February 20, 2021

Review: Once & Future, Vol. 1: The King is Undead

Once & Future, Vol. 1: The King is Undead Once & Future, Vol. 1: The King is Undead by Kieron Gillen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this is a heckuva lot better than the last graphic novel I read.

This takes the King Arthur mythos and turns it on its head: what if Arthur is actually an undead zombie tyrant, resurrected in the modern day by a murderous cult? Arthur wants to drag the entire island of Britain into the "otherworld," an alternate dimension where witches and monsters rule. The only people standing in his way are Duncan McGuire, a shy, clumsy dork dragged willy-nilly into the monster-hunting and Grail-questing business by his grandmother, Bridgette. Bridgette raised Duncan by herself, in isolation, preparing him for the day he will have to go up against the undead King.

This world takes the broad strokes of Arthurian legend and turns them just a bit off, a shade sideways, resulting in a fresh take on a hoary old story. It has a good deal to say about the concept of stories as well, since the people who know the truth behind the legends are the conduits the monsters can use to gain access to this world. Which is why Duncan has been kept in ignorance of the fact that he has been raised by his grandmother to be the Round Table's Percival, destined to quest for the Holy Grail in the Otherworld and keep Zombie Arthur's minions from getting their hands on it. Duncan's grandmother, Bridgette, is a complex character, a badass old woman who nonetheless has lied to and manipulated Duncan his entire life. This family drama is just as important to the story as the monster-slaying and zombie-resurrecting, and there's a nice balance to be found between the two.

The art is surprisingly bright for the general darkness of the story, I suppose to serve as a contrast. The "coda" at the end, the equivalent of an after-credits scene in a Marvel movie, introduces the one major character not mentioned...and promises the birth of a new story with, by the looks of it, further mayhem and bloodshed. I think I'm intrigued enough to pick it up.

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