I cannot look at this title and want to say “Camelot! Camelot! Camelot!”
“It’s only a model”
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to the comic.
Camelot 3000 is a book that has an interesting place in both comics history and my collecting history. As far as comics history is concerned, it was the first original series to be printed on Baxter paper (as opposed to reprints), it was DC’s first maxi-series, and was one the company’s earliest direct market series. It also took three years to publish twelve issue, with the cover dates between issues #11 and #12 being nearly an entire year. This, by the way, is mostly due to Brian Bolland’s taking nine months to draw the final issue.
As for my collecting history, I owned a few issues of this at one point or another, and had always been interested in collecting the entire thing. However, all I ever found in cheapie bins were issues from the middle of the run, and by the time October rolled around, I had issues #2-10. So, fed up and really wanting to read the entire series, I said, “Screw it. I’ll go to eBay.” Thankfully, I had money in my PayPal account from other comics sales and I also found the three remaining issues on the very cheap, so this wasn’t that much of a violation of my rules.
Anyway, with this in my hand, it was time to sit down and decide if it was worth the trouble. The story is that Earth is under siege by aliens in the year 3000 and after more than two millennia of sleep, King Arthur is resurrected. He seeks out Merlin, whom he frees from the trap that had been his final fate, and Merlin then tells him that his wife along with several of his Knights of the Round Table have been reincarnated in the year 3000 and they will be the key to helping the planet get itself out from under the extraterrestrial threat.
Behind it all is Morgan LeFay, the villainess of Arthurian Legend, and a reincarnated Mordred. They are doing what they can to manipulate things behind the scenes, especially by sowing the seeds of tension that have already begun to sprout–or re-sprout–upon the return of Arthur and his knights. Such tension includes the rekindling of the illicit romance between Lancelot and Guinevere, as well as Sir Tristan’s having been reincarnated as a woman.
For being the early 1980s, that idea of both gender identity as well as the return of Tristan’s lover Isolde (in the body of a woman), was pretty forward. According to the series’ Wikipedia page, Mike W. Barr has said that the other character in a love triangle with Tristan and Isolde–Tom Prentice, a young archaeology student who discovers King Arthur and becomes a member of the team as a result–was going to be a woman but that was nixed by Len Wein and the audience might not have been quite ready for it. I found it fascinating, to be honest, especially since Tristan is constantly upset at being a woman and that becomes a source of possible temptation to betrayal via Morgan Le Fay. Yes, it seems like she is whining about being a woman a little too much, but it seems to be in character considering that Tristan was a knight–an exemplar of masculinity–but the key to the story’s success is that she does not give into said temptation and eventually accepts who she is.
It is a subplot among a lot of different movie parts, so I think it could have had more panels given to it, and I wonder what it would be like if the series were written or staged (in some manner) today.
The rest of the story is just as good, especially the way that the famous Camelot love triangle unfolds. Arthur sees it beginning again, and both lovers are complicit in the affair, causing a schism in the ranks to the point where they are actually kicked out and have to live on Earth in their civilian identities. And that’s another thing that works well–while each remembers who they are, the lives they led are not forgotten. Gallahad is a samurai, Gawain is a family man who has had to leave his wife and son, and Tristan left her fiance at the altar. Those lives linger in the background or directly interfere (especially considering what Morgan does to Tristan’s fiance).
And the climax this leads to–a huge battle on a newfound tenth family in the solar system, which is Morgan’s hideout–is outstanding and beautifully illustrated with sacrifice and cinematic action that combines the science fiction with medieval battles in a way that is worth the time spent reading. Bolland has always been someone whose art I enjoy, and I dare say this might be my favorite work of his, probably because it has nothing to do with superheroes. Same with Barr, whose Batman I love. Perhaps not having to deal with characterization and continuity elevates it.
This is one of those series that, like I said, can be easy to find on the very cheap in pieces but some of the issues might elude you. There are collected editions and it is digitally available as well, and I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?