Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Mirko Colak
Colorist: Maria Santaolalla
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover by: Mirko Colak
Publisher by: AfterShock Comics
This December sees the return of “Unholy Grail” for its fifth instalment, as once more writer Cullen Bunn (X-Men, Deadpool) and artist Mirko Colak (The Punisher) team up in association with AfterShock Comics to bring us a Lovecraftian twist on the Arthurian Legend. The official summary for the latest issue, poignantly titled “Le Morte D’arthur”, is included below.
Arthur’s fatal encounter with Modred unfolds and the walls of Camelot topple. But in a world where Arthur was tutored by a demon-in-wizard’s clothing, will the legendary events unfold the way you expect? And-if they do-can Arthur find redemption before the killing blow is struck?
Unholy Grail differs in its approach to the classic King Arthur story in two main ways, namely a far darker tone and a narrative that relies heavily on the use of flashbacks. The former is achieved primarily through the character of Merlin who, unlike the original material, is here presented as a demon whose influence on Arthur, his knights and Camelot is nothing but destructive. The result is a gritty, blood-streaked myth whose coat of arms is more murder, conspiracy and betrayal than it is chivalry and happily-ever-afters. The effect is nothing new, in fact almost tasteless in a world where Game of Thrones-like stories dominate the fantasy genre. What saves Unholy Grail however, is both its fervour for the original King Arthur legend and its morose artwork. Issue by issue, Colak paints the walls of Camelot with an eerie light, as around them pale, crestfallen faces are made to stare out onto a world of decay and despair. The mood evoked is as horrific as it is tragic, with the story given a near Macbeth quality most writers would dare to dream of. Admirably however, the comic indulges in high fantasy also, with grand, sweeping landscapes and dust-ridden battlefields adding a layer of heroism necessary to truly knit this adaptation together.
In terms of plot, Unholy Grail has been layering pieces of the story over each other one by one, though perhaps not all transitions across time have been as smooth as the artists would have intended. Importantly, Issue #5 stays fixed in one timeline across the entirety of its page count. As a result, it checks the back-and-forward narrative in terms of pace, allowing us to in a sense breathe despite the chaos of action it still manages to offer. Amongst the highlights, we see Mordred and King Arthur do battle, while Lancelot and Guinevere also finally confront the treacherous Merlin. In the end, it seems the plans of the wizard are momentarily foiled, but not without many of our heroes paying the ultimate price. As the curtains are drawn, one remaining knight turns for Camelot and home. Whether he can mend the broken kingdom we can only guess. What we do know is that the, even with King Arthur returned to a watery grave, his legend was very much alive again in the exploits of Cullen Bunn in Unholy Grail.