Just when you think you have a grasp on where Once & Future is going the series likes to smile and then massively shift directions. That's what happened last issue as Duncan, Gran, and Rose all find themselves in a world completely overtaken by the Otherworld, and if you thought Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Ed Dukeshire were done shaking things up, Once & Future #20 shoots down that theory and introduces major characters from Arthurian legend - widening the story's scope and raising the already epic battles to new heights, and that last page... good Lord.
The dynamic between Duncan, Rose, and Gran is truly the engine that makes this series go, and it's better than ever here, with lighthearted banter breaking up the rather dire circumstances our favorite heroes are facing. Sure the group, which also now consists of everyone who survived the attack on Gran's home, is arguing about the loud racket caused by ringing a church bell they stole on the back of the truck, but that belies they are doing so because otherwise they would be attacked and killed by deadly faieries. They're always in danger, though it doesn't always necessarily feel that way, and that's a difficult balance to maintain, but Once & Future continues to get it right.
These three are the key components to keep all of the fantastical elements grounded, especially now that the story is set in Otherworld. It's also what gives the comic its heart and weight. This journey has only made the relationships between Duncan and Gran and Duncan and Rose more compelling and complex, and Rose continues to shine more with each issue.
She's gone from a relatively quiet presence to someone who holds her own in any conflict with Gran, and this leads to one of the comic's best exchanges. It's a punch that hits incredibly hard, and it's Mora and Bonvillain who deliver said punch with the necessary impact in a gorgeous splash with almost no dialogue, but that doesn't hold it back in the least. That conversation then unearths yet another layer in the fractured but still loving relationship between Duncan and Gran, and as Duncan evolves and matures, their dynamic only grows more intriguing and honest.
Gillen weaves it all together masterfully, with one conversation flowing into the next. Each new exchange feels additive and the reader comes away knowing more about the characters than they did going in, and that allows all of the myth-based elements to truly seem bigger than life.
Mora and Bonvillain have taken that to heart. The series as a whole has been a consistent stunner, but Once & Future #20 is attempting to steal away the crown for most impressive installment of the series with battle sequences that feel every bit as epic as the characters of myth they depict. Arthur's armies race across the battlefield hungering for death while one force meets them with blade in hand, and there's one page in this issue that screams to exist on a poster. That doesn't even factor in two final pages that will leave readers speechless and counting the days until Once & Future #21 hits shelves.
Now, not everything's perfect and the issue only really stumbles when it spends too much time focused on Arthur. There's quite a bit of Arthur, Merlin, and Lancelot here, and while some parts of these pages are fantastic, this aspect of the story is just not as compelling as when the book revolves around our amazing trio. Again, a nitpick, but worth picking, anyway.
Once & Future #20 continues to meet the high bar the series set in its debut, and 20 issues in that is beyond impressive. Rich and complex characters continue to evolve and discover new threats in a truly gorgeous world that just doesn't feel like anything else out there, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Published by Boom Studios
On September 22, 2021
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Dan Mora
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
What did you think of the issue? Let us know in the comments and as always you can talk all things comics with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!