Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #200 by Drew Barth
The Story of a Story of a Story
Oh, hey, two hundred of these articles. Neat-o.
Anyway, let’s talk about King Arthur. Or a couple versions of King Arthur. There’s a few when you think about it enough. Where did his sword come from? The Lady in the Lake? The Sword in the Stone? Somewhere else? Why not all of the above? That’s the thing about stories and how they’re told—sometimes details can get a little weird depending on who’s doing the telling and why the story is even being told. And this idea of where stories are coming from, how they can impact the world, and the pitfalls in following them to the letter is the main line that runs through Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Ed Dukeshire’s Once & Future.
More than anything, Once & Future is a story about stories. More specifically, it’s the old stories that make up our popular consciousness in culture. Things like King Arthur and Excalibur, Beowulf, Robin Hood, King Lear, and anything else that has some kind of power over how we interact with the world. And all of these stories exist in some way just to the left of our own reality in an Otherworld. Sometimes this world bleeds into ours either through knowing that these stories are real or by being dragged into them. And when this breach happens, Bridgette McGuire would have been the one to clean up the mess. But she’s currently in a home and her grandson, Duncan, is large enough to swing a sword around with her guiding him through the oddities of the Otherworld.
Once & Future is one of my favorite series this century. It is Gillen going hard on his storytelling meta, Mora and Bonvillain being some of the most dynamic artist and colorist in the industry, and Dukeshire pulling off some brilliant lettering and dialog balloon placement. Creatively, it’s a synthesis of story: what it can do and how it can do it. It dives into the myths and legends of the British Isles and breaks their bones into something resembling their original states while simultaneously providing us with a version malleable enough to shape into something new. And that’s what many of these stories are: adaptations not far from the truth of something. But they’ve been buried under popular interpretations for so long we don’t even know there’s something else to exhume.
Once & Future exists in this unique state of timelessness that makes ripe for exploration for years. It grabs you and makes you want to explore deeper into the legends it explores and see where they lead. It does that rare balancing act of playful and serious—the peril of having to look down multiple monstrous versions of King Arthur while a pensioner sets up claymore mines to trip up Beowulf. It’s absurd and it’s action and it’s story and it’s everything fun in comics. And any series that can include the beheading of a legally distinct Boris Johnson is always going to be a fun time.
Get excited. Get folkloric.