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Tamra Bonvillain

Once & Future: The Parliament of Magpies

This third volume of the Once & Future series is as strong as the first two, and I am loving these twisted King Arthur tales!

The story starts out innocently (I’m not fooled), as Gran relaxes with one of her many cigs out on the patio of her senior home, when six magpies fly to her. She recites two nursery rhymes that would correlate with the six birds and realizes they are a bad omen of what is to come. Of course the colored orbs surrounding them is always a clue that magic and mayhem are around the corner. She calls her hunky ginger grandson Duncan over to help and he brings along his love interest Rose along as she has some foretelling powers.

While the story continues with a dark King Arthur and Merlin, some other English tales and characters are incorporated- such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Elaine of Astolat and Elaine of Corbenic. All of these mentions made me have to look up Wikipedia entries on them all, as my knowledge of Arthurian tales is rather scant. The way that Gran, Duncan, Rose, and Duncan’s mother Mary twist all of these legends around to suit them can be a bit confusing, yet it works. Rose is incorporated more into this story, as she takes charge of a beheading and then later befriending a flying dragon.

The concluding pages seem to put Arthur and Merlin to rest, but of course there is a twist that brings them alive once more. And now because of someone’s stupidity, the dark magic is out in the world for everyone to see, not just monster hunters and sinister government agencies. The strange creatures on the last page are creepily awesome. I look forward to what author Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora have planned next for readers!

-Nancy

Make sure you read The King Is Undead (V1) and Old English (V2)

A simple nursery rhyme foretells the chaos to come!

Once & Future: Old English

In the first volume of Once & Future, British academic Duncan and his monster hunting Gran, Bridgette, fought off an un-dead King Arthur that some Nationalists had reanimated to keep Britain pure. While they were successful in defeating him, the king is now down but not out with the Otherworld in disarray, leaving other legends and deadly creatures to emerge and fight for power. 

The second volume begins with Duncan rightfully angry at his grandmother, who had kept secrets from him his whole life, and now he has to be on his guard for new dangers. His colleague Rose, who is also a love interest, uses some magic to determine where the next problems will pop up and he is exhausted keeping up with it all. But when Beowulf appears, King Arthur and an evil Merlin try to harness his strength to their advantage. And for those familiar with the Beowulf mythology, there are additional monsters such as Grendel and his mother, who show up at Bridgette’s assisted living home and cause havoc and destruction as Duncan races over to help. 

The artwork continues to be amazing, although I did notice a change in making some facial reactions extreme and anime-like. I prefer a more realistic approach, as the monsters and mayhem were always detailed and naturalistic, and I don’t want the hunky Duncan to become a caricature.  The Otherworld had vivid almost hallucinogenic colors, with the floating orbs a clue that magic was moving into the regular world and they should be wary. 

I continued to enjoy this new series, and look forward to more warped British mythology. King Arthur remains a threat, and Duncan also has to contend with his family disfunction as his long-gone mother and half-brother are part of the Nationalist group that opened the portal into the dark world. That the volume ends with a real-world politician ready to make an unholy allegiance open the story to more exciting plots! 

-Nancy

I love how Bridgette is so kick-ass!

Once & Future: The King is Undead

Do you think you know King Arthur’s story? Think again!

In this alternative fantasy world set in Britain, Duncan McGuire is a handsome but bumbling academic out on a disastrous date when he gets a call that his grandma is missing from her assisted living home. But his doobie smoking gran Bridgette turns out to be a monster hunter who has been keeping a lot of secrets from Duncan whom she raised. Soon he is in the middle of a crusade to block a woman Elaine from reanimating King Arthur who is not the kindly king of lore. In a Brexit-inspired plot, a group of Nationalists wish for him to keep Britain pure so they bring his remains back to life. Then it a race to prevent a dark prophecy from taking hold, with several twists and turns and improbable family connections.

Reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code plus The Mummy and National Treasure movies, the action is fast and furious and plays loose with history. In a familiar trope, an unsuspecting character is thrown into the thick of things and can shoot, fight with a sword and run like an Olympic sprinter as needed. (As an aside, I recently went to an axe-throwing business with my husband and friends and was disappointed that I wasn’t better. I had the strength but little finesse. What good will I be if a zombie horde or an evil reanimated king attacks my family? Unfortunately, I didn’t magically have the best skills like characters do in books and movies)

I really enjoyed the art by Dan Mora and how he drew the characters plus all the fantasy elements. Fond of many panels per page, the action flowed in cinematic-like sequences.  The only criticism I had was a certain female character was drawn too young- she was a mother to two adult sons and looked to be their sister. In comparison, her mother was drawn too old, so they should have aged the one a bit more and de-aged the other to be more believable. The colors by Tamra Bonvillian were superb, with rich colors and a psychedelic swirl of colors and floating orbs in the fantasy realm.

This was a very appealing first volume of a series I plan to follow. The mythology was deliciously warped and I look forward to future adventures with Duncan and his ass-kicking Gran.

-Nancy

The Low, Low Woods

The Low, Low Woods is an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania.

Elements of feminism and malevolence come into play, as two young women El and Vee realize something is terribly wrong in their town. Years ago a fire moved underground into the coal mines, forcing their closures and gutting an already fragile economy. In addition, women began to exhibit strange episodes in which they were losing large portions of their memory. When this seems to happen to the two friends on an evening at the movies, they want answers. Readers then discover there is already a layer of magic, as a strange deer/human hybrid is sighted, skinned men are hiding in the woods, and there are rabbits everywhere with human eyes. There is somewhat of a Paper Girls vibe in this story, further supported that El and Vee ride their bikes everywhere, but late in the story the narrative takes a sharp and confusing turn. A witch who is trying to combat the cruelty of the men in the region, as previous sexual assaults are implied in the story but not seen, but her spells don’t always work the way she intended. The remainder of the story is the young women trying to give agency back to the women affected by the dark magic.

The illustrations by artist Dani are dark with a color palette using a lot of black and red. The panels are varied, often with a large picture with smaller ones layered on top with black gutters. But the lines can be imprecise and lacking details. For example, El who is a larger woman is often drawn blocky. But I did appreciate that the various characters were given a diverse look. There was a lot of dialogue and information given in text boxes, with a small font that made reading challenging.

I have read a previous short story, Blur,  by the author Carmen Maria Machado through LeVar Burton Reads, and she is known for her LGTBQ+ storylines in the horror genre. While this story wasn’t exactly to my liking, I like how Hill House Comics is using a variety of authors to reach different audiences. I was pleased to receive an advance copy through NetGalley and I plan on reading more of this label’s graphic novels!

-Nancy

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