REVIEW: Once and Future #16 – Stories Weaved Together by Character

Once and Future #16 Review

Once and Future #16 jumps back into the action as the stories start to pull everything together. Once and Future #16 is written by Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Dan Mora, coloured by Tamra Bonvillain, and lettered by Ed Dukeshire.

Nimue is trapped by government forces and her only escape lies in the hands of Merlin, yet she may not appreciate the rescue he offers her. Meanwhile, Bridgitte and Duncan are trapped in Otherworld with their only escape blocked by Arthur’s greatest knight: Lancelot.

Once and Future #16 is published by BOOM! Studios, and is available from February 17, 2021.

Once and Future #16 Review
Once and Future #16, courtesy of BOOM! Studios

Once and Future #16 Story

The start of this issue takes readers back to Otherworld as Arthur, Merlin, and Galahad continue to plot their victory. Gillen immediately jumps into his adapting of lore by having King Arthur himself sit upon the Siege Perilous, the seat reserved for the knight that would recover the Grail. While this issue may be a return to more action following the more exposition-filled #15, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get more of how these stories can be manipulated and weaponized.

Rose finds herself in a deep conversation with Hempleworth, who leads the story into conspiratorial elements as he reveals the British government’s exact involvement in everything that is going on while Nimue continues a shoot-out with two government agents in the background. Meanwhile in Otherworld Bridgitte and Duncan find themselves trapped between a dragon and Lancelot, a situation Duncan is particularly not fond of as he is still embodying the character of Beowulf who met his demise due to a dragon. Bridgitte gives some more background as she reveals that Arthur has risen multiple times, and it seems he is never truly defeated.

There’s a lot for a writer to juggle in a story like this. We have a fair amount of exposition, a rising tension as pieces move into place, and a decent amount of action on top of it all. Some writers may collapse under all these pieces, losing focus on at least one in order to better support another. Gillen does well at managing all of them, and also leads it through to a fitting cliffhanger that also leaves the reader with a bit of shock.

I put his clever crafting of this story down to two major things, his research and his humour. I don’t mean humour as in out-loud laughs, though you may certainly find those, but instead a light touch of character that helps weave all these admittedly ridiculous elements together into a story that isn’t just coherent but engaging. His research speaks for itself, he knows not only what his story is doing but also the stories it is crafted from so that reading it feels like a puzzle coming together. A puzzle with a dragon and perhaps the most horrifying knights ever conceived.

Once and Future #16 Art

Dan Mora is on point once again, creating images that can be otherworldly, pun intended, but also real enough to keep the reader engaged with the characters emotionally. Honestly, the key thing that always strikes me about his work is his faces, they are so expressive that at times I’m certain you could follow the story just by the way the characters look. He also does amazing work making all of Otherworld feel horrific and unsettling, including those that reside there. Every time Merlin is in a panel I feel a little anxious looking at him.

Tamra’s colours are so beautiful and perfect for this story, adding even more of an unsettling charm to Mora’s Otherworld. It is quite a thing to see colour that is simultaneously beautiful and eerie, giving the panels an atmosphere of unease without being so uncomfortable it cannot be enjoyed. Ed’s lettering also captures the tension of each panel without ever distracting from the page itself. There’s a true art to what I’d almost call understated lettering, so easy for it to simply blend with the page until you take the moment to appreciate.

Once and Future #16 Conclusion

Once and Future #16 continues to adapt Arthurian legend by embracing the lack of any singular story, the fact the series has leaned into that fact is its greatest strength and continues to be so. Gillen continues to prove himself the master of metanarrative as he easily navigates the ‘stories as magic’ narrative in a way that continues to surprise without breaking its own rules. The inclusion of big government involvement can often be a bad sign for a story, particularly this late in, yet here it only helps to add to the narrative rather than detract from it as it could have. It doesn’t convolute, it’s just another piece in the puzzle.

Obviously, if you’ve already been following this series then this is not an issue to miss. We have major confrontations in the near future and hints towards things that still await upon the horizon. If you haven’t been reading then maybe you should start. You might not know what’s going on, but if what you see sparks any interest in you it might be time to go back and start from the beginning.

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