ONCE & FUTURE VOL. 1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Illustrator: Dan Mora
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Publisher: Boom Studios
Kieron Gillen’s approach to his series varies quite a bit which really resonates with some of his fans while not quite so much with others. Some are straight forward such as the post Disney acquisition Darth Vader series, while others a bit more abstract and fantastical like The Wicked & The Divine. Others fall somewhere in between, such as Gillen’s wonderful Journey Into Mystery run. Fortunately, Once & Future feels a bit more like Journey Into Mystery as the series follows a mild mannered nerdy man named Duncan who is thrust into an Arthurian fantasy adventure full of swords and monsters with a tone that is serious but balanced out with some humor.
The volume is expertly paced with a quick cold open introducing the villains and establishing the seriousness of the situation. This scene is followed by another quick scene introducing Duncan and establishing his character through the context of a date that doesn’t go very well. He gets called away to aid his grandmother, who happens to be the standout character from this series so far, and things quickly get fantastical as Duncan is forced to battle it out with a huge monster. From there, every issue has more reveals and introduces more complexity to Duncan’s personal story as well as the story at large. The pacing is quite quick but with enough substance and characterization (at least with Duncan and Bridgette) to hook the reader throughout these first 6 issues. Some of the side characters though could use more fleshing out as Rose didn’t feel like too much of a character and at times almost felt like a plot device and the villains had enough backstory but not enough to really make them feel fleshed out.
What probably stands out to most readers is the fantastic premise of having the story of King Arthur be a true story that seems to have a cyclical nature where many of the figures and events that took place are occurring again but with a modern twist. While it may seem that simple, Gillen clearly used the series for some commentary on Brexit and some of the racist sentiment found in the political climate of both the US and UK currently. The nationalists that are introduced in the beginning are looking to restore England to its old glory and once Arthur returns, there is racist sentiments going on with his plans. At the same time, Once & Future is also just an entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes an action-packed story that blends very well.
Given the massive success of Once & Future, it’s somewhat understandable why Gillen and Boom Studios would want to continue past the first 6 issues but the contents of this volume definitely feel like a contained finite story which leads me to believe that the issues past this point, are being added after the fact. Hopefully, Gillen can manage to keep the balance that makes Once & Future so special without getting too abstract or pretentious. The focus should not be on adding complexity to the plot as many of the side characters need more fleshing out