By Jonathan Edwards
I'm all for stories and utilize and/or reinvent folklore, legends, mythology. etc in a modern context. So when I was reading Dark Horse's description for The Once and Future Queen, it seemed right up my alley. As such, I called the book for review as far in advance as possibly I could. And when I eventually called Royal City by Jeff Lemire as well, I was kind of expecting this to be a highlight week for me in terms of reviews. That is, I was ready to say very good things about multiple books. You'll have to go read my review of Royal City to see how that one turned out (spoiler: it was pretty good). But here, The Once and Future Queen unfortunately ends up kind of stumbling through its first installment.
We start with a somewhat indirect introduction to our protagonist, Rani Arturus, and her parents, as they all leave for England so Rani can participate in a chess tournament. However, these first few pages of establishment also showcase where the writing falls a bit short. There's not nearly enough subtlety on display to make the more decompressed structure of the story work. I don't know about anyone else, but when I go into something knowing it's an adaptation of Arthurian legend, it's anything but surprising that the main character is meant to be/represent King Arthur. Rani is certainly no exception, especially with the last name "Arturus." Yet, instead of leveraging that expectation to let us really get to know her in a person, this issue is only preoccupied with the things that are immediately connected to her being Arthur. For example, while she's playing chess (which is already clearly a reference), she's distracted by a girl in the audience that she finds attractive. I didn't even need to get to the reveal of said girl's name being "Gwen" for me to know that she was supposed to be Guinevere, and that's why the (mutual) attraction was so noticeable. With that setup, you'd think that at least one of them would approach the other after the match. Nope. Instead, pages are devoted to both characters dwelling on it hours after. It makes the whole thing drag, because we're just waiting for the characters to figure out stuff that's relatively self-evident.
Furthermore, it's clearly intended that destiny exists as a legitimate force within this book. It manifests in a number of ways including the aforementioned attraction between Rani and Gwen, as well as another character, Lance, becoming adamant that he can't be late for work, where he ends up running into, once again, Rani and Gwen (side note: there really needs to be a rule against writers naming their Guinevere and Lancelot equivalents "Gwen" and "Lance." It's so unbelievably lazy). Although, when you have characters attending chess tournaments despite not knowing that the "castles" are called rooks (Gwen), or world famous authors that Rani just so happens to like (also this book's thinly veiled Morgan le Fay equivalent) randomly popping up in the same diner as her, "destiny" really starts to feel like plot convenience.
On the plus side, the art is pretty good. Just about every single character we're introduced to is visually distinct from the others. Color plays a big part in distinguishing location, time of day, even the presence of certain characters, and that's pretty cool. However, during the ending fight scene, backgrounds are immediately and very noticeably replaced by just solid pink. It makes the entire sequence easily the least engaging part of an otherwise visually interesting book.
There's also a, perhaps unintentionally, Shrek reference, and that was weird. There're other little things I could harp on throughout, but at the end of the day, my impression of this book is more indifference than irritation. At the very least, it seems like everything, even the stuff I don't think quite works, is coming from the right place. Plus, I feel like there are definitely people who would pick this up and really dig it. If you're someone who's really into Arthurian Legend, I doubt this will really challenge you. But, if you're grandly unfamiliar and interested in seeing more equal representation in comics, this might be worth taking a look.
The Once and Future Queen #1
Writers: Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride
Artist: Nick Brokenshire
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics