(++ WARNING: This review includes some spoilers for Once and Future #7 and Once and Future #8 ++)
What I once thought was a rethinking and re-positioning of certain element of the Arthurian legend by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain and Ed Dukeshire in Once and Future when it was a mini-serieshas widened it’s scope somewhat with the surprising introduction of fellow Anglo-Saxon era hero, Beowulf, at the end of the last issue. I defy anyone in seeing that one coming, but it’s this new addition to the cast that creates even more questions about this contemporary-set fantasy series that has already had more than its fair share of twists and turns.
In short, Beowulf is the quintessential archetypal questing hero. The guy who leaves his home, crosses over the threshold to fight alongside new friends and companions, enter the dragon’s cave (in this instance, on three separate occasions over the course of his life) and… well, you probably know the rest. It’s the stereotypical ‘Hero’s Journey’ narrative but written centuries ago with the only known full manuscript dating to the 12th century and following a similar alliterative tradition as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Interestingly, the epic poem, Beowulf, is set in the 6th century, which seems to be the same century Gillen has extracted his own version of King Arthur from and therefore a legitimate inclusion. Although, to me, this ongoing series is exploring how such legends not any come into being, but are also how they change through time and by others. And so, King Arthur, as potent symbol, can be seen as a national hero, but also as a nationalist’s hero too, as we’ve seen in this series so far. Arthur repositioned as a man hellbent on maintaining his country’s sovereignty. Similarly to how Brexiteers want to ‘take back control’ of modern Britain’s borders.
But, back to the issue in question. Beowulf is spurred on into action by the horrifying animated corpse that is King Arthur and by a newly revealed Merlin – himself half-demon – in the Otherworld. Merlin plays on Beowulf’s backstory and speaks his own truth, which is to say, not the whole truth, to get want he wants. Like the three witches in Macbeth, with Merlin playing for the same side in this rendition of Arthurian lore.
Beowulf only sets out to attack Duncan and his grandmother after Merlun claims that, “A monster and a mother hunt this hall.” A direct reference to the original manuscript that’s saw Beowulf fight and defeat both Grendel (in a hall) and his mother. A great little link to the original source material and clearly a huge incentive for Beowulf, himself a master hunter, like Duncan. Hmm, does that mean he can be saved I wonder, and put on a more righteous path? Duncan could do with all the help he can get, as he builds his own forces organically.
But, it’s Arthur, and now Merlin, who are building the rather impressive army. What’s more, with the introduction of another ancient hero from Anglo-Saxon Europe, who else may join the ranks and cause even further problems for Duncan? It’s certainly feels like a series that has legs and plenty of stories still to tell. But for now, I’m enjoying the one that’s unfolding, particularly given the high-stakes cliff-hanger on the last page.
Dan Mora, having cut his teeth on another legendary figure in Klaus, bedazzles readers with his artwork throughout, although a lot of that bedazzlement is down to Bonvillain’s use of colors to create something of an ethereal feel to this Camelot, akin to the scene in Excalibur (Dir: John Boorman) when Morgan Le Fey is bewitching Merlin. Sparkly, but in a supernatural way, rather than a pixie-dust sense and really creating sense of the magical about this Otherworld.
Another intriguing issue that continues to surprise readers with the revelations thus far, while adding further mystery and danger with each issue.
Once and Future #8 is available now from BOOM! Studios
Check out our series of additional reading around this series and it’s source material in our Arthurian Annotations, with a new one on its way this weekend with a closer look at Beowulf.