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THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN Spectacularly Reimagines the King Arthur Mythos (Review)

Reimaginings of the Arthurian legend are not in short supply. It seems like there is always a reboot or new take on the mythology of King Arthur and Excalibur on the horizon, but none of them go as big and strange as Dark Horse ComicsThe Once and Future Queen. From a spacesuit-clad Merlin to a tattoo that transforms into a mythical sword, this comic doesn’t just reinvent the King Arthur mythos, it smashes the known stories to pieces, sets them on fire, and then spreads their ashes across a finely made cake. It shouldn’t taste good, but it does.

Portland native Rani Arturus is a 19-year-old chess player with aspirations of becoming a global champion. On a trip to London where she is competing, Rani stumbles upon the mythical Sword in the Stone. When she pulls it free, she finds her world turned upside down as monsters invade and an age-old war is once again ignited.

The Once and Future Queen from Dark Horse Comics

Adam Knave, D.J. Kirkbride, and Nick Brokenshire are the team behind the spectacular Amelia Cole series and the same strengths they brought to that series are at play here. Knave and Kirkbride keep the story moving at a brisk pace, letting the adventure of the whole thing take center stage while the exposition takes a back seat. Rani quickly accepts her role as Queen and her friends jump right into the fray with her. There aren’t a lot of “this can’t be happening!” moments. Instead, everyone looks at the monsters, magic swords, and wizards and goes, “Yup, that’s weird, but we’re onboard.” In a lot of ways, the story works better because of this structure. We learn enough about the mythos and world to have fun and we get to spend more time getting to know the characters.

Brokenshire’s art is a major selling point for this comic. He’s a smooth and competent storyteller, even in scenes where scores of monsters are attacking and epic battles are taking place. Brokenshire’s bright colors contrast the darker moments (a lot of heads get cut off) and give the entire book an upbeat, adventurous feel. The Once and Future Queen moves fast and Brokenshire deserves a lot of credit for making sure that readers never miss a step. Energy and light infuses these pages; the whole thing practically glows in the best possible way.

The strength of this comic book really is its characters. Yes, the concept is a blast, but it’s Rani Arturus, Merlin, Gwen, and Lance that make the thing shine. Knave, Kirkbride, and Brokenshire spend a lot of time letting the personalities of the characters come through. They all feel fresh, unique, and exciting. You want to spend time with them and you’re invested in their stakes. And there’s a lot at stake throughout this comic–fate of the world and all that–and Knave, Kirkbride, and Brokenshire make sure you feel that weight on the characters.

The Once and Future Queen reads like YA, and that’s a good thing, but it’s also on the cusp of all-ages, which it misses because of a few out of place moments. Along with some of the intense violence–eye-gougings, decapitations, and the like–the language gets adult once or twice. It’s an odd choice because the cursing feels out of place. This is not to say that The Once and Future Queen should be an all-ages book, but when so much of it is fun and lighthearted, the darker and more adult moments really stand out.

This is a comic you should absolutely not skip. There really is nothing else like it out there right now. It’s a blast to read. In fact, it makes the perfect gift for someone who has never read a comic book before. It stands on its own as a fantastic adventure story that will leave anyone who reads it wanting more. It’s almost gift-giving season, so make sure The Once and Future Queen is on your list.

4.5 Monster-Slaying Burritos out of 5

Images: Dark Horse Comics

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