Writer(s): Mike W. Barr & Brian Bolland
Artist(s): Brian Bolland & Terri Austin
US Publisher: DC
This book narrates the resurrection of King Arthur and the re-incarnation of his knights of the round table in the year 3000, to fight off an alien invasion masterminded by Morgan Le Fay.
I actually picked up the individual issues of this Graphic Novel one by one back in 1982. I remember I read them so much over and over, that by the end of the series some issues were in total state of decay.
That’s why I was so happy when DC published a graphic novel later in 1988, when I was able to buy it and put some of the raggedy issues to rest.
This Graphic Novel is very time sensitive. By that I mean that it was written perhaps in 1980-81, and even the timeline is situated in 3000, the art just represents a society more likely based in 2100.
I’m a long time fan of Brian Bolland art’s. There a simple test you can do with art from silver and bronce age comics. If you pick it up and the art doesn’t suck by today standards, if the art is merely OK, or even superb, then you know that was a good artist. If the art is still amazing (Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, here is looking at you guys) then you know they were Master Artists. This novel still looks good and has great covers and of course great panels, with many dramatic effects. Bolland in this period wasn’t doing backgrounds as detailed as it should or would later on his career but his pencils convey perfectly well all the melodrama and soap-opera factor that fills this novel.
Maybe what I am trying to convey is that 25 plus years later, you shouldn’t pick up this graphic novel primarily for the technical prowess of its art. But you should pick it up for the amazingly entertaining story with space-soap-opera tints all over it, and you should pick it up to learn and understand how to carry a long story at a brisk pace, pausing in the right moment, and dashing forth at the right one also.
The knights of the table get reincarnated and called back to the table from different walks of life, and that premise gives this book a lot of its staying power. Tristan is brought back as a woman and has to deal with his change in sexuality, stealing a great part of the soap-opera show. The triangle there between Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere is there, albeit this time around Guinevere is reincarnated into a total woman of action, Commander Joan Acton, and she kicks ass and takes names while looking hot as heck.
DC being one of the two Big Two, made good use of this opportunity to open the door for Adult themed comics, and the result paid off well, even in its time. The great public acclaim added to the critics positive reviews demonstrated in spades that the time had come for the comic book industry to grow up and leave capes and underwear-outside-the-pants behind, although of course, slowly.
This book tackled a lot of “firsts” for comics after the implementation of the Comic Code Authority. One of the knights is of African background, while another is Asian. Although Merlin is still mainly working in the background we are given hints that he is manipulating events to compensate for the underhanded dealings that the villainess of the novel, Morgan Le Fay is doing herself.
In a brilliant bout of foresight, Mike Barr played with concepts of political deceit, and the power of advertising, by casting a UN director as the villain on this story, and he himself is half-black half-asian. Behind the potting, Mike Barr played with political concepts to remind us that no matter who is in power, that person is looking only after themselves, screwing the rest, a sentiment that the American public no doubt can relate after these past three administrations.
Long time ago, another friend who is even a greater comic-book fan than I, pointed out me the large quantity of hermetic and secret society reference you can find in this book. I mean, this is Mike Barr, writing 20 something years before Dan Brown started having mental diarrhea regarding the Grail, and templars… In a quick recap of the symbolic imagery used: Arthur awakes and claims to be lord of the Roman empire (that historical theory was not that prevalent yet back in the 80’s); Merlin works from Stonhenge; The neo-men are monsters created out of prisioners who are sentenced to be mutated in a pool of liquid, and changed their bodies and souls into mindless grunts for the police-state; Sir Percival retains aligence to the round table despite being converted into a neo-man; Gawain and Galahad give testament to the saying “And you shall leave everything behind and follow me” with resonances of some messianic message; the invading aliens seem to come from a tenth planet, making resonance of the old theories of Zecharia Sitchin with the planet Nibiru.
Also you may want to read http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2005/29jul_planetx/
The round table is once again threatened by Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery, while Merlin is snared by the tricks of his long lost love; when they go searching for the grail, (forget the fact that Guinevere is shown reading The Muller-Fokker Effect by John Sladek) they encounter the guardian and the imagery given is a Masonic compass, an Ankh, a cross…; the Christian grail is then merged into a suit of armor, to be worn by “the Enemy”; etc etc … im getting tired, and haven’t even scratched the surface of the symbolism that Mike Barr played with here…
But the main asset you should enjoy when you read this graphic novel, is the story, approaching it from two fronts.
From one side, the creativeness and the imagination that in 1980’s the writer had to exhibit to give us these twists and turns. In that sense it is an adventure masterpiece. Like I said before, the soap-opera effect is very entertaining, and the action is completely character driven, which is even rarer and more difficult to do.
And from another side, artist should study the pacing. How sometimes we spend a few pages in a dialog between a few characters, establishing personality and motives, and others we just cruise through weeks in a single page, and decide what to focus and what to skip.
This is almost the antithesis of what manga has been doing and we started to love about Japanese comics. Their pacing is usually incredibly slow. Oh, here is the character walking down the street, here is the character looking at a lamppost, here is the character feeling sorry, and finishing walking the block he started walking 4 pages ago….
Mike Barr and Brian Bolland told us the EPIC SAGA of the resurrection of the round table, the re-conquest of the planet earth, and the resulting effects for the planet and the characters in under 200 pages!!!!
And in the middle we learned of Arthurian legend, we witness one of the first girl-on-girl kisses in mainstream comics, and were privy to the rise and fall of the one world order.
That is storytelling pacing that is just not found anymore.