Prince Valiant volumes 1-3 Gift Box Set


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1 68396-072-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Ideal for anybody who ever dreamed or wondered… 10/10

Rightly reckoned one of the greatest comic strips of all time, the majestic and nigh-mythical saga of a king-in-exile who became one of the greatest warriors in an age of unparalleled heroes is at once fantastically realistic and beautifully, perfectly abstracted – an indisputable paradigm of adventure fiction where anything is possible and justice will always prevail. It is the epic we all want to live in…

On one thing let us be perfectly clear: Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is not historical. It is far better and more real than that.

Possibly the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived, Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday 13th February 1937, a glorious weekly, full-colour window not onto the past but rather onto a world that should have been. It followed the tempestuous life of a refugee boy driven by invaders from his ancestral homeland of faraway Thule who persevered and, through tenacity, imagination and sheer grit, rose to become one of the mightiest heroes of the age of Camelot.

As depicted by the incredibly gifted Foster, this noble scion would, over the years, grow to mighty manhood helming a heady sea of wonderment; roaming the globe and siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes whilst captivating and influencing generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

There have been films, cartoon series and all manner of toys, games and collections based on the feature – one of the few newspaper strips to have lasted from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (well over 4000 episodes and counting) and, even in these declining days of newspaper cartooning, it still claims over 300 American papers as its home.

Foster produced the strip, one spectacular page a week until 1971, when, after auditioning such notables as Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, Big Ben Bolt artist John Cullen Murphy was selected to draw the feature. Foster carried on as writer and designer until 1980, after which he fully retired and Murphy’s son took over scripting duties.

In 2004 Cullen Murphy also retired (he died a month later on July 2nd) but the strip soldiered on under the extremely talented auspices of artist Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz and latterly Thomas Yeates, conquering one more exotic land by making it onto the world wide web.

The first three exquisite oversized hardback volumes (362 x 268mm) are available as a monumental gift set nobody could resist. They reprint in glorious colour – spectacularly restored from Foster’s original printer’s proofs – the princely pristine Sunday pages cumulatively spanning February 1937 to 20th December 1942: six years of formative forays of an instantly impressive tale which promised much and delivered far more than anybody might have suspected during those dim and distant days…

 

Volume 1 opens with editor Brian M. Kane’s informative picture and photo-packed potted history of ‘Harold Rudolf Foster: 1892-1982’ after which Fred Schreiber conducts ‘An Interview with Hal Foster’ – as first seen in Nemo: The Classic Comics Magazine (1984).

Moreover, after the superb Arthurian epic exploits of the quintessential swashbuckling hero which follows, this initial collection is rounded off by Kim Thompson’s discourse on the many iterations of reprints over the years and around the world in ‘A History of Valiants’

The actual action-packed drama then commences in distant Scandinavia as the King of Thule, his family and a few faithful retainers dash for a flimsy fishing boat, intent only on escaping the murderous intentions of a usurper’s army.

Their voyage carries them to the barbarous coast of Britain to battle bands of wild men before securing a safe retreat in the gloomy fens of East Anglia. After many hard fights they reach an uneasy détente with the locals and settle into a harsh life as regal exiles…

The young Prince Valiant is but five years old when they arrive and his growing years in a hostile environment toughen the boy, sharpen his wits and give him an insatiable taste for mischief and adventure.

He befriends a local shepherd boy and together their escapades include challenging the marauding ancient dinosaurs which infest the swamp, battling a hulking man-brute and bedevilling a local witch. In retaliation the hag Horrit predicts that Val’s life will be long and packed with incredible feats… but always tainted by great sorrow.

All that, plus the constant regimen of knightly training and scholarly tuition befitting an exile learning how to reclaim his stolen kingdom, make the lad a veritable hellion, but everything changes when his mother passes away. After a further year of intense schooling in the arts of battle, Valiant leaves the Fens and make his way in the dangerous lands beyond…

Whilst sparring with his boyhood companion, Val unsuspectingly insults Sir Launcelot who is fortuitously passing by. Although the noble warrior is sanguine about the cheeky lad’s big mouth, his affronted squire attempts to administer a stern punishment and is rewarded with a thorough drubbing. Indeed, Launcelot has to stop the Scion of Thule from slitting the battered and defeated man’s throat.

