Throughout the '90s, Image Comics and its partner studios like Top Cow Productions created a slew of new characters who put original, refreshing spins on established tropes and genres. While most of these characters never reached the commercial heights of Marvel or DC heroes, many are still some of the most recognizable heroes of the decade.
One of the most fascinating characters of the era was Lady Pendragon. Created by Matt Hawkins in 1996's Lady Pendragon #1, the character and her time-tossed adventures fused Arthurian lore, religious imagery, fantasy and science fiction together in a distinctly '90s fashion that could only be possible on the comics page.
The story of Lady Pendragon really takes place over three time periods, beginning with the fall of King Arthur’s Camelot. The series jumps from past to present, foregrounding the events of the current day in the significance and lore of Arthurian legends. Hawkins' immense research really shows, with panels that contain deep references or quotes from philosophy, religion and myths like the world of King Arthur.
Gazing upon the bloody battlefield and the remains of the Knights of the Round Table, the disgraced Queen Guenivere finds and seizes the sword Excalibur. Upon grasping it, she is given its mystical power and a vision of divine importance. Guenivere then fights to unite her broken homeland against all who would usurp her or harm her people
In the present day, another mystical sword is inexplicably found upon the red surface of Mars during a space mission, and Jennifer Drake is swept up into an adventure that will change her life and the entire planet as well. Jennifer is a young woman born in America but who now resides in Britain. After being captured, she is informed that she is not only a descendant of the Arthurian line, but also the messianic one. This special bloodline allows her to pull out the mysterious sword on Mars from the stone in which it is embedded. Upon extrication, this sword, Caliburn, alters the Earth permanently, erasing its electromagnetic nature and reawakening magic in the world.
Naturally, an event of this magnitude has catastrophic global ramifications, and the planet falls quickly into a new dark age where technology largely ceases to function while ancient magical beings like dragons emerge. Jennifer is quickly drawn into conflict with foes like Mordred and Morgana le Fay of Arthurian legend. The pair have vile plans for Jennifer, but she is fortunately aided by a returning Merlin who mentors her and her growing power. Caliburn heals her wounds, grants her strength, and even guides her strokes, adding to her combat prowess.
More importantly, the sword serves to open her eyes to the presence of the goddess, the spiritual truth that connects all faiths and religions. Wielding Caliburn and ultimately Excalibur as well, Jennifer slays Mordred and puts an end to his plan to remake mankind in his image.
There is a final thread to Lady Pendragon, and this one lies in the distant future. Hundreds of years removed from the present, the world is split into warring factions, one led by warrior priestesses who ride dragons and worship the daughter of the goddess, while the other faction relies on advanced technology. In the midst of this tumult, the warrior Iseult is sent to the past to observe Jennifer Drake and attempt to obtain the Spear of Destiny. Said spear is also wanted by Morgana, and past, present, and future ultimately collide in a confrontation of epic proportions.
Jennifer’s adventures continue as she, Iseult and her future daughter meet in the future, where Jennifer helps put an end to the cult that has been committing atrocities in her name. Lady Pendragon would also go on to crossover with the likes of Alley Cat and More than Mortal, and she was even featured in a one-shot in Top Cow’s Pilot Season series.
While it's been over a decade since Lady Pendragon starred in her own title, she still stands as one of the most prominent Top Cow Productions characters of the '90s.