There’s a certain level of horror at work in the opening of Once and Future #9 by Kireon Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillian and Ed Dukeshire as Duncan and Bridgette face down a seemingly unstoppable resurrected force in Beowulf, all ablaze like some demon fresh from Hell. Or, in this case, the Otherworld where the demonic-looking King Arthur resides. It’s a very dramatic start to this particular issue before the matter is resolved the only way a Monster Hunter often does resolves such matters. But, is it enough?
Behind the power of this specific supernatural throne stands Merlin the half-demon, first mentioned by name in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, (The History of The Kings of Britain) and one of the core source materials for a great deal of Once and Future thus far.
There is also the the theme of change and the hint of exploring what it means to be a legendary character like Arthur. A character that is as malleable and his story is memorable. A story made up of so many various, and often foreign, influences that King Arthur, like so many other characters from myths, legends and fairy-tales, can be subject to change. A fertile symbol for others to gather round and reclaim for their own. As is the case here, in which this Arthur is a villain and xenophobe, rallying against foreign forces. Where once this was a huge part of the Arthirian legends genesis – a king uniting his country behind a shared threat – in this day and age such thinking and such attitudes are somewhat redundant. Hence, the far-right trying to lay claim to the once and future king for themselves. We’ve already seen Gillen explore the changing nature of stories by presenting us with both Galahad and Percival as the Holy Grail knights, with both versions of this tale being valid. Kinda like the legend of King Arthur, like the Superman saga, occurs on multiple Earths in multiple eras will all being legit. King Arthur 5G, if you like. Merlin himself passes comment that with the killing of Beowulf, “The story is in motion.” A story that may well follow a specific structure, such as the 12 stages of the Hero’s Quest, but could it be broken? After all, aren’t all stories fashioned by the writer’s whim and not that of the character within? Arthur may change over the 1,500 odd years his legend has existed, but can he ever escape his destiny? For all the additions and metamorphosis of this legend, there are still some constants that are too powerful to mess with.
It’s certainly a question that crops up again by the end of this book and the threat of yet another creature from our literary heritage. And, with so many British and European folklore at his disposal, who knows what influences will play out across this ongoing series. It’s what I always loved about Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and it’s definitely a big part of why I pick this book up avidly each and every month.
Sandwiched in between all of this action are moments of calmness as our troops catch their breath and Bridgette worries that her grandson, isn’t as tough as he should be.
All the while, Bonvillain’s colors continue to amaze and give the Otherworld a gorgeous deep pink glow that it really doesn’t deserve, given what it represents. But, it gives a contemporary sheen and ethereal modernity to these ancient archetypes. A fantasy series with fanatics visuals and colorway, and out now from Boom! Studios.
And for more on the source materials that have influenced Gillen’s fascinating fresh take on King Arthur, do check out our previous ‘Arthurian Annotations’ here and catch up with a new edition – and a look at Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo treasure – tomorrow afternoon, Saturday July 18th, at 2pm (ET) as part of our weekend line-up.