Thursday, July 5, 2012

Science Fiction comics--Camelot 3000




There is perhaps no other science fiction comic book so rooted in mythology as Camelot 3000.

Back in late 1982...at least that's when I think it was...I saw a full-page ad in a DC Comic.  An unseen woman's hand thrust a broadsword up and out of a body of water.  The water was surrounded by a technical facility of one kind or another, possibly like a nuclear power plant.  A few onlookers watched from a mezzanine railing as the sword glittered in the light.  The ad copy read:

It was foretold that England's greatest champion will return in the hour of her greatest need.
It is the year 3000.  
That time has come.

Ok.  It got me.  That and the fantastic-as-always art of Brian Bolland.

In this year 3000, an overpopulated Earth has been overrun by alien invaders.  A young archeology student named Tom Prentice and his family attempt to escape and are pursued by these aliens.  The Prentice family air car is wrecked and Tom's parents are killed.  Tom runs and takes refuge under Glastonbury Tor and awakens the sleeping King Arthur, "the once and future king."  Arthur makes Tom his squire and the two travel to Stonehenge to release Merlin from imprisonment by the fae.  That task completed, the next order of business is to yank the sword Excalibur once more from its stone...which smashes up through the floor of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Once Excalibur is freed, all the souls of Arthur's Camelot become reincarnated.  While I am scientifically opposed to reincarnation, it does make for creative storytelling here as the Knights of the Round Table are now cast in futuristic...or rather really modern...roles.  Guinevere is an American military commander.  Lancelot is a French captain of industry and philanthropist.  Galahad is a Japanese samurai and a strict adherent of bushido.  Percival is a man who has been genetically altered into a giant.  Kay is a thug in Chicago.  Gawain is an ordinary man with a family in South Africa.

Perhaps most interesting is Tristan, who is a woman in Calgary engaged to a Canadian war hero.  Tristan's realization of a his change of sexes causes the character to examine gender roles and the treatment of women.  Isolde is still a woman in this iteration, so their inevitable love brings up issues of homosexuality and tolerance.  Rather forward-thinking for a book of its time.

Two things should be clear upon reading this so I don't believe I'm really giving any spoilers away.  One, all of the "soap opera," ins and outs of Camelot relationships still go on in this storyline.  Cheating, affairs, betrayal, et. al.  It all goes on anyway despite the characters attempts to stymie their destinies.  Second, everybody bands together to fight the aliens.  And why not?  Turns out the aliens are really being run by the sorceress and Arthur's old nemesis, Morgan Le Fay.

There are admittedly a few weak points to this limited series.  For example, there really is no originality to the aliens.  Yes, they're green, insect-like, and devoid of any real characterization or culture.  They also come from a "tenth planet" beyond Pluto (this was back when Pluto was considered a planet) which somehow no one ever discovered.  Even in the year 3000.  That's another thing.  "The year 3000" doesn't look altogether that much different than right now.  It just has more "Jetson's" aspects to it.  So much for The Singularity.

Despite all of this, I am still going to tell you that Camelot 3000 is worth your while.  Personally, I love new takes on old stories and mythologies.  This definitely qualifies.  It's an interesting character study to watch King Arthur attempt to adapt politically in this future world.  He is a monarch who now exists in a world that prizes democracy.  We see Tom Prentice, our "common man" anchor in this fantastic tale, take a Luke Skywalker-styled, Joseph Campbell hero's journey from a scared little boy to a man who leads the charge in the counter-attack on the tenth planet.  That and it's just a fun science fiction story, one infused with the swashbuckling of a sword and sorcery epic.  I mean, we see Excalibur cleave an atom in half and cause a nuclear explosion.

What more do you want?



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