Although he has no arms, armour, steed or money, Valiant swears that he too will be a Knight…

Luck is with the Pauper Prince. After spectacularly catching and taming a wild stallion, his journey is interrupted by gregarious paladin Sir Gawain, who shares a meal and regales the boy with tales of chivalry and heroism. When their alfresco repast is spoiled by robber knight Sir Negarth who unfairly strikes the champion of Camelot, Val charges in. Gawain regains consciousness to find the threat ended, Negarth hogtied and his accomplice skewered…

Taking Val under his wing, wounded Gawain escorts the boy and his prisoner to Camelot, but their journey is delayed by a gigantic dragon. Val kills it too – with the assistance of Negarth – and spends the rest of the trip arguing that the rogue should be freed for his gallantry…

Val is still stoutly defending the scoundrel at the miscreant’s trial before King Arthur, and is rewarded by being appointed Gawain’s squire. Unfortunately, the lad responds badly to being teased by the other knights-in-training and quickly finds himself locked in a dungeon whilst his tormentors heal and the remaining Knights of the Round Table ride out to deal with an invasion of Northmen…

Whilst the flowers of chivalry are away, a plot is hatched by scheming Sir Osmond and Baron Baldon. To recoup gambling debts, they capture and ransom Gawain, but have not reckoned on the dauntless devotion and ruthless ingenuity of his semi-feral squire.

Easily infiltrating the bleak fortress imprisoning the hero, Val liberates his mentor through astounding feats of daring and brings the grievously wounded knight to Winchester Heath and Arthur…

As Gawain recuperates, he is approached by a young maiden. Ilene is in need of a champion and – over his squire’s protests – the still gravely unfit knight dutifully complies. Val’s protests might have been better expressed had he not been so tongue-tied by the most beautiful girl he has ever seen…

The quest to rescue Ilene’s parents is delayed when an unscrupulous warrior in scarlet challenges them, intent on possessing the lovely maiden. Correctly assessing Gawain to be no threat, the Red Knight does not live long enough to revise his opinion of the wild-eyed boy who then attacks him…

Leaving Ilene and the re-injured Gawain with a hermit, Valiant continues on alone to Branwyn Castle, recently captured by an “Ogre” who is terrorising the countryside. Through guile, force of arms and devilish tactics the boy ends that threat forever.

This is an astonishing tour de force of graphic bravura that no fan could ever forget. Aspiring cartoonist Jack Kirby certainly didn’t: he recycled Val’s outlandish outfit used to terrorise the Ogre’s soldiers as the visual basis for his 1970s horror-hero Etrigan the Demon

Having successfully routed the invaders and freed Ilene’s family, Val begins earnestly courting the grateful girl. His prophecy of lifelong misery seems assured however, when her father regretfully informs him that she is promised to Arn, son and heir of the King of Ord

Even before that shock can sink in, Valiant is called away again. Ailing Gawain has been abducted by sorceress Morgan le Fey, who is enamoured of the knight’s manly charms…

When Val confronts her, she drugs him with a potion and he endures uncounted ages in her dungeon before escaping. Weak and desperate, he makes his way to Camelot and enlists Merlin in a last-ditch ploy to defeat the witch and save his adored mentor…

In the meantime, events have progressed and Val’s bold plans to win Ilene are upset when invitations to her wedding arrive at Camelot. Initially crushed, the resilient youth determines to travel to Ord and challenge Prince Arn for her hand.

Their meeting is nothing like Val imagined but, after much annoying interference, he and the rather admirable Arn finally engage in their oft-delayed death-duel, only to be again distracted when news comes that Ilene has been stolen by Viking raiders…

What follows is another unparalleled moment of comics magnificence as Valiant sacrifices everything for honour, gloriously falls to superior forces, wins possession of Flamberge (the legendary Singing Sword which is brother to Excalibur), is captured and then reunited with Ilene… only to lose her again to the cruellest of fates…

After escaping from the Vikings and covering himself with glory at the Lists in Camelot – although he doesn’t realise it – the heartsick, weary Prince returns to his father in the melancholy Anglian fens, again encountering ghastly Horrit and nearly succumbing to fever.

