happening for the characters too. Again, great collaboration between artist and writer.
If I had just been reviewing the first volume, I’m not sure I would’ve recommended it, but after reading the second I think this could be a worthwhile addition to an adult graphic novel collection. Arthur retellings abound in YA and even adult fiction, but there are fewer graphic adaptations. It could even be a great book club item, to discuss the influences behind the graphical style as well as interpretations of Arthur and the myths of England and how it all works together or doesn’t, as readers may decide. This is still a relatively new series, so something to consider for collection development is potential shelf space this will take up once complete. Judging from previous independent series Gillen has helmed, it is likely to be fewer than ten, but that could always change.
Once & Future vols. 1-2 Review
By Kieron Gillen
Art by Dan Mora
Boom! Studios, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: none given
Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)