We give our verdict on the new comic Unholy Grail from Cullen Bunn, Mirko Colak and AfterShock Comics.
Written by: Cullen Bunn
Art by: Mirko Colak
Colour by: Maria Santaolalla
Letters by: Simon Bowland
Published by: AfterShock Comics
History is often written many years removed from actual historical events. As Arthurian myths were retold and embellished, Merlin appeared in different tales as a woodcutter with a giant axe, a handsome young man, an old hunchback, an enormous stag, and a hideous shepherd. Eventually, storytellers seem to have landed on a sweet old wizard and a wise elder advisor to King Arthur.
What if none of that was true? What if Merlin was actually a charlatan and a fraud? And, what if that old con man Merlin ran into something truly terrifying one day? Say, a demon that would devour him and wear his skin like a mask to gain entry to the court of Camelot?
A Lovecraftian Spin on a Familiar Fable
Bunn even throws in a little dark humor. The best line of the book is delivered by the demon who will be known as Merlin, just after meeting the human Merlin on his way to Camelot. Human Merlin has just claimed to be the son of the Devil himself. With a Senator Lloyd Bentson-like retort, the demon declares, “I know the devil, o Man. And I know all his many sons. And you…are not one of them!”
This book absolutely had to be genius to live up to and pay homage to the source material. Unholy Grail #1 delivers.
Cullen Bunn has released yet another book.
Unholy Grail #1 is the beginning of Cullen Bunn and Mirko Colak’s new series with Aftershock Comics. With ongoing storylines at 3 major publishers, it’s nice to see Bunn still working with one of the fledgling companies trying to gain ground. This horror/fantasy story is based in Arthurian times, and tells a twisted version of the wizard Merlin’s dark origin.
Bunn’s narration is poetic and helps set the mood for this fantasy epic. The story jumps around in time, starting with the fall of Camelot, then showing the machinations that preceded it. The real-world legends of Merlin are thought to be an amalgamation of several people that actually lived in that time period, and this book posits that King Arthur’s close advisor was not who he appeared to be at all. Bunn does a fantastic job of setting up Merlin’s character, though, I’m still unsure of what to expect from future issues.
Colak’s art was a great fit for this story. His linework is soft and captures the spirit of classic fantasy. He excels at giving the predominantly long-haired, bearded cast of characters individual looks and keeping them consistent across numerous panels. It did feel like there was some wasted real estate, with a few panels seeming repetitious or simply unnecessary. There was also a disconnect between the writing and what was happening in the scenes. Some of the big moments in the book were hindered by muddy art, but after finding the original pencilled pages online, I believe that might have happened in the inking process. Most of these are slight nitpicks in the bigger picture, but they do keep the book from reaching an above-average presentation.
I was intrigued by the concept of this book, but wasn’t quite sold on the storyline. The art is well drawn, but hard to discern at times. Being a passing fan of Arthurian stories, I’m interested enough to read the second issue, but hope the creators can get their legs more securely under them.
Review: by Sean M. Morse
Arthurian legends are well worn territory at this point, so it’s refreshing to read Cullen Bunn and Mirco Colak’s entirely unique take on the legend.
Like Babyteeth, this is a horror book, but it’s a completely different story. Cullen goes for unsettling and grotesque here. After opening on Camelot in ruins, we shift to the end of Uther Pendragon’s reign, and are introduced to a demon who comes to be known as Merlin. We’re then taken through years of history throughout Arthur’s reign, all with a quite sickening twist.
Bunn knows how to write horror, and here he’s put his focus on a great unexplored setting. The legends of King Arthur had a dark undercurrent, and Cullen does a lot to amplify that. Everything is dark, threatening and bloodsoaked. The demon who becomes Merlin is sure to be a highlight of the story. The only downside is this issue covers a lot of ground, which I hope later issues slow down and let the story breathe a bit, There’s a lot of wonderful characters in the Arthurian canon, and I’d love to see stories of Lancelot and Guinivere, Galahad and more through this lens.
I was introduced to Colak in Greg Pak’s Kingsway West, which was wonderful, but he’s shifted his style for this book and I love it. While retaining a lot of his style from past work, he rounds out his line a little more, and he goes for hyper detail in a lot of panels. It reminds me in all the best ways of George Perez.
It’s a great launch, and worth picking up.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Review by: Tony Thornley