When he recovers months later, he has a new purpose: he and his faithful countrymen will travel to Thule and rescue the nation from the cruel grip of usurper Sligon. Unfortunately, during the preparations Valiant discovers his region of Britain has been invaded by Saxons and is compelled by his honour to race to Camelot and warn Arthur…

To Be Continued…

(Volume 1: All comics material © 2009 King Features Syndicate except Tarzan page, © 2009 ERB Inc. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 2 reprints in the perfectly-restored Sunday pages from January 1st 1939 to 29th December 1940, following Sir Gawain’s extremely capable squire as he rushes to warn Camelot of invasion by rapacious Saxons via the vast Anglian Fens. Here the Royal Family of Thule have hidden since being ousted from their Nordic Island Kingdom by the villainous usurper Sligon.

After a breathtaking battle which sees the Saxons repulsed and the battle-loving boy-warrior knighted upon the field of victory, Valiant begins a period of globe-trotting through the fabled lands of Europe just as the last remnants of the Roman Empire is dying in deceit and intrigue.

Firstly, Val returns to Thule and restores his father to the throne, narrowly escaping the alluring wiles of a conniving beauty with an eye to marrying the Heir Apparent. Soon bored with peace and plenty, the roving royal wildcat then encounters a time-twisting pair of mystical perils who show him the eventual fate of all mortals. Sobered but not daunted, he makes his way towards Rome, where he will become unwittingly embroiled in the manic machinations of the Last Emperor, Valentinian.

Before that however, he is distracted by an epic adventure that would have struck stunning resonances for the readership at the time. With episode #118 (14th May 1939) Val joins the doomed knights of mountain fortress Andelkrag, who alone and unaided hold back the assembled might of the terrifying hordes of Attila the Hun currently decimating the civilisations of Europe and now gathered to wipe out its last vestige.

With Hitler and Mussolini hogging the headlines and Modern European war seemingly inevitable, Val shares the Battle of Decency and Right against untrammelled Barbarism. His epic struggle and sole survival comprise one of the greatest episodes of glorious, doom-fated chivalry in literature…

After the fall of the towers of Andelkrag, Valiant made his way onward to diminished Rome, picking up a wily sidekick in the form of cutpurse vagabond Slith. Once more he is distracted and delayed by dastardly Huns. The indomitable lad resolves to pay them back in kind, gathering dispossessed victims of Hunnish depredations and forging them into a resistance army of guerrilla-fighters – the Hun-Hunters…

Thereafter he liberates the vassal city Pandaris, driving back the invaders and their collaborator allies in one spectacular coup after another.

Valiant eventually reunites with equally action-starved Round Table companions Sir Tristram and Sir Gawain to make fools of the Hun, who have lost heart after the death of their charismatic leader Attila (nothing to do with Val, just a historical fact). When Slith falls for a beauteous warrior princess, the English Knights leave him to a life of joyous domesticity and move ever on.

An unexpected encounter with a giant and his unconventional army of freaks leads to the heroes inadvertently helping a band of marshland refugees (from Hunnish atrocity) before establishing the nation-state of Venice until at long last – after a after a side-trip to the fabulous city of Ravenna – the trio cross the fabled Rubicon and plunge into a hotbed of political tumult.

Unjustly implicated in a web of murder and double-dealing, the knights barely escape with their lives and split up to avoid pursuit. Tristan goes back to England and a star-crossed rendezvous with the comely Isolde, Gawain takes ship for fun in Massilia and Valiant, after an excursion to the rim of fiery Vesuvius, boards a pirate scow for Sicily and further adventure.

To Be Continued…

(Volume 2: Prince Valiant © 2009 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 3 of the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived offers the Sunday pages from January 5th 1941 to 20th December 1942, but only after erudite foreword ‘Modestly, Foster’ by Dan Nadel.

