In Review: Unholy Grail #1

The familiar Arthurian tale is twisted into blasphemous delights with beautiful art that hides no horrors.

The covers: Several variants always exist for premiere issues of comic books. I was able to locate ten different covers for this initial issue of Unholy Grail, but there may be more out there. The Regular cover, or Cover A, is by interior artist and colorist, Mirko Colak and Maria Santaolalla. This features a knight slumped against a stone. The man could be dead or a victim to terror. The stone has a man’s face on it and has a sword protruding from its top. This could be the fabled Sword in the Stone, but who the knight is will be a question unanswered for this premiere issue. Creepy cover with an abundance of red to give it a horrific feel. The B cover is by Francesco Francavilla and it spotlights the creature responsible for this saga’s woes: the demon that has taken the wizard Merlin’s form. The creature is free of his skin covering in this cover and looks to be reflecting on the items on the table before it. Another creepy cover in red that sets the right tone for this saga. Micahel Gaydos does the Variant for Most Good Hobby. This exclusive cover is limited to 300 copies and features a raven atop a knight’s helmet that sits on the ground. The fowl has something in its beak. In the background is a huge tree from which a knight’s body swings. An excellent image that foreshadows trouble. Mike Rooth has done two covers for The Comic Mint Variant, one in color and the other in black and white. I couldn’t find how many copies there are of the color cover, but I did find that there are 200 of the black and white. Both images feature a dark knight wielding a sword on a black mare that rears back while blue energy (on both covers) comes out of the weapon, killing the knights before them. This is a very detailed frontpiece and both will connect to the Issue #2 covers that Rooth is working on. The San Diego Comic-Con Variant from Francavilla turned up online and it’s a doozy! A dark knight, whose face is a skull, holds a bloody battleaxe against a crimson sky with a gnarly tree. An outstanding cover and one worth pursuing. The final four covers are by Jason Pearson and are available through More Great Collectibles. They are all the same image, but colored differently: A is blue for water, B is gold for earth, C is red for fire, and D is in black and white for wind. Between the faces of Merlin the man and Merlin the demon, a figure walks forward with something in his hands. Above him is a symbol in a circle which is different on each cover. Above this is a sword pointed downward and behind that a woman with her arms raised. This might be the Lady of the Lake giving the sword to Arthur. If this is so, what’s he holding that has his focus? All four covers are excellent. Overall grades: A A, B B, Most Good Hobbies Variant B+, Comic Mint Color Variant A, Comic Mint Black and White Variant A, San Diego Comic-Con Variant A+, and More Great Collectibles Variants all A

The story: Camelot has been lost. Ruin, waste, and death lie everywhere before Sir Percivale of Wales as he makes his way to what remains of the Arthur’s castle. He bears the Holy Grail and takes it to the Round Table and sits at the Siege Perilous, the empty chair reserved for the knight that retrieves the holy relic. His sorrow spills out of him. “How, Lord? How could we have fallen so far? This…is not how the world is meant to be.” The story then goes back in time to chronicle who is responsible for the destruction of Albion. Cullen Bunn wastes no time in creating horrors, with Percivale’s path to Camelot, to the individual on Page 7 saying the wrong thing to another and creating the series’ inciting moment. This is followed by a scene at Uther Pendragon’s deathbed, where he pronounces who shall rule after his death. Every reader will know his choice, but not why and Bunn makes it delightfully deviant. The Lady of the Lake is also visited, and she, too, is not as one would expect. As if this retelling isn’t enough to capture the reader, the final two pages return to Percivale and something comes upon him quickly. This is a fantastic, horrific retelling of the Arthurian saga with terrible twists. Magical and monstrous, this is recommended reading. Overall grade: A+

The art: The first page is a full-page splash of what lies withing the lake that houses the iconic Lady. It is full of statuary and many, many swords. Two fish swim by in ignorance of what is below them. This is a terrific image for artist Mirko Colak to begin with, as it symbolizes that something is hidden within the lake, just as much is hidden under Arthur’s tales. A turn of the page has a one-third double-page spread showing the devastation that’s fallen upon Albion. Corpses, riderless horses, ravens feasting, ruins, and plenty of blood explicitly show the destruction. Percivale looks marvelously lost as he makes his way; his hair unkept, his cloak in tatters, and his eyes unopening. It’s as if he’s guided to his goal by faith alone. The interiors of the castle are as broken as the knight’s soul. The Siege Perilous is the only unmarred object and it’s beautiful. These first five pages by Colak set the stage brilliantly for the slow march to destruction. The setting on Page 6 is gorgeous, resembling a tourist destination of the present day. The larger character in this setting is a monstrous fright. On 10 the character has assumed a new look and the third panel shows him making a delightfully sick adjustment. More disturbing is the action on 13 and 14, which is so subtle, which it needs to be for the characters present, only the text reveals the horror occurring. The other full-page splash is on 18 and it features the Lady of the Lake. She is one of the most iconic supernatural characters in literature and Colak gets to make her truly supernatural on this page. The characters look great, the settings are epic, and the horrors terrible, yet create such a feeling of awe one gets drawn into the image to cement the abomination before him or her. Colak is outstanding. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Considering all the horrors that this book holds, Maria Santaolalla colors this book brightly. This delivers the pageantry the reader expects from an Arthurian tale, allowing the horrors to creep in with darker colors. The book opens in a soothing green, showing the items underwater. It’s a beautiful image with the colors lulling the reader to a calm state, allowing the harsh browns and rusts on the following two pages to shock the reader. Notice how violets appear once Percivale is within the castle; it’s the color that symbolizes royalty. When Percivale opens his eyes they’re shown to be a pale blue, connoting sadness. The setting on Page 6 is beautiful in its blues and greens, while the individual who waits at this location is a dirty brown, emphasizing his climb from below the earth. There’s also a sly return to the Percivale’s eye color on 8, suggesting that all who are lost have this color for their eyes. Uther’s chambers contain violet curtains (a return to royalty) and tan walls and tapestries, aging the locale to show the length of his reign. The Lady of the Lake pages are set at night and finds Santaolalla using blues for the night and shades of violet for the two men in the boat. When the Lady is shown she is colored in the expected whites with her blonde hair flowing, but she is also violet, which puts a terrific spin on what constitutes royalty in this series. I’m really liking the coloring on this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Chapter headings, narration, weak dialogue, normal dialogue, a unique individual’s horrific speech, yells, and a scream comprise Simon Bowland’s contributions to this issue. The chapter headings are bold and look ancient, plunging a reader into the past from the get-go. A narration font needs to be different from characters’ dialogue and Bowland does that with this book. The weak dialogue uttered by a character is readable, but visually tells the reader that it’s barely audible. The darkest looking dialogue comes on Page 7 and matches the creature that utters it. Bowland is doing everything correctly. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: Holy cow is Unholy Grail awesome! The familiar Arthurian tale is twisted into blasphemous delights with beautiful art that hides no horrors. Successful in every possible way. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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