By Cy Beltran
Once & Future #24
Written by: Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by: Dan Mora
Colored by: Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by: Ed Dukeshire
Cover by: Dan Mora
Note: the following review contains spoilers for the issue being discussed. For a spoiler-free verdict, scroll down to the bottom of the post.
Any series that leaves you wanting to research centuries old British history and the “Matter of Britain” has to be a good one.
Once & Future has been a roller coaster since day one and this issue takes the coaster and completely derails it. After the British Isles were moved into Otherworld at the end of Parliament of Magpies, Monarchies in the UK has spent a lot of time worldbuilding and setting up future pieces for Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora to play with. And while most of our time in recent issues has been spent with Duncan, Gran, and Rose, this issue takes more space to show us what’s going on with King Arthur and Merlin, as they prepare to fight the alternate King Arthur and Merlin.
If that last part sounds confusing, don’t worry, that’s by design. There are so many different ways that the Arthurian legends have been told and retold over the years that Gillen is able to throw a few curveballs our way by introducing the Norman and Welsh versions of Arthur and Merlin by the end of this arc. The way Gillen has woven these myths together with British history and Shakespeare is amazing and it always leaves me wanting to read more about the history of storytelling in the British Isles.
I can’t stress this enough, but Mora and Tamra Bonvillain are a dream team in this issue and I will gush over anything they create together (hmm… does this week’s DC Roundup have any thoughts about this?). The art is cracking with electricity in every panel, and I wish I could take the whole series and pin it to my wall. Everything looks gorgeous: Mora’s line art is crisp and smooth while Bonvillain’s colors are lush and vibrant, perfectly encapsulating the fantasy world the team has created.
Ed Dukeshire only adds to this powerhouse lineup, making some excellent lettering decisions that clearly delineate who’s talking from panel to panel. He could have given them all one style and called it a day. But in taking the time to craft unique word bubbles and fonts for every mythological character in the series, Dukeshire takes the time to showcase his mastery over lettering and care for the world in this series.
This series has only improved as it’s kept going, and I think the end of the last arc was really where it found its footing. Gillen is known to be a master planner, but this series feels much more experimental than his usual books. The story evolves rapidly as the creative team figures out what new pieces they want to play with, and it’s fascinating to see things change and get even bigger over the course of the series. Trapping the UK within Otherworld did a lot to open up the story and push the pedal to the metal, and I’m hoping things keep moving in that direction.
The series hasn’t been shy in it’s allusions to the growing tide of white nationalism in England, but that takes a backseat with this issue. Instead, we get a few quiet moments between Merlin and Arthur that adds a bit of a wrinkle to their relationship. Now, it’s not that we have sympathy for them (they’re absolutely reprehensible here), but it’s interesting to see some nuance creep into Merlin’s personality, rather than straight evil. I will say, Gillen always writes lovely characters, and the quieter moments of Once & Future have been some of my favorites. Even if the action is one of the major draws of this series, Mora and Bonvillain are still able to render these less bombastic scenes beautifully.
I was hoping for a little more time with the mysterious Guinevere on the cover of this issue, but I have a feeling Gillen is going to let that mystery marinate for a bit. Also, it might be weird to include this part this late in my review, but not only do we see the debut of another King Arthur and Merlin, but Mora draws an incredible design for a new Robin Hood, who looks to be an ally for our protagonists. I sure hope this is the case, ‘cause it feels like Duncan, Gran, and Rose never seem to catch a break
The end of this issue is also the end of this arc, and while I’ve noticed a similar structure in the endings of the last three arcs, Gillen flips things a little bit and leaves the story more open-ended than it’s been in the past. Normally, we end things with a bit of a denouement and a lil tease for the next arc — but instead, the story wraps up with two (or three if you count an earlier reveal) teases for what’s to come and keeps the momentum moving. With that, you’d think there was another issue coming out next month, but there’s an indefinite hiatus ahead that’s going to drive me crazy wondering what’s next.
Final Verdict: BUY.
Published by BOOM! Studios, Once & Future #24 is on sale now