Camelot 3000

The space fantasy Camelot 3000, by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, postulates King Arthur returning in the year 3000 in order to save the earth from alien invaders. With the staging and pacing, it’s as though someone said, “Let’s do a superhero story. Only in space! And with Arthurian knights!” But they kept the action and the outrageous plot twists (tamer these days, 25 years later).

Camelot 3000 cover
Camelot 3000
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Tom Prentice, fleeing from alien pursuers, stumbles across the tomb of King Arthur, who wakes and saves Tom. They raise Merlin from under Stonehenge and then set out to obtain Excalibur, which has appeared in the middle of the United Nations. Then they reassemble the reincarnated Knights of the Round Table. Guinevere is now Commander Joan Acton, Lancelot the richest man in the world, and his asteroid mansion New Camelot. Then there’s Percival, Kay, Galahad, Gawain … and Tristan, back as a woman. Her trauma at being reborn the wrong sex and her desire to have her “real” body back motivate part of the plot, with Arthur and Lancelot’s eternal love triangle with Guinevere complicating things as well.

For villain, there’s Morgan LeFay, still the same sorceress, wearing a bikini held together with a couple ropes of pearls. (Some things reflect the time they were created more than the future setting. Similarly, Guinevere’s short “royal gown” resembles a yellow cheerleader outfit.) Plus, various evil leaders have plots and counter-plots and traitorous alliances. It’s twist after twist livened with soap opera-style revelations and knightly mythology.

The dialogue is talky, with plenty of exposition, in the style of 80s comics. They were beginning to write for adults in those days, but they were still figuring out how to do it. Instead of trusting the audience to bring more to the table, often the approach was one of still explaining what the reader saw on the page but with bigger words and purpler prose. It’s fascinating to watch trust develop between the writer and artist as this maxi-series goes on. Barr mentions in his new introduction, covering the history of the project, that he learned to allow Bolland’s pictures to tell more of the story as he started watching pages come in.

The art is frankly stunning. Bolland has rarely done sequential art, and never at this length. Over 300 pages of his illustrations, inked by Bruce D. Patterson, Terry Austin, and Dick Giordano, make for an amazing cornucopia. This deluxe hardcover also includes his sketches and character designs.

It’s rip-roaring action! Pulse-pounding adventure! Stupendous excitement! Seriously, the epic twists make for a terrific escapist read.


10 Responses to “Camelot 3000”

  1. Mark S. Says:

    I didn’t think it held up very well. I read it recently and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did the first couple of times I read it.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Hunh. I never read it when it first came out, so I didn’t have any memories to compare it to. Maybe it does seem less interesting in that case.

    I was a little surprised it still was so entertaining to me now, after having only heard about it for decades.

  3. Ali Kokmen Says:

    “They were beginning to write for adults in those days, but they were still figuring out how to do it.”

    I concede that Camelot 3000 is largely an example of what some folks have called the “Heavy Metal” kind of Adult comics storytelling, where by “adult” they don’t quite mean sophisticated storytelling for a mature mind, but rather typical comics storytelling, but with some nudity and naughty bits.

    But I still have great affection for the story, for all the reasons you mention here. It’s relentlessly high concept. Its affectionate incorporation of various elements of Arthurian myth. Brian Bolland’s sequential work is gorgeous. Mike W. Barr offers up several elegant turn of phrase (I seem to hear “Excalibur can no more cleave truth from falsehood than a stick or a spoon.” ringing in my head as I type this.)

    Plus, of course, I’m lucky enough to have a page of Camelot 3000 original art in my collection, which I simply adore. (See http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=58294&GSub=8052 )

    Camelot 3000 is a bit cheesey. And maybe it doesn’t hold up as well as it did in the mid-80s. And maybe it’s not as great as some of the great comics that came after it. But I love it still, and if that’s wrong, then I, as the saying goes, don’t want to be right. ;-)

  4. dude Says:

    I collected this back when it first came out. The final issue took over a year from the 11th issue to be published!

  5. James Schee Says:

    I picked up a copy of the older trade collection of this last year at a Hal Price book store. I thought it was fun, nothing that wowed me but a fun little trip with an old favorite (the Arthurian characters) in a sort of new setting.

  6. Richard J. Marcej Says:

    I bought this series when it first came out in single issues as well. When I bought the hardcover a month ago I hadn’t read Camelot 3000 since that initial release.

    What struck me the most was how “rushed” the story felt. That, unlike today’s sloooooooow story telling, there were scenes that I’d hoped that Barr and Bolland would have spent more time with.

    Even though the art reproduction in the HC isn’t as crisp and clean as it should be, it was just SO great to look at all that gorgeous Bolland artwork again!

  7. Johanna Says:

    What a good observation. You’re right, that the audience expectations have changed a lot in terms of story pacing. In its day, this likely didn’t seem rushed at all.

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