THIS REVIEW OF ‘ONCE & FUTURE’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Lauren Fernandes. Before August 14, if you were to do a Google search for “badass elderly female characters” not much would show up. You’d get many suggestions for badass women that do not fit the search, as they are young and typically beautiful (think: Wonder Woman, Katniss Everdeen, Jessica Jones). Dig a little, and Professor McGonnagall may show up from the Harry Potter universe, or even Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones. Some suggestions may point to historical women, like Queen Elizabeth II or Katherine Johnson. Other suggestions are shown of course, most being literary characters whose image rarely ever leaves the text on a page. We do not often imagine older women to be their own protagonists. In truth, most of the elderly female characters we see are villains. They’re often old, wrinkly, bitter women out to get the young and beautiful, to destroy kingdoms, and to prevent “happily ever after.”
Run this same search in a couple weeks, once SEO catches up with what BOOM! Studios just gave birth to, and your top hit may just be Bridgette McGuire from Once & Future. She’s small, wrinkled, grey, and unequivocally badass. Imagine if Buffy the Vampire Slayer grew very old and wise and had a grandson named Duncan and made him investigate a murder with her.
Writer Kieron Gillen teams up with artists Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain to give us a new take on an olde world in Once & Future. Duncan McGuire discovers that his little old lady grandmother, Bridgette, is a retired monster-hunter. The action-packed pages that follow are but a taste of the world this team will unfold for us, one that blends a modern 2019 with one of the greatest legends in Western culture.
Arthurian legend has been explored time and again, bringing to life beloved characters and archetypal concepts again and again over the centuries. (Think about it, how many versions of Merlin have we seen?) In general these Arthurian retellings maintain an umbilical connection to the original legends, presenting them in ways that do not exactly shake things up. Gillen has bravely brushed off this treasured British legend for a new, exciting dance. The old stories are pirouetted, spun, dipped, and guided in a way that makes these classic characters and monsters fresh and new, which is no small feat. Often people resist change to beloved characters, and I applaud how fearlessly Gillen has led this retelling; I’m familiar with the Lady of the Lake, but I have no idea what she means in Bridgette and Duncan’s world. To read Once & Future is to constantly be on the edge of the blade of knowing, without ever reaching it. These nods to the Arthurian world that we know are just peppered in, reigniting our interest each time.
The art team, with illustrations by Dan Mora and colors by Tamra Bonvillain, drop us into a delightfully detailed world with spectacular textures. There is no dead space in any of the images in this book, with every frame filled to the brim with something to look at. Mora creates a sense of depth and movement with his choices in perspective and the attention given to even subtle background elements. Ed Dukeshire’s lettering then paces the entire thing like an action movie, drawing us, painfully, through an awkward date, or rushing us forward through moments of action or panic with verve.
Let’s return to Bridgette. For me, she is the absolute win in this book. She is sassy, somehow both coolly threatening when necessary and totally tender toward her grandson. Bridgette is also unapologetically old: Gillen introduces her in a nursing home. Mora has drawn her with knobbly wrinkled hands, crow’s feet, and creping about her lips. She has forehead wrinkles and granny glasses and such a cool haircut that flaunts her silvery locks. They do not try to hide her age in an unrealistic depiction of fictional, comic book beauty. Bridgette is in custody of everything about herself, even her culmination of years.
And yet, there is not a single solitary moment in the whole book where you doubt, for even an instant, what Bridgette is: tough, stubborn, completely capable, and powerful. She oozes confidence, with no harried moments of panic or fretting. This is a female character I haven’t seen. This is a female character I want to read, again and again. Even better still, Once & Future is not filled with pages of Bridgette’s ruminations about her past glory days. It is about her future, and what adventures lie ahead for her and Duncan.
As a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be Hermione Granger, or Mulan, or Batgirl.
As a woman, I want to grow up to be Bridgette McGuire. I’d give my left ear for it.
BOOM! Studios / $3.99
Written by Kieron Gillen.
Illustrated by Dan Mora.
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain.
Letters by Ed Dukeshire.
9 out of 10
Check out this 14-page preview of ‘Once & Future’ #1, courtesy of BOOM! Studios!