In a lot of ways, comic books are our modern myths and legends. They are stories of heroes and the monsters they must slay to protect the innocent. Stories change to better reflect the times, but they continue to serve a similar purpose as those old tales — to inform, entertain, and help us understand and cope with the strange world around us.
And because of our continued need for these kinds of stories, those old tales remain relevant and ripe for new interpretations. Just look at Marvel’s spin on Norse Mythology, DC’s Amazons, or Image’s The Wicked + The Divine. Each recycle old myths and legends, reinvigorating them with new ideas and presenting them to new audiences.
That’s the exact approach taken with Dark Horse Comics’ latest series, The Once And Future Queen from Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride, and Nick Brokenshire. Pulling inspiration from the Arthurian legends (and its title from one of the most famous re-tellings of said legends, T.H. White’s The Once And Future King), the first issue introduces us to Rani Arturus, a chess prodigy who pulls the legendary blade, Excalibur from its stone and becomes queen. Or more accurately, it set on the path to becoming queen, a journey that will certainly see her face many trials before she’s crowned.
The Once And Future Queen #1 is a well-paced introductory issue, not bothering with too much exposition and instead letting its story unfold naturally. Well, y’know, as naturally as a story about a young woman who is told she’s destined to unite all the world by a wizard in a space suit. Yes, a space suit. Knave and Kirkbride use the legends of Arthur, his knights, and the round table as a starting point, but they are clearly more interested in crafting their own story. Excalibur, for instance, isn’t so much an actual sword but a symbol, and it can take any form the wielder prefers. So in Rani’s case, she imagines it as a tattoo and–POOF!–there’s a tattoo of a sword on her arm, capable of becoming the real deal with just a thought.
There are other liberties taken with the Arthurian legends, for sure, but The Once And Future Queen smartly weaves the elements of those legends in with its original ideas. For instance, space-Merlin seems to exist outside of linear time, similarly to how the character lives backwards and has future knowledge in The Once And Future King. There are also hints at a disastrous love triangle between Rani, Gwen, and Lance, just like there would be between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot — except here, one of the legs of that triangle obviously includes a queer relationship.
The artwork in The Once And Future Queen #1 is handled entirely by Nick Brokenshire and it’s a fitting style for a modern legend. Rich details and strong characterization make even the more fantastical locations and people appear realized and fleshed out. Brokenshire conveys a lot emotion through not only expressive faces, but color, and regularly his figures pop against a monochromatic backgrounds. The artwork has a bit of a throwback pulp look to it, which again, is perfect for the fantastical story being told.
In all, this first issue of The Once And Future Queen promises a clever updating of a classic legend with modern touches. Intriguing in its premise, this comic sets up an exciting adventure that only really kicks off in its final pages, asking us to come back next month for the real action. Which I suggest you do.