Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain
Boom! Comics, August 2019 – ongoing
A FOREBODING WELSH CHRONICLE of 1200, some six centuries after the mythical age of King Arthur, claimed his grave would lay concealed until Doomsday, and folk from Cornwall and Brittany across the English Channel shared the conviction, all being the last lands of the blue-faced Celts, pushed to the extremities of Europe by waves of other peoples and finally subsumed by the Roman march across the continent, taking the best of their civilization, and their places, and calling all of it their own. The folk in these related regions shared the belief, even to the present, that Arthur “shall resorte as lord and sovereyne Out of fayrye and regne in Breteyne”: a fine sentiment so long as one is of Celtic lineage, whence elevation for a lost place in the world might justly be due; and for anyone else, maybe not so fine.
This is the part of the Arthur legend awakened in ONCE & FUTURE that is hardly encountered in the tales of Merlin and The Sword in the Stone that we find in Sir Thomas Malory or T.H. White or Disney. Here, Arthur the fearsome conqueror comes to cleanse the land. This is the real foundation in the new tale of King Arthur wonderfully wrought by writer Kieron Gillen.
I nabbed this new title as soon as I saw it, first due to long admiration for the once and future Arthur story, and once I looked inside, due to the stunning illustration by Dan Mora with elegant detail and perspectives in large panels that suck one in whole, feet first, elongated and inevitable like sliding down a chute of gravity into a black hole to land and look around. The image is apt, because most of the first four issues occurs in dark places: in a forest at night, a subterranean fairy cavern where Arthur awaits, a cathedral by candlelight. The ink-soaked pages finished by colorist Tamra Bonvillain portray action in the dark better than I have ever seen, often arresting my attention in wonder at the clarity of the imagery retained in the pulsating, enshrouding blackness.
One often hears the remark that people are always the same throughout time, but this is simply not true. The intertwined conscious mind and heart make multitudinous combinations, reinforced by different levels of culture outside, even at one place in time, and throughout time asserts different influences over what can be thought and acted upon. Our secular world makes it difficult to comprehend the sacred coils of spirit that once clasped ancient peoples. A tone of dismissive mockery is often evident in our dramas, and our views, as if we have progressed beyond such childish sentimentality, and they must have been faking it anyway.
Something of the old ways may play out in the continuing story here as budding hero Duncan McGuire finds his feet alongside his mysterious grandmother. On the side of King Arthur and his cohort, the old ways are gone, and the scene is distinctly modern. He has lackeys elevated from the dead, not knights pledged to him.
Writing on Malory, the author of Morte DÁrthur, Christina Hardyment emphasized he was a true knight in 15th century England, with genuine knightly virtues, who intended to inspire his audience and “imprint the values of chivalry, loyalty, piety, and courtesy.” These are the fundamental steppingstones toward civil society, and freedom. Above all, the sworn code of values to live with honor, truth, and right-doing demanded individual accountability, something we may, it seems, find ourselves today less competent to know.
NB. Celtic quotation thanks to Roger Sherman Loomis, from “The Legend of Arthur’s Survival” in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages.