In Review: Unholy Grail #4

Wickedly entertaining reading with visuals that are classical and horrific.

The cover: This is my only qualm with this issue: I cannot tell who these three characters are on the cover. I’m assuming that the man at the top is Uther Pendragon, as he is the only one with ornamentation on his jerkin, and one of the two men at the bottom is Arthur. The figure at the top is emerging from a body of water. This scene occurs nowhere in this issue, so that adds to my doubt as to what I’m looking at. The characters and the coloring is fine, I just have no reference for who they are. The art is by Mirko Colak and the colors by Maria Santaolalla. Overall grade: C-

The story: This installment is split into four parts which start the downfall of Arthur and his kingdom. The first is “The Accusal” which shows Merlin, who is actually a demon wearing the skin of the fabled wizard, forcing a serving woman to give a special apple to Sir Ulfius as the knights have a rambunctious meal. He bites into the rotten apple, unaware of the maggots he also consumes. Once in his stomach, he rises up and grabs Queen Guinevere and tries to kiss her. Naturally, Lancelot rises to punish the man, but is stopped by Arthur. Swooping in to add her two cents is Morgana, “Guinevere knows her way around a knight’s groping, Lancelot. She doesn’t need you to protect her. If your king tells you to stay your sword…then that is what you must do.” Guinevere does evade the knight, but not before he accuses her of adultery and treason against the king, loudly proclaiming, “Why is only Lancelot to be blessed with her warm caresses in the night?” If a reader is familiar with the tales of King Arthur, then what follows won’t be surprising. However, writer Cullen Bunn puts an incredibly twisted spin on the events set in motion by the demon Merlin. I enjoyed the moments where Morgana or Merlin inserted themselves into the tale, and when they shared a panel on Page 14 the evil just bubbles off the page. Pages 18 and 19 have a truly horrific sequence and introduction to one of the most infamous characters in Arthur’s tales, but I’ve never seem him like this. The fall has begun and it’s going to get messy! Overall grade: A

The art: Mirdo Colak is the perfect artist for this series because he can create classical images that one expects of Arthur’s tales, but when he introduces something horrible or supernatural he shows himself to be equally adroit in creating memorable imagery. For example, when Merlin tells the serving girl to take an apple to the feast, Merlin looks as one would expect in the second panel: ancient, regal, robed, and knowledgeable. But notice in the third panel when he calls the girl’s attention, he’s emerging from the darkness. The look he gives her in the fourth panel is practically lecherous. In the fifth panel he disappears into darkness. Even if a reader is new to this series, Colak has shown that this character is not to be trusted. The close up on Page 3 of Ulfius biting into the apple is as disgusting as it can be, with the maggots in the apple, on the man’s lip and tongue. Not to mention the good amount of drool coming from his mouth. Yet in the final panel on the page it’s a classical image of knights eating at a table within a castle. What could possibly go wrong? Page 6 shows a beautiful couple in an intimate situation, yet all it’s beauty is wholly wrong. When a watcher of this action is approached by another, Colak uses a slight bubbling to illustrate magic at work. It’s not a big effect, but enough to be noticeable by the reader. Pages 10 and 11 have a character being slowly killed before a crowd and the action is horrific to look upon, with the horror increased by one individual’s reactions to its occurrence. The setting that sits atop 15 is perfection, and is a solid contrast to the castle in the opening pages. 18 and 19 is new to the legends of Arthur and is madness on a page; that smile in the fourth panel on 19 only made the action more deviant. I’m loving Colak’s work. Overall grade: A 

The colors: This story is supposed to be magical, so I expect the colors to capture the romanticism that idolized the Medieval period. Maria Santaolalla does this extremely well by using a wide variety of pale colors that both both highlight and age the visuals. The first page has Merlin in a faded violet cloak, the serving girl in a light green, and the fateful apple she is to serve as a golden bronze. The interiors of castle are peach, making the frivolity warm. The intimate couple are in a room whose walls are violet, echoing back to the colors Merlin wears, and a perfect blue is employed for water. A warm crimson is used for magic on the two pages that follow, but then that crimson erupts into a violent frenzy for the chapter that follows. Light red is used for 18 and 19 and is a wise choice because a darker shade would have made the action too disturbing to continue. Santalolalla is a good match for Colak’s art. Overall grade: A

The letters: Simon Bowland creates chapter titles, dialogue, narration, whispers, screams, and yells. The chapter titles perfectly capture the time period, looking bold and ancient. The narration is in a different font from the dialogue, which is the mark of a superior letterer, and something I expect. The whispers are nice, done under the breath as well as during a pained sequence. The loudest yell of the book occurs when someone proclaims another’s name and it rang off the page. Overall grade: A

The final line: The story of Camelot is twisted into something unnatural in this gloriously deviant series. The fall has begun for Arthur, though he doesn’t know that a demon has shaped his life’s path. Wickedly entertaining reading with visuals that are classical and horrific. Recommended. 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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