What would happen if the legend of King Arthur were propelled into the twenty-first century? Arthur would be a woman, of course. Dark Horse’s five-part series, The Once and Future Queen, brings us the exciting adventures of Rani Arturus, a 19-year-old chess whiz who pulls the sword from the stone. Chess is a fitting activity for a modern-day King Arthur, because it highlights Rani’s strategic skills and foresightedness. I expect Rani will have prowess and a cunning ability to be one step ahead of any enemy she faces in this series.
The title plays off T. H. White’s 1958 novel, The Once and Future King, and the characters’ names are also familiar variations of classic characters from the King Arthur tales. While they pay an obvious nod to the Arthurian legends, these versions of the characters are definitively modern day—from their clothing to their way of speaking. Merlin is the most amusing character as a sage dressed like an astronaut. Though modern-day wizards that we are used tend to wear black robes and red-and-gold-stripped scarves, Merlin’s spacesuit is oddly fitting. He travels backwards through time, so his appearance reflects a future that we do not have access to—that and the spacesuit is just kind of funny. But it works.
My enjoyment in reading the first issue of The Once and Future Queen was largely due to the dynamic coloring of all the panels. Each page truly is a stunning work of art. Nick Brokenshire used different shades of a single color to create visually dynamic illustrations of people and places. The color choices are perfect and tell their own magical story. Rani has a tough look to her, and her hairstyle actually resembles a pointy crown. Her father’s mustache and glasses kind of create James Gordon’s doppelganger. And the evil fae king just looks like purely demonic evil—a perfect villain for Rani to combat. Overall, the art is brilliant and creates pops of color that bring the story to life.
As for the setting, instead of Camelot, writers Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride place the key players in Portland, Oregon. I’m not sure how Portland will measure up to Camelot, but the world-crossing of evil fae brings some excitement to the first issue. The illustration of The Fae Lands creates a menacing place that contrasts with Portland’s restaurant, which serves its customers their coffee in flower mugs. Though we are only given a short glimpse, Portland seems peaceful—until the fae invasion, that is.
With an exciting story set in motion, I expect Knave and Kirkbride to keep us on the edge of our seats with more intense battles to come—though Lance will likely need to find a new weapon. This issue certainly promotes girl power with Rani and Gwen confidently taking on the evil fae. These woman are strong and fierce, and they effectively remodel the King Arthur legends that we know. This issue is refreshing, innovative, and exciting. It promises to adapt familiar classic tales in a way that creates a female power force that will make spaceman Merlin proud.