Once & Future #4, published by BOOM! Studios, is written by Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Dan Mora, colored by Tamra Bonvillain, and lettered by Ed Dukeshire. With Sir Galahad vowing to find the Holy Grail and cement King Arthur’s reign over all of Britain, Duncan McGuire, his grandmother Bridgette, and Duncan’s co-worker/potential love interest Rose work together to track down the one person who can help them. All the while, Arthur’s dark power continues to grow.
Where Once & Future #4 excels is bringing its colorful cast of characters to life. Duncan, Bridgette, and Rose make a surprisingly effective trio; Bridgette remains as witty and badass as ever, Duncan is still struggling to come to terms with the crazy world he’s been thrown headfirst into and Rose surprisingly manages to roll with it all. Gillen’s script balances the witty banter between the three with ominous portents from Arthur and a world-shaking revelation about Duncan’s destiny. Good stories should manage to make you either cry, cheer, or laugh; great stories will do two or even all three of those things. And Once and Future falls into that latter category.
This issue also continues to upend the traditional tenets of Arthurian lore, this time targeting the Holy Grail and the two knights who sought it, Galahad and Percival. In the original lore, the Grail was said to bring immortality and prosperity to the land of Britain; here it is a portent of doom, and Arthur wants to use it to cleanse the land of the unworthy. This not only significantly raises the stakes, but it also seems frighteningly timely with the Brexit crisis currently rocking the EU. Whether it’s politicians or recently resurrected warrior kings, the idea of powerful men seeking to destroy those who are different from them is a terror that stretches across time.
Mora and Bonvillain are a well-oiled machine, their artistic talents acting as the gears that keep it running. Mora’s characters are expressive, faces twisted in anger or screaming in horror. Bonvillain shifts from night to day, using the continuous contrast between light and shadow to bring Mora’s artwork to life. One sequence near the beginning of the book shows the beauty of this partnership in full display. The Knights of the Round Table surround Arthur as Galahad kneels before him. Arthur is shrouded in darkness, his eyes glowing an unholy green and decaying, centuries-old flesh exposed via the slits in his armor. In contrast, Galahad is clad in shining silver armor, his flesh rosy and fair, blond hair neatly combed, the light surrounding him. This visual contrast is made only more ominous by the fact that despite his benign appearance, Galahad is utterly devoted to Arthur’s crusade.
Once & Future #4 continues to solidify this title as one of the best indie comics on the market, mixing dark fantasy with cutting humor and jaw-dropping visuals. If you’re looking for a new title to start, especially if you’re a fan of Gillen’s work on DIE! or dark fantasy in general, you can’t go wrong with this one.
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Once and Future #4
Once & Future #4 continues to solidify this title as one of the best indie comics on the market, mixing dark fantasy with cutting humor and jaw-dropping visuals.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.