Camelot 3000: The Deluxe Edition hardcover collected edition
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Pencils: Brian Bolland
Inks: Bruce Patterson, Terry Austin & Dick Giordano
Colors: Tatjana Wood
Letters: John Costanza
Cover artist: Brian Bolland
Editors: Len Wein (original series) & Scott Nybakken (collected edition)
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $34.99 US/$39.99 CAN
I picked up a slightly dinged copy of this hardcover book at my local comic shop not too long ago. As someone who was around at the beginning of the direct-market comic shop in the early 1980s (even though I was a kid with no such store in my area), I’ve been aware of Camelot 3000 for ages, as well as the fondness so many who read the 12-part series when it was originally released have for it. The title was a landmark one, as writer Mike W. Barr attests in his introduction in this reprint collection. Predating Watchmen by a few years, it embraced the concept of a finite but longer-term series, later dubbed a “maxi-series” as opposed to a mini-series, and it represented material specifically developed for a more mature audience in the burgeoning direct market. I have no doubt that at the time, it represented an edgy and riveting bit of storytelling, but as someone reading it in the 21st century looking back, it serves more as a historical curiosity about the craft and business of comics, as well as a glimpse at the development of Brian Bolland as an artist. While I’m pleased to add this volume to my personal comics library, I’m also pleased I was able to do so at a significant discount. Those shelling full price for the book might be a bit disappointed.
Aliens from a hidden 10th Planet are invading Earth and have already established a foothold in the United Kingdom. A young man named Tom loses his parents as his family tries to flee to the haven of France, and before he can make his escape, he finds himself hunted by reptilian invaders. Seeking refuge in an underground tunnel, he happens upon the tomb of King Arthur, who, once awakened, brings hope to the planet’s population. After he gathers the reincarnations of select members of his Knights of the Round Table to his side, the group mounts a defence of Earth, but little do they know that they face old foes who’ve managed to survive for centuries as well.
Brian Bolland is a universally respected artist whose covers are always striking and often inventive. Among his more memorable stints as a cover artist have been on such titles as Wonder Woman and Animal Man, though he’s probably best known for his art throughout Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. The British artist first gained a following illustrated the adventures of Judge Dredd in England, and Camelot 3000 is the title that introduced him to North American readers. The style we’ve all come to know and love shines through here, but it’s not nearly as refined or smooth as what we’re accustomed to seeing from him. The explanations are clear: Bolland was still developing as an artist, but he also didn’t ink his own work on this series (due to scheduling, we’re told in the introduction).
As a result, Bolland’s influences are much more apparent in this earlier work than in some of his more recent efforts. For example, I was repeatedly struck by a strong Jose Luis (Deadman) Garcia-Lopez riff in the pages of Camelot 3000. I was sometimes reminded of the style of Paul (Fantastic Four, DP7) Ryan as well, but he was only beginning to work in comics when Camelot 3000 was first published. Bolland’s design work throughout the book is curious. There’s no real consistent look when it comes to the fashion of the year 3000. Clothing seems almost random in nature. Isolde’s harlequin-like outfit seems completely out of place, for instance, when compared to the more conventional suits that others in her work environment wear. Sir Kay’s oddball outfit never seems to make sense in the context of his compatriots’ more functional knight attire as well.
Another aspect of the book that’s distracting is just how un-futuristic Barr and Bolland’s vision of the distant future was three decades ago. They couldn’t have conceived of just how far we’ve come in that time, but as a result, some of the futuristic developments (or lack thereof) seem incredibly hokey as one reads the book now. The problem is that we’re not dealing with a story from the 1950s or ’60s, which may have seemed charmingly campy in similar circumstances.
The book isn’t without its strengths — ones that still hold up well even today. Barr offers some biting and direct political commentary in the form of a quartet of political leaders who represent different ideologies but remain equally corrupt. His vision of a future U.S. president may look like Reagan, but he behaves more like a twisted version of George W. Bush, making the writer seem unsettlingly prescient. Furthermore, the reincarnation angle offers some interesting opportunities for unusual but engaging characterization, especially when it comes to Sir Tristan, who’s reborn as a woman. The gender politics and social dynamics that come into play as a result make for some compelling scenes.
Camelot 3000 may have seemed avant garde in American comics in its time, but it certainly doesn’t seem so when one discovers the story today. To me, it served as a curiosity, though I must admit I was drawn more and more into the story as it progressed. Ultimately, I found the history that’s explored in the supplementary material to be far more engrossing than the dated vision of the future that serves as the backdrop for the plot. 6/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.