Once and Future #25 goes bigger, bolder and brasher as the might of three kings make war across the magically transformed landscape of Britain. As well as this omnipresent threat we get a Robin Hood recast as a magical republican with his Merry Men made up of faerie folk. And, thankfully, on the side of good. But, will they be enough to battle on three fronts? The beginning of the end starts with this oversized, entertaining and thrilling issue.
With three renditions of King Arthur now terrorising the transformed lands of Great Britain, and the entrance of Robin Hood into the fray, it’s no wonder Once & Future #25 is an oversized anniversary issue. And even with the extra pages it can barely contain this story as Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamara Bonvillain and Ed Dukeshire enter the endgame for this fantasy/horror series. A series, as I have mentioned many time before, that looks at the changing nature of stories, with the legend of King Arthur having undergone a great deal of evolution and transformation over its 1500+ years of being told, retold and added to across the ages. And so too is it with the legends of Robin Hood, as Bridgette herself observes. A man recast as a noblemen so as to not represent the potential of the ordinary man. An early literary example of propaganda by the elite trying to appease the masses. And a character who is transformed once more by Gillen into an immortal and integral part of the island we call Britain. In this series Robin Hood is something more than an outlaw, he is the very antithesis of empire, royalty and privilege. A deux ex machina ready to take out the vermin that is monarchy along wit his Merry Men, here depicted as wood nymphs and faerie folk to add even more magic to proceedings.
But, as well as Robin Hood we have the surprise entrance of war-machines as Victoriana steampunk comes crashing into the arena thanks to the third Arthurian king, a character seemingly spun out from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. An epic retelling of the Arthurian legend against a backdrop of empire building, colonialism and industrial innovation at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign. Each king a walking allegory for the differing eras they represent in the development of the legend. All deftly illustrated by Dan Mora who is deserved of his position as one of the best artists in the biz at the moment. His character designs have been a delight to see and the gargantuan steampunk mechas he unleashes on this issue is yet another home-run as they are revealed in all their glory across a splash page that only just manages to frame their might. The strong use of speedlines helps convey the frantic nature of the story as one and all seem to run, run, run with time precious. The build-up in this particularly magically-charged battle of Britain is palpable and Tamara Bonvillain’s colours only help embellish this story further. Once more she delivers the ethereal, but also the more tangible too.
And while this is a series about the changing nature of stories, it is also shows how stories can capture you. As is the case for Bridgette’s daughter who seems to be forever to be entrapped by other character identities and roles. In this case, Elaine, the mother of Galahad from Sir Thomas Malory’s medieval masterpiece, Le Morte D’Arthur. And, in-between that, she has also been Nimue too. But, in these later issues she is certainly threatening to break free of the destiny others – and particularly men – and, I dare say, also gain some sympathy readers now we know of her tragic past. She certainly seems to be changing for those of us taking notice.
Once & Future #25 is a mammoth issue in both page count and story, raising the stakes and enlarging the threat too. The endgame may have just begun, but the crescendo and denouement to follow will be a gargantuan affair to witness. Buckle up, readers, as we look to find out who is the once and future king?
Oh, and as something of a footnote, if you do pick up the issue you may notice an in-depth dive into the influences, inspirations and literary sources that have helped inform this series by none other than my good self. But, I’ll let you critique that part of this marvellous, magic issue yourselves.
Once & Future #25 is out now from BOOM! Comics