The wizard Merlin took Uther Pendragon's first-born to be raised in safety.

In time, as Merlin had foreseen, the child drew the sword from the stone and was proclaimed King of England.

Merlin was always a big-picture thinker. If he'd been a details guy, he might have noticed that the child was a girl.

Can Martha unite the land and usher in a golden age of chivalry, all while maintaining her secret identity?



King Mark is the greatest king who ever lived. Everybody loves him and wants to be just like him.

There is no knight in all of Cornwall who is stronger or more popular than King Mark.

Not any more, anyway.

All hail King Mark!

Hip-hip-hooray!

Hip-hip-hooray!

(Seriously, if you want to stay out of the dungeon, cheer louder.)



Martha's To-Do List:

  • Get Born.
  • Pull the sword from the stone.
  • Become King.
  • Fight wars.
  • Forge alliances.
  • Unite Britain.
  • Slay giants.
  • Conquer an empire.
  • Battle evil sorcery.
  • Assemble the world's greatest knights.
  • Set an example for the Round Table.
  • Become legend.

... a woman's work is never done.


Mark's To-Do List:

  • Become King.
  • Kill anyone who threatens me.
  • Kill anyone who's stronger than me.
  • Kill anyone who annoys me.
  • Utilise evil sorcery.
  • Destroy the world's greatest knights.
  • Undermine and betray the Round Table.

... a tyrant's work is never done.

Notes

Study Notes:

I take no responsibility for your grades if you chose to read this comic instead of the original text, nor if you read both and happen to find this version more memorable ;)
But for extra credit, I thought it might be interesting to catalogue the major divergences of the two. Some of these I’ve mentioned in the comments of individual pages, in a pretty ad-hoc manner. Sometimes it’s not even about changing the details but distilling the story, combining related events into one chapter and separating things that are unrelated but just happen to occur together. I’d like to think I’ve given each chapter a pretty clear and distinct focus.
If nothing else, maybe you can learn from my mistakes so your adaptations of classic literature won’t suffer the same problems.
I should also point out that the version of the text I'm using is based on the Winchester manuscript rather than the standard version as printed by Caxton. Though the differences are relatively minor, I just find this variant more interesting. Chapter 6, for example would have been much shorter otherwise.
I’d recommend reading each chapter of the comic in full before looking at its notes, since they are, by nature, spoilerific.

