Pullbox Reviews: Once and Future #1 – Magic Scabbards, Questing Beasts, & Other Nonsense…

When a group of Nationalists use an ancient artifact to bring a villain from Arthurian myth back from the dead to gain power, ex-monster hunter Bridgette McGuire escapes her retirement home and pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan, a museum curator, into a world of magic and mysticism to defeat a legendary threat. * Bestselling writer Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine, Star Wars) and Russ Manning Award-winning artist Dan Mora (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Klaus) explore the mysteries of the past, the complicated truths of our history and the power of family to save the day – especially if that family has secret bunkers of ancient weapons and decades of experience hunting the greatest monsters in Britain’s history!

An archeological dig in Cornwall, Britain has uncovered the find of several lifetimes. Sure, everyone knows about the sword… can’t take five steps into the realm of legend without some reference to the thing. However, not quite so famous is the scabbard the sword was kept in. Able to heal any wound suffered by its bearer, it was stolen and lost right when it could have been of the most use to the Once and Future King and a Britain united under his banner.

Duncan McGuire has heard the stories, of course. What British lad hasn’t? Once upon a time, he might even have believed them. But he’s grown up as lads often do, and has no inclination toward heroism or other delusions of youth. Tragically, destiny doesn’t generally care about what a person may or may not believe. When it reaches out its hand for the fated few, all there is left to decide is whether or not one will step up and take it… or lie down and make peace with the grave.

Gonna just come out with it. I’m a huge fan of all things Arthurian. I always have been, and I always will be. I’ve seen Excalibur many times (I was ecstatic when Nigel Terry showed up on an episode of Highlander), and I’ve gone through multiple copies of DC’s Camelot 3000 miniseries in trade paperback (also ecstatic when I found original copies of the entire run in the bargain bin of my local comic shop). Hell, I may not have seen it yet, but I have every intention of sitting down and watching The Boy Who Would be King one of these days, and enjoying the hell out of it. So you tell me that Boom! Studios is tapping into Arthur’s myth, and it’s co-created/written/illustrated by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora, and I’m telling you that there’s no way on this big blue marble that I’m not gonna read it and yammer on about it!

Kieron Gillen is doing readers the favor of avoiding the dark melodrama that admittedly made Excalibur- the movie- a little tougher to watch in my younger days. In its place is a tone a bit more all-ages friendly, full of humor and wit to take the edge off of the Arthurian legend’s heavier threads. Our protagonist, Duncan, is more of an everyman in that he has no aspirations toward ruling all of Great Britain, and to be honest not much by way of the skills he’d need to do so. For all of that, Gillen makes him instantly likable and relatable, with a befuddled charm that places him just outside of the role of the stalwart, square jawed hero. Luckily, Gillen has given Duncan a grandmother made of sterner stuff, his very own Merlin in that she’s there to make sure his feet find the path.

No stranger to the realm of myth, having handled the art on Klaus (the Santa origin story), and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (come on, they’ve kinda achieved legendary status… maybe myth-adjacent?), Dan Mora brings his touch to the world of Once and Future. With a fairly straight-forward, no nonsense approach to comicbook art, Mora pulls the reader into the action with dynamic figures and mystical creatures. It’s pretty easy to get into Mora’s work, as he doesn’t mess around with overly stylized flair, opting instead to dive headfirst into the kind of artwork that’s made me a decades long fan of the storytelling you can only find in a comicbook- all eye catching perspectives that draw the eye along with the action.

Tamra Bonvillain (how many times has she been called “Bond Villain”? Betting it’s a lot…) gives depth and atmosphere to Mora’s work, using color palettes that distinguish the issue’s individual settings: golden lamplight of an archeological dig site, bright/stark florescent lighting of a fancy restaurant, and shadowy purples of a twilit forest. It all serves to mark the scenes as Duncan and Gram prepare for their coming quest. Adding the final touch to Once and Future, Ed Dukeshire brings the letters that tell the story. In a medium where lettering is often overlooked, Dukeshire shows them all how it should be done. Never distracting or overshadowing the action on the page, his work brings the attitude and cadence to Gillen’s words. It might be all the coffee today, but I can hear the dialogue play out.

I’ve read the issue twice, and I’m thinking it’s gonna be a long month to get through to the next. I still don’t know exactly how poor hapless Duncan fits into the Arthurian legend, as Arthur’s prophesied return is referenced a couple times. For that matter, I’m just as interested in finding out more about Gram and how she fits into the Grand Scheme… seriously, I’m already considering an online petition demanding her backstory in a spinoff series (we do love our online petitions, don’t we?).

Once and Future is off to a fantastic start as a rolling adventure story, steeped in legend, and has an outstanding creative team behind it. Fans of fantasy, urban or classic, shouldn’t take much convincing on this one. And if it’s an action/adventure story with world changing stakes in play, the folks at Boom! have it covered.

Final Score: 10+

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