The action opens in the shadow of fiery Vesuvius as Val’s vessel is attacked by self-proclaimed Sea-King Angor Wrack. Even our fierce warrior-prince’s martial might is insufficient against insurmountable odds and the young Lord is captured and enslaved, his fabled Singing Sword confiscated by the victorious pirate.

Thus begins an astonishingly impressive chapter in the hero’s history. Val becomes a galley slave, escapes and washes up, starving and semi-comatose on the lost shores of the Misty Isles. Delirious, he glimpses his future wife Queen Aleta when she re-provisions his boat before casting him back to the sea’s mercies.

The Misty Isles are secure only because of their secret location and the noble girl has broken a great taboo by sparing the shipwrecked lad. Replenished but lost, Val drifts helplessly away but resolves that one day he will discover again the Misty Isles and the enigmatic Aleta…

Eventually he is picked up by more pirates, but overwhelms the captain and takes charge. Finding himself in the island paradise of Tambelaine courting the daughters of the aged King Lamorack, Val encounters Angor Wrack once again, but fails to recover the Singing Sword, precipitating an extended saga of maritime warfare and spectacular voyaging across the Holy Land from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The vendetta results in both Angor and Val being taken by Arab slavers, but the boy nobly allows Wrack to escape whilst he battles the Bedouin hordes…

Enslaved in Syria, Val’s indomitable will and terrifying prowess are insufficient to his need so he seduces his owner’s daughter to effect an escape, only to stumble into a marital spat between the region’s greatest necromancer and his tempestuous bride.

Reaching Jerusalem, Val finally regains his beloved sword and settles all scores with Angor Wrack before determining to return to the hidden Misty Isles, but once again falls afoul of the pirates infesting the region. After incredible hardships, he is reunited with Aleta but fate drags them apart once more and he departs alone and despondent.

Not for long though, as on reaching Athens he meets the far-larger-than-life Viking Boltar: a Falstaff-like rogue and “honest pirate”. Together they rove across the oceans to the heart of the African jungles…

Securing a huge fortune, their Dragonship reaches Gaul and Val is finally reunited with Gawain. After settling a succession of generational feuds between knights and defeating a seductive maniac, the paladins at last return to Britain courtesy of Boltar, just in time to be dispatched by Arthur to the far North to scout Hadrian’s Wall and see if it can still keep the belligerent Picts out.

Unfortunately, libidinous Gawain abandons Val and the lad is captured by Caledonian wild-men and their new allies – a far nastier breed of Vikings intent on conquering England. Tortured almost unto death, the Prince is saved by the ministrations of Julian – a Roman warrior who has seemingly safeguarded the wall for centuries…

When he is recovered, Prince Valiant begins to inflict a terrible and studied revenge upon his tormentors…

To Be Continued…

Rendered in an incomprehensibly lovely panorama of glowing art, Prince Valiant is a lyrical juggernaut of stirring action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending realistic fantasy with sardonic wit, and broad humour with unbelievably dark violence (the closing text feature ‘Too Violent for American Dog Lovers’, reveals a number of censored panels and changes editors around the world inflicted upon the saga during this period).

Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, Foster’s magnum opus is a World Classic of storytelling, and this magnificent collection is something no adventuresome fan can afford to be without.

(Prince Valiant volume 3 © 2011 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2011 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved).
Gift Set © 2017 King Features Syndicate. Published by Fantagraphics Books.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 12: 1959-1960


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-876-2

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur premiered on Sunday February 13th 1937: a fabulous full-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to produce something greater than both. Creator Hal Foster had developed the feature after leaving a groundbreaking and astoundingly popular run on the Tarzan of the Apes strip he had pioneered.

Prince Valiant offered action, adventure, exoticism, romance and a surprisingly high quota of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked barbarians played out against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages backdrop. The weekly-unfolding epic followed the life of a refugee lad driven from his ancestral Scandinavian homeland of Thule who grew up to roam the world, attaining a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Foster wove his complex epic romance over many decades, tracing the progress of a feral wild boy who became a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, avenger and ultimately family patriarch through a constant storm of wild, robust and joyously witty wonderment. The restless champion visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, thereby enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The strip spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections. Prince Valiant was – and is – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end-times of newspaper strips as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster soloed on the feature until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator whilst the originator remained as writer and designer. That ended in 1980, when he finally retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of other extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates & Mark Schultz.

