By Olive Dausinas
Myth and legend has always helped to further modern day fiction. Perhaps one of the most influential canons was that of Arthurian legend. The stories of King Arthur, the man who united Britain with the help of his Knights of the Round Table. Stories were told of he who drew the sword from the stone. A hero. But perhaps the once and future king is not all he is said to be.
Kieron Gillen’s Once & Future shows the future of Britain, the one of the modern day. With so many stories and differing tales of King Arthur, it can be hard to keep one’s head on straight when thinking about its canon. Duncan McGuire is nothing more than a simple curator, living a normal life and who is as klutzy as they come. Unfortunately for him, his grandmother destroys his understanding of the world with that of reality. Monsters, ghosts, spirits, lore? They are all reality. He is forced to assist his grandmother in stopping a resurrected monstrous King Arthur who seeks to bloodily reclaim Britain for himself. An innocent man, Duncan must stop the king from obtaining the Holy Grail and reviving himself fully, all while the stories of who King Arthur was fluctuates his very being.
One of the major themes of Once & Future is parental relationships. Duncan did not know any other family member outside of his grandmother, Bridgette. She was his mother and father, though her reasons may not have been wholly pure. Power comes from stories in this world, and one can gain power the more closely one is raised to be like a character. Duncan was raised in the woods, cut off from most of the rest of the world. An innocent man. His middle name is Percy. Similarly, his half-brother is the opposite, raised to be exactly like Sir Gallahad, to serve underneath King Arthur, even at the costs of killing his family. The relationship between Bridgette and Duncan forged this first volume’s story. She never wished for this to happen, but her own paranoia made her manipulate her own grandson.
The fantastic world of Once & Future blends together reality and fiction. A new series by Grant Morrison and Alex Child called Proctor Valley Road does much of the same, adding a heavy dose of supernatural to the real life supposedly haunted California road. Another is Home Sick Pilots by Dan Watters, a punk horror story about a haunted house that desperately wants its ghosts back.
Gillen’s story of deconstructing King Arthur is wonderfully written and has fantastic visuals by Dan Mora. The most important thing was the way that Bridgette and Duncan were written. Even after the curtain is pulled back by his grandmother, Duncan never once loses sight of his own morals. While Bridgette may think it’s easier to kill someone to get it over with, Duncan refuses to allow such a thing to happen even at the cost of his own safety. Their back and forth bickering feels so real, like that of an actual family. Never artificial in the slightest, even down to Duncan’s exasperations at his grandmother’s lack of a physical filter.
If one wants to read a story about family, while also having a good injection of horrific supernatural lore, then Once & Future is one of the current best. The story is engaging from beginning to end, and despite its ongoing nature, it reads as though it is a completely standalone story. The way it integrates the lore of Arthurian canon and how the differing versions of King Arthur actually cause his demonic realm to shift is some of the most brilliant meta writing I have seen in quite a while.
The relationship between grandmother and grandson stands out in an environment where every story can feel mashed together. For a story primarily about slaying a demonic King Arthur, he sits in the background as a way to push the boundaries for what is and what is not acceptable in raising a child. But even then, despite everything, you might still want what’s best for their child. And even if they are to walk off into the night, alone, there might still be someone to back them up in the face of danger.