CHAPTER 1
  • Okay, lets start with the fact that Arthur is a boy in Malory’s version of the story. duh.
  • Also, Uther’s undercover mission is a little different. For starters, he’s not alone: Merlin and Ulf are disguised as Sir Jordanus and Sir Brastias, two of the duke’s knights. In fact, the whole thing was Merlin’s idea. Makes you wonder if Jordanus also had a hot wife. And it’s just a one-night stand, even if it’s a three-knight stand.
  • As soon as Uther marries Igrayne, the first thing he does is get rid of her children in classic evil-step-parent style. Morgan is sent away to boarding school at a nunnery, while Morgause and Elayne (a third sister who’s never mentioned again) are old enough to be married off. It didn’t seem important at the time, but it would have been so much simper if I’d followed the original story here.
  • I’ve depicted Hector as living a pretty modest life, but Merlin describes him as a lord with lands in many parts of England and Wales, and richly rewarded for fostering the king’s baby. The arrangement was in place for two years before Uther falls sick with a mystery illness and declares the absent Arthur his heir just before he dies.
CHAPTER 2
  • Okay, I made up most of the backstory here, but the bare facts of the tournament play out pretty much the same. Kay’s a freshly-minted knight with a missing sword, Arthur pinches the one from the stone to replace it.
  • As in many places with Malory, there’s a weird blend of magic and religion. The Archishop of Canterbury summons all the great lords to mass, on Merlin’s advice. The sword in the stone appears mysteriously while all the lords are praying in church. When none of them can budge it, everyone is invited to try - kind of like a very butch version of Cinderella’s glass slipper. Naturally only knights are eligible, hence the tournament. Then the ten knights guarding the stone are mysteriously asleep when Arthur shows up. Seems like Merlin’s stage-managing the whole thing pretty carefully, but it still takes nearly six months to get enough lords on side to declare him king.
CHAPTER 3
  • All the lords who ain’t with Arthur are agin him. A lot more happens here than I’ve included in the chapter.
  • There are actually several battles I’ve combined into one. The first attack by the six kings ends when the common folk rise up against them. Then they return with five more kings and sixty thousand men, only to be rebuffed again with the help of the French kings, and as they regroup word comes through that their own lands are under attack
  • The alliance with Ban and Bors is struck between these two battles, with a lot of back-and-forth across the channel.
  • I’ve kind of short-changed Kay, Lucas and Grifflet here, as well as the old guard like Baldwyn and Brastias. Some of their finest moments happen in these early battles and a tournament in between. But battle scenes are hard to draw and even harder to make funny, so tough luck for them.
CHAPTER 4
  • In Malory, this spans two chapters: the tail end of Merlin and the beginning of The Knight With Two Swords. Although it’s two distinct episodes, I think the recurrence of themes and characters makes them fit well together.
  • The damsel got her sword not from the Lady of the Lake, but from the great Lady Lyle of Avalon (who’s apparently not great enough to warrant another mention anywhere else). There’s nothing explicitly judgemental or fratricidal about it, other than what she wants it for.
  • Also, she visited King Royns’s court before Arthur’s, not after.
  • All the various grudges are as stated in Malory, though the flashback details are my additions. As is the weight I give (or not) to the Lady of the Lake’s claims.
  • If the late Sir Myles’s squire thinks digging a grave is rough, he should be glad he’s not serving Sir Balyn. Malory has Balyn taking the lady’s head as a trophy and making his squire carry it to show his friends in Northumberland.
  • The bit about Merlin’s powers is pretty much my own take. I mean, for someone who's consideed such an iconic wizard, he never really does anything overtly miraculous in Malory: he pretty much just does illusions (as in chapter 1) and knows secrets (like the king’s true parentage, or where to find buried treasure). Oh, and in the original, he’s the one who puts the knight in a magic slumber and leads Arthur to the lady of the lake to get the sword. So, you know, it’s pretty much disguises and chloroform.
  • I added the final page epilogue because it felt like a little closure was needed.
CHAPTER 5
  • Malory has the big reunion with Igrayne happen right after the coronation. I figured waiting would be more dramatic.
  • Okay, here’s the big one. Originally, Arthur’s sisters were a lot older. Morgause was married before he was born, so her eldest son is almost the same age as the king. Working the marriage of the sisters into the wedding storyline seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately it means that any stories involving their sons (and there are a lot) need to wait until the kids grow up. I’ve fudged a couple of chapters by cutting those roles (CH7) or substituting another character (CH8) - but ultimately this is the reason for fast-forwarding the timeline in chapters 6 and 9.
  • A lot more stuff happens at the wedding feast, but I’ve put that off until later, when I can give that adventure a chapter of its own. Also because it involves Gawayne, who’s yet to be conceived in my timeline.
CHAPTER 6
  • This is pretty much faithful to the original, except for the whole secret weapon aspect. And if anything, I’ve toned down the horror and gore.
  • The timing is also a bit different. I’ve combined all the continental adventures into one. Originally, the envoy to Ban and Bors happened right after the war with the 6 kings in Chapter 3. Then somewhere along the line he helps them out against King Claudas off-screen. The giant on the mountain is part of the same storyline as CH6, which comes much later in the chronology - like at least one generation later, maybe two. It doesn’t make much difference to this chapter though, except that the king would be middle-aged by now.
  • At the end of Malory’s version, the king only wants the giant’s club and mantle as trophies; he tells his knights to help themselves to the rest. Which makes sense for an established king, but not for a young up-and-comer with several desperate wars looming.
  • They also take the giant’s head down to the locals as proof he’s dead, stuck on the end of a spear. Considering the giant’s size, that’s either the world’s biggest, strongest spear, or the giant must have had, proportionally, a tiny little pin head.
  • The magic scabbard doesn’t make an explicit appearance. In the original timeline, it’s probably been lost by now.
CHAPTER 7
  • As noted in the previous chapter, I’ve combined multiple episodes and munged the timeline.
  • One result of that is that Launcelot becomes much older. Originally the initial contact with Ban and Bors happens before he was born, and it’s only after he grows up that Claudas is defeated.
  • In the original, the king fights the Romans on purpose after they send a second demand to britain for tribute (having had the first, when he was crowned, ignored.)
  • I’ve cut a lot out of this chapter. For comparison, the episode with the giant in CH6 is only about 10%, but I’ve given it as much focus as the other 90% combined. And I still think it’s the more interesting chapter of the two.
  • I cut out Launcelot and all the characters who haven’t been born yet. The original had a whole bit about Gawayne making friends with a rebel prince (which is exactly the same as a half-dozen of Gawayne’s other fights) and being sad when the romans kill a child who was supposed to be under his protection. I mean, even when Gawayne’s being a hero, he’s still an incompetent dick.
  • Any remotely historical context is stuff I’ve added. Huns, Goths, Vandals, assassinations, all that.
  • Oddly, in the original, the big battle comes nearer the middle, than the end, with the “Emperor” Lucius killed in France. Arthur’s message in the form of corpses is then sent to the “Potestate” - presumably the pope. Anachronistic over-estimation of the church’s power is pretty typical of Malory.
  • Kayne’s near-death experience happens pretty much like this, and Bedwer also goes down for the count, a classic “darkest before the dawn” moment. The magic scabbard doesn’t make an explicit appearance. In the original timeline, it’s probably been lost by now.
  • The rest is pretty much a procession through Europe, with cities varyingly buying the invaders off or throwing the gates open to welcome them, culminating with the pope crowning him Emperor
  • A few notes on the Roman History aspects: The timeline's a bit dodgy here too but I pretty much scheduled Martha's arrival to coincide with the aftermath of the Vandal invasion, since that's one of the few times it might be plausible for an army from the north to escape notice. Chlodio the Frank died in 449, Attila died in early 453, Aetius in late 454 and the emperor Valentinian III in early 455. The Vandal invasion and the death of Petronius Maximus happened about two months later. So it all kind of works out, as long as you don't look at things too closely.
  • The more observant among you might recognise Martha's new hat as the Iron Crown of the Lombards. Supposedly made for Constantine the Great around a circlet made from a nail of the True Cross, its history is a bit sketchy until it turns up in Lombardy a few centuries later. So who's to say this isn't what happened?
CHAPTER 8
  • Since the bulk of this chapter is focussed on character relationships based on personality traits and situations I made up, there’s not a lot to compare. But the invasion of the five kings is part of the original, and plays out pretty much as shown.
  • I did substitute a few characters: Pellinore leads the relief army in the original, not Launcelot, and Gawayne is making up the numbers of the king’s advance party instead of Lucas.
  • Gwen’s comment about all the ladies wanting Kay is virtually identical, and sounds even more out of place in the original context.
  • In Malory’s version, Bedwer and Lucas are brothers... but what better excuse to share a room?
CHAPTER 9
  • Here’s an example of rearranging a story to fit my chapter structure. In Malory, Balyn’s further adventures follow on directly from his appearance in Chapter 4. But that was more the story of the sword, so this is where we see what kind of dude he really is. Spoiler alert: not the kind of dude you want to spend a lot of time around.
  • It also gives me a chance to shift the focus for a chapter while parts of it still advance the main story, before we return to check out a new status quo.
  • Malory has Balyn meeting his brother only after the run-in with Launceor, Columbe and Merlin. To be honest, a lack of eyewitnesses would be more in keeping with the theme of the chapter, but I’d already brought in Balan at the end of Ch4. King Mark also shows up for some reason and arranges the dead knight’s burial under a massive stone monument, with the bulk of Merlin’s predictions being inscribed thereon.
  • Merlin seems to spend a good deal of his time going around putting magic gold writing on tombs. For instance, nobody knows Balyn’s name after he dies, so Merlin shows up to write in the relevant details. So far, so nice. But sometimes he gets carried away. Writing a prediction on Launceor & Columbe’s tomb about a future battle to take place at that spot is understandable - if a little tacky. But when Balyn buries Garlon’s second victim, letters mysteriously appear on that tomb the next morning telling the completely unrelated story of how Pellinore will be killed. It’s like when Merlin sees the future, he either has to tell someone or go out looking for a fresh grave to compulsively scribble spoilers on.
  • When Merlin shows up again in disguise, it’s actually something like the 5th time, though I’ve skipped over those events previously. Wizard or ninja? You decide.
  • Malory gives a stronger sense than I did of Merlin’s divided loyalties. The wizard really doesn’t want either Lot or Arthur to die, but when peace is no longer a possibility he decides to help Arthur. What with the way Merlin comes and goes, it makes me wonder if he’s been putting in face time at every king’s court to hedge his bets.
  • Though Malory (mostly in the words of Merlin) refers to King Pellam as being one of the holiest men in the land, it seems to be a very feudal concept of holiness, based almost entirely on ancestry and his collection of relics. Then again, maybe Merlin just doesn’t get morality.
  • The whole “swingers’ party” thing started as a throwaway gag, but on reading more about different versions of the Fisher King’s story, it seemed appropriate to stick with it. There’s a recurring theme across many versions that his injury is a punishment for some kind of lust-based transgression. Some versions have him maimed for marrying in violation of a celibacy requirement; in others he’s allowed to marry but the sin is in choosing his own wife rather than the one destiny picked for him. In all cases, the fact that he’s stabbed in the genitals is consistent and thematically significant.
  • After the tragic reunion of the two brothers, Malory has Merlin show up to write the story on the tombstone (as mentioned above), and also do a bunch of set-dressing to arrange the scene ready for the Galahad to find it. But since most of it doesn’t actually fit that well with the grail quest as written, I figured it was best to skip the whole epilogue.