This latest luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback re-presents pages spanning January 4th 1959 to 25th December 1960 (individual pages #1143-1246) but before proceeding, clears the palate for adventure with Neal Adams’ erudite, illustration-strewn Introduction ‘Learning to Love Hal Foster’.

At the other end of this titanic tome Brian M. Kane continues to explore the master’s commercial endeavours with a lavish exhibition of stunning colour and monochrome illustrations revealing the rugged outdoors life through ‘Hal Foster’s Advertising Art: Johnson Outboard Motors’, but captivating as they are, the real wonderment is, as ever, the unfolding epic that precedes them…

What Has Gone Before: Having brought Christianity to Thule and repelled an invasion of England by Saxons and Danes, Val was despatched by Arthur Pendragon to Cornwall to root out treacherous local kings. Helping true love find its natural course, Valiant acquired a canny new squire in the form of homely yet brilliant Alfred of Lydney. The Prince cleared up the Cornish conspiracy – almost at the cost of his sacrosanct honour – and returned to Camelot after making the acquaintance of the most beautiful horse in the world…

Possessing the red stallion almost caused another war with the Northmen, after which Val returned to his Scandinavian homeland of Thule to reconnect with his family once more.

The reunion was brief, joyous and bittersweet, as the absent father saw how much his children had grown and realised the painful cost of a life of duty. He bid son Arn farewell as the lad was shipped off to enter the household of regal ally King Hap-Atla even as that ruler’s heir became foster-son and page to Valiant’s sire King Aguar.

Peaceful days were few and when a regal summons came from Camelot, the family again took ship. This time the call was for dutiful wife Aleta who blithely entered a hornets’ nest when aging Queen Guinevere was gravely offended by the young beauty’s popularity with the Courtiers and plotted to win an imagined war of favourites…

Valiant was elsewhere employed, leading Arthur’s armies against Danes and Saxons occupying Kent and Sussex. With war brewing again, Val sidelined aging Alfred in favour of young, vigorous and keen martial assistants Edwin and Claudius – a kind act he would later regret, as he did his brief and costly sojourn in the thieves’ paradise called London

Back in Camelot, a war of wills and clash of personalities between Queens Guinevere and Aleta was settled by most remarkable means, but Valiant still found little time for rest. His beloved friend Gawain had vanished and the trail led straight into the wilds of unruly Wales…

Employing Welsh knight Sir Ian Waldoc as guide and following an unearthly vision provided by largely-vanished mage Merlin, Valiant went westwards disguised as a troubadour, eventually fetching up at the forbidding castle of terrible King Oswick and his five beautiful daughters…

This twelfth knight’s collation resumes as jongleur Cid ingratiates himself at Oswick’s court, offsetting suspicions by feigning a paralysing love for strong liquor whilst scouting out the location of the captive Gawain.

Valiant finds his old comrade pent in a high tower at the very top of the castle, and forms a most dangerous and ingenious scheme involving guile, subterfuge, split-second timing, daredevil acrobatics and the elder chevaliers’s uncanny knack of enchanting women…

With Gawain free once more, the old pals and friendly rivals opt to compete in the Hamlin Garde tournament, but before they can even begin, Val falls foul of a sadistic noble named Coth whose bruised pride leads him to attempt murder most foul through vile assassins.

The monster also has intentions upon heiress Lady Alice of Hamlin, but has not noticed how much Val resembles that noble maid’s preferred suitor Kerwin

As the tourney plays out many men fall – Coth’s hired killers less noticeably than most – and the villain’s plans to destroy Kerwin fail once Val replaces the young suitor in mortal combat against the murderous malefactor…

With justice triumphant and true love secured, Gawain and Valiant spend calm but provender-poor days roaming the vast Salisbury Plain, and the younger man revels in teaching his civilised elder the tricks peasants use to feed themselves: tactics learned whilst the Prince was a boy growing up in coastal marshes. Unimpressed, Gawain instead cajoles their way into the retinue of a Great Lady’s passing baggage-train and thus embroils them in another saga of thwarted romance…

Impoverished Count Rathford has been forced to betroth his daughter Joan to Hume, heir to the House of Amesbridge to save his estate and dependent vassals. His headstrong child, however, has fallen in love with a lowly squire and plans to elope with him. When the “peasant’s” true station is revealed, however, rather than joy, Joan erupts in incandescent fury at being gulled and events take an even stranger turn after the estranged lovers both fall under Gawain’s reluctant care: the boy as his new squire and she as a far-from-devoted chattel…

Joan’s ever-increasing ire is only expended when the strange party reaches Camelot and artful Queen Aleta takes Joan under her wing…

Happy to avoid further domestic contention of any sort, Valiant undertakes a commission from King Arthur to wipe out a nest of outlaws plaguing the lands of the Earl of Lithway. Accompanied by former bandit-turned-forester Hugh the Fox, the canny Prince makes his way to the beleaguered demesne only to discover the situation is not what has been reported.

The Earl claims his tithes to Arthur were stolen by the errant woodsmen, but the men in the forest tell a different story: one of tyranny, torture, dispossession and oppression…

Acutely aware of evil when he sees it, Val determines to set the situation aright and see justice and order return to Lithway…

With Aleta increasingly aggrieved at Valiant’s wanderlust and neglect, tensions boil over in the apartments of the Prince of Thule, but it is not enough to stop her husband again heading out on a Royal Quest: perhaps the most crucial in Camelot’s troubled history…

In recent years the Knights of the Round Table have become obsessed with the search for the Holy Grail. Now Arthur, seeing his best and bravest constantly lost or maimed in search of it, charges Valiant with proving once and for all whether the story of the sacred cup is fact or myth…

The search takes Val the length and breadth of the nation, consulting wise men and wizards and eventually brings him to the Mendip hills in search of an island called Avalon. En route he exposes a cave troll as a broken-limbed victim of man’s cruelty and learns the poor soul once lived in Avalon, a marshy island housing three hills, Wearyall, the Great Tor and Glastonbury

Guided there by grateful, maimed Och, Valiant finds a Papal mission from Rome building a cathedral, and learns from a lay brother the official story of the Grail, but before he can question further the encampment is attacked by cruel raider chieftain Timmera the Terrible

Barely fighting off the marauder’s forces, the clerics immediately begin repairing the damage caused to their holy project, but Valiant resolves to help them by ending the predator threat forever. In this he is aided by Och, who was once the raider’s body-slave…

With the stunted man’s inside information, Val easily infiltrates Timmera’s fortress and brings down the monster’s army from within. On returning to Avalon, Valiant finds an old acquaintance from Ireland in charge of the reconstruction. The man now known as St. Patrick is happy to tell all he knows about the Holy Grail and the questor at last realises what he must tell Arthur…

Heading back, the warrior liberates a captive castle and finds time to play a splendid prank upon Gawain, but upon conferring with Arthur immediately sets off again to battle invading Angles and Saxons rather than attempt reconciliation with Aleta…

The war is brief and brutal and almost costs the prince his life. It takes a brush with near death to finally bring him and Aleta together again, and in the weeks that follow it is decided that the family will return to Thule for his recuperation. That period of painful inactivity completed, with son Arn in tow, the entire clan then head for Aleta’s ancestral kingdom in the Misty Isles, with Viking reiver Boltar providing escort to protect against the pirates of the Mediterranean…

Sadly, even in this sunny paradise peril dogs the family as rival ruler Thrasos makes clear his intention to add Aleta’s islands to his growing empire. The new Alexander, however, has never encountered as savvy a strategist as Aleta or canny tacticians like Valiant and Boltar and his dreams of a Mediterranean empire explosively founder against the devious ploys and armed might of the northern warriors, with even the elements conspiring to send Thrasos to the dustbin of history…

To Be Continued…

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a tremendous procession of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, it is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2015 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2015 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 11: 1957-1958


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-828-1

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur premiered on Sunday February 13th 1937, a fantastic and fabulous full-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to make something greater than both. Hal Foster had developed the feature after leaving a landmark, groundbreaking, astoundingly popular run on the Tarzan of the Apes strip he had pioneered.

Prince Valiant provided action, adventure, exoticism, romance and a surprisingly high quota of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked plunderers played out against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages backdrop. It followed the life of a refugee boy driven from his ancestral homeland in Scandinavian Thule who grew up to roam the world, attaining a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Foster wove his epic romance over decades, tracing the progress of a near-feral wild boy who became a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, vengeance-taker and eventually family patriarch in a constant deluge of wild and joyously witty wonderment. The restless champion visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The strip spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections based on Prince Valiant – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end times of newspaper narrative cartoons as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster soloed on the feature alone until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator with Foster continuing as writer and designer until 1980, after which he retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of many extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates with Mark Schultz (Xenozoic) scripting.

This latest spellbinding, luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback collection re-presents pages spanning January 6th 1957 to 28th December 1958 (#1039-1142) but before proceeding, clears the palate for adventure with Brian M. Kane’s erudite, illustration-strewn Introduction ‘Pal Palenske [M]ad man’, detailing the incredible career and achievements of Foster’s inspiration: designer, illustrator, equine enthusiast and ingenious PR pioneer Reinhold Heinrich Palenske.

At the other end of this titanic tome Kane curates a lavish exhibition of stunning colour and monochrome illustrations revealing ‘Hal Foster’s Advertising Art: Business and Industry’, but captivating as they are, the real wonderment is, as ever, the unfolding epic that precedes them…

What Has Gone Before: Having brought Christianity to Thule and been instrumental in halting an invasion of Saxons and Danes in England, Valiant has been despatched by Arthur Pendragon to Cornwall in search of traitorous local kings, under the pretence of attending the wedding of young knight William Lydney.

During the festivities Valiant uncovered a terrible miscarriage of justice and acquired a new squire. Unknown to Lydney and his bride Gwendolyn of Berkeley, their homely old steward Alfred was actually the knight’s elder brother and true lord of the manor.

Rather than shame his handsome sibling and a woman they both love, the noble retainer has chosen to leave his home and wander the world as Val’s servant…

With a domestic debacle averted Valiant resumes his true mission and travels to Tintagel to discover that the suspect local lords have banished all Round Table Knights from their domains even as rumours abound of Northern raiders being welcomed into the Cornish Kingdoms…

Stymied, Alfred offers a solution to their dilemma and, shaving his new master’s head, transforms the pretty prince into an itinerant Palmer, roaming the countryside exhorting warriors to take up crusading in the Holy Land. As grizzled veteran and zealot Sir Quintus, the noble spy rises in the esteem of the traitor-kings whilst wily Alfred learns the true situation from the garrulous servant class at the strongholds of Launceston and Restormel, but when their trek takes them to the heart of the conspiracy they find King Och Synwyn to be an utterly different kind of plotter: arrogant, devious and a sadistic psychopath who has mustered a horde of Dane, Saxon and Viking raiders into an alliance to take England by storm.

Utterly appalled by the task he faces, Valiant ritually forswears his sacrosanct honour and apparently pledges himself to the mad king; determined to corrupt himself to destroy the maniac’s plans…

The task is made easier as Och Synwyn needs field commanders for his army, but once “Quintus” is installed, he begins the old game of divide and conquer; briefing against the quarrelsome northern freebooters tenuously united against Arthur whilst inciting the deviant king to begin heavily taxing his barbarous allies in advance of all the looting they will profit from…

Before too long the uneasy alliance is at war with itself and all too soon the western threat is ended, but rather than rejoice Valiant is heavy-hearted as he makes his way back to Camelot, knowing that his triumph came at cost of his knightly virtue and he is no longer worthy of a seat at the Round Table…

His mood briefly lifts when passing mysterious Stonehenge where he meets a Druid priestess and is beguiled by the most beautiful horse in the world…

Pressing onwards he reports his success to Arthur and resigns, but is astonished by an incredible gesture from his comrades which restores his besmirched honour and allows him to make peace with his conscience…

Still ill at ease, Valiant leaves the fabulous citadel and returns to Salisbury Plain, resolved to own the magnificent red stallion he glimpsed. The quest is epic and extraordinary and the beast is a proven man-killer, but eventually the wrangler’s uncharacteristically gentle methods and patience win the day and the steed. Sadly that only causes more problems as the son of the man killed by the magnificent “Arvak” demands the beast be killed and will only be deterred by a joust to the death…

Horseflesh causes more trouble when Alfred meets Sir Gawain’s squires Pierre and Jex and the idle pranksters train Valiant’s other steed Mayflower to perform a succession of hilarious tricks. If only the unknowing prince had not decided to sell the beast to boorish, arrogant Saxon chieftain Halgar the Thunderer during a tense conference designed to ease tensions between the English and the constantly encroaching Northmen…

It takes all the hero’s charm and guile to prevent a fresh war erupting and as soon as the crisis passes Valiant decides it’s time he headed home to Thule to reconnect with his family once more…

The reunion is brief, joyous and bittersweet. The wanderer sees how much his children have grown and considers the cost of a life of duty: only just in time to bid his son Arn farewell as the lad is shipped off to enter the household of regal ally King Hap-Atla even as that ruler’s king becomes foster-son become and page to Valiant’s sire King Aguar.

The tradition is key to noble life throughout Christendom, but again Valiant realises how much he has missed…

Mirth comes to the fore thereafter as Arn moves into Hap-Atla’s palace and begins a tortuous love-hate relationship with his new lord’s spiteful, mischievous and prank-addicted daughter Frytha.

Back in Vikingsholm, Aguar is injured in a fall and forced to send Valiant in his stead to the five-yearly Council of Kings. Unfortunately many of the rulers at the conference believe the last-minute substitution is a sign of weakness and ambush the Thule delegation, proving a sequence of spectacular battles and Valiant’s epic overland trek back to safety.

…And after that there’s vengeance taken and betrayers brought to book…

Peaceful repose never lasts long and when a regal summons arrives from Camelot, the family again take ship. This time however the call is primarily for dutiful wife Aleta who gracefully enters a hive of hornets as aging Queen Guinevere takes offence at the young beauty’s popularity with the Courtiers and plots to end the imagined war of favourites.

Her husband meanwhile is busy with martial matters. Arthur has at last decided to move in force against the Danes and Saxons occupying Kent and Sussex. War is brewing again and as the warriors prepare, Valiant briefly retires aging squire Alfred in favour of two young, vigorous and keen martial assistants: Edwin and Claudius.

The former is an especial favourite of Aleta and her boisterous twin daughters Karen and Valeta

With Valiant as field commander the campaign is bloody but overwhelmingly successful but ultimate victory comes at an incomprehensibly high personal price. Moreover after saving thriving mercantile metropolis London from the marauding northmen, Val’s weary forces experience a nasty lesson in capitalism run rampant and basic ingratitude. Of course the Prince has an insurmountable counterargument to employ…

Back in Camelot the war of wills between Guinevere and Aleta is settled by the most remarkable of intercessionaries by the time the victors return, but Valiant has little time to rest. His beloved comrade Gawain has vanished and the trail leads into the wilds of unruly Wales. Employing Welsh knight Sir Ian Waldoc as guide and following an unearthly vision provided by largely vanished mage Merlin, the tireless champion heads westward disguised as a troubadour, eventually fetching up at the forbidding castle of terrible King Oswick and his five beautiful daughters…

To Be Continued…

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a tremendous procession of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, it is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2015 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2015 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 10: 1955-1956


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-800-7

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday February 13th 1937, a fantastic and fabulous full-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to produce something greater than both. Creator Hal Foster had developed the feature after leaving the landmark, groundbreaking, astoundingly popular Tarzan of the Apes strip.

Valiant provided action, adventure, exoticism, romance and plenