The way that Once & Future #12 ended – with an epilogue scene that promised the involvement of the current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in the story – suggested that Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Ed Dukeshire were about to step into more directly political territory with the book. Once & Future #13, however, which kicks off the series' third arc, doesn't immediately follow up on that surprise. The title it bears, 'The Parliament of Magpies,' suggests it's coming sooner rather than later, and so on the cusp of that, this issue slows down a gear in order to let the looming tension of what's coming build.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
Published by Boom! Studios
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
This air of portent is established quickly, right in the first panel. It's an expansive establishing shot of Avon courtesy of Mora and Bonvillain's talents, using the simple visage of the blue sky being in the process of turning darker. This would be ominous in and of itself, but Gillen dials in on the mood further with Bridgette being visited by a flock of magpies. Six of them in fact. Though instead of adhering to the traditional rhyme – "one for sorrow, two for joy" and so on – they come bearing the promise of hell.
Rather than going the easy route of ramping up the ante strictly by making things darker, this creative team opts to walk a trickier tightrope by finding ways to still have fun. One of those is using a different rhyme to the one we know so innately – few stories we think we know are really like that in the world of Once & Future. Another is the quickfire manner in which Bridgette handles these visitors. Later in the issue, she remarks that the narrative she and the other characters have roles to play in doesn't have a sense of humor, though the creative team is sure to make sure they aren't telling theirs' in absence of fun.
This event is more than enough encouragement for her to contact Duncan for the first time in a while. He and Rose have both been busy in terms of professional work and personal matters. Quick cutaway panels depict these and even in these brief moments, Mora and Bonvillain produce some stunning work that's just as detailed as their larger more action-packed sequences of prior issues.
For the former, they whip up a flurry of fantastical color, monster designs, and a sense that Duncan is still coming to terms with his new role as it jumps from one scenario to the next. His body language and the emotions running across his face make it clear he's still somewhat in over his head when it comes to monster hunting and other fantastical acts. These close-up, dynamic moments are a world away from how the pair handle the panel depicting the latter, of the blossoming couple being able to take a moment alongside a cool blue river and under a woozy pink and purple-hued sky. Here, their choice to depict Duncan and Rose in silhouette lets the couple steal a moment away from everything else going on, including us, but they've more than earned it after all they've already been through.
After the rush of action that the previous arc built to, Gillen's script provides a chance to recap where the central trio now stand. If there's a fault with the issue, it is that the time it takes for the trio to get on the road in order to follow up a lead about Lancelot means there's not a ton left for any major developments when they get there. The strong sense of character that the issue prioritizes feels wise in terms of being a moment to breathe and allows them to be more than analogs that the high concept of the series needs in order to play out. In comparison to other Gillen books, however, like the concurrently running Die, and knowing the intricacies he's capable of scripting, this just doesn't quite strike the perfect balance between story, character, and concept, likely because the greater emphasis on action means it has to find the space to fit them in and around the spectacle.
This is a factor that would certainly be more frustrating were the characters not as endearing to read, - Bridgette's sharp wit in particular strikes three times in quick succession during one scene and each one hits its mark even when her making a quip is expected. Duncan might be coming to terms with, and gradually accepting, a greater role in the story, yet his gran remains Once & Future's domineering presence, and still a treat to read (and presumably a treat for Gillen to write).
Once & Future #13 might start a new arc and provide a strong sense of what the book is in the process, but it's not a jumping-on point. It builds on what the first 12 issues have done and gets to work setting up for the ones that'll follow. Even when telling a relatively quiet part of the story – and even if that narrative doesn't hit the same levels of depth that Gillen's name might presume – Mora and Bonvillain are granted ample opportunity to dazzle and show off what they can do.
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