The narrative shapes and patterns are just plain fun. When a story echoes its themes or foreshadows a pivotal moment, calling back to previous plot points or character decisions, that’s when a story is at its best. As much as it’s become a joke, there’s powerful magic in George Lucas’ idea that Star Wars is “like poetry, it rhymes.” Stories, especially those about other stories, work best when they lean into that bit of magic and let it fuel the narrative engine, propelling the plot and characters into something new, yet familiar. This is what Once & Future does best at its core. He constantly remixes mythology and traditions, rhymes his stories with his inspirations, while creating something new and unique.
past and future #29 – written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Dan Mora, color by Tamra Bonvillain, and lettering by Ed Dukeshire – comes out strong, ready to be an explosive penultimate chapter for the series. The issue opens with Rose’s mother and Lancelot at the makeshift tomb of Galahad, honoring the lost son and discussing the role of the knights. It is during their conversation that Rose is revealed to be adopted and was never interested in finding her birth parents. The detail is important to the unfolding of the story, as Rose recovers from her searing pain, thanks to Excalibur’s scabbard. The scabbard in some mythos provides its wearer with invulnerability in combat.
As Rose is leaned against a stone after the rest of Arthur slays the Green Knight, information about her lineage is revealed, connecting the myth to the person. Rose draws the sword from the stone and is therefore the rightful queen of Great Britain. Rose gets a new Arthurian design and quickly dispatches Arthur. Merlin refuses to accept the death of the myth and negotiates with Elaine, offering to bring Galahad back in exchange for the revelation Grandma’s Plan, which is already in motion. The issue ends with Merlin leaving Rose and the battlefield for Gran and Duncan, taking the form of a dragon to match Duncan’s role as Beowulf.
Gillen’s script is a perfect blend of subversion and straightforward action storytelling. Rose’s reveal appears in this issue, building on information we only learn at the start of the issue, but seems so in line with the ethos of the show that it feels organic. There’s no doubt that Rose pulls the sword from the stone, as it only solidifies her bow and reinforces how badass she is.
Likewise, Arthur’s death and Elaine’s betrayal seem equally natural, as Arthur is still destined to die through close betrayal (Nimue was once Arthur’s right-hand man at the start of the series). But Elaine stays stuck in nature like the stories, offering another betrayal at the mere thought of getting Galahad back, ruining Britain’s future for it. It’s like watching a quilt come together at the end, all the different seemingly separate pieces and sections weave together and form the final pattern.
Mora gets the chance to design another Once & Future King in this issue, and again he gives the design its very unique and stunning look. Here, Rose’s design is a radiant gold, incorporating elements of Arthur’s primary (Welsh) design, but giving it a more regal and softer edge. There are similarities, such as in the shape of the crown and the figure formed in the cape, but Rose’s armor screams Paladin, or righteous warrior, compared to the tougher, more pagan influence of the Welshman Arthur. It’s curious to think how much of this comes from Rose pulling the sword from the stone, as the blade lines up with her aesthetic, even if Arthur’s scabbard appears firmly in the more Welsh interpretation.
The issue wastes no time in giving Rose and her new design a jaw-dropping action sequence, as she confronts Arthur to the death. Mora’s panel composition for this fight is next-level, and the action and power behind the characters radiate off the page. There’s a particular moment early in the fight where the two face off against Excalibur and the Sword that Chooses, with pure energy reverberating across the page.
Mora uses circles of power and lightning to illustrate the power of this clash, giving off series anime fight scene vibes (which is the only medium I think past and future could be adapted at this stage). It’s a moment like a bell ringing, signaling the book to move on to one of the series’ most brutal fights. Mora gives the following panels a jagged red edge, mirroring as Rose punches Arthur’s body, before impaling him through the heart.
Bonvillain’s colors never feel out of step with Mora’s sudden leap in rendering, the usual palette, and coloring bubbles popping even more than normal. Part of that might be because it’s known to be the beginning of the end of the series, but in the fight scene between Arthur and Rose, Bonvillain’s use of white and blue fuels the power. overwhelming from the shock of the sword.
Its colored bubbles in the panel radiate from both and accentuate the clash with the reds that overtake the page as the fight transitions from instantly iconic shooting to gruesome remnant of the battle. The blood red is contagious on the page, and Merlin’s magic uses the same hue when carrying Elaine and himself, contrasting with the acid green and blacks of Hades. It’s a striking combo that encapsulates the style of the book and is simply stunning to look at for long periods of time.
Adding to the striking color of the action sequence, Bonvillain and Dukeshire reinforce Rose’s transformation through her bubbles, again working as a foil for Welshman Arthur. While Arthur Welsh’s speech balloons are a sickly green and shaped like the figure’s twisted appearance, Rose’s balloons turn into a royal yellow that matches her new armor and are given an effect. of halo. It’s a surprising change that sells its defeat of Arthur, with the smaller, more dignified ball going through the backboard and Arthur’s more wordy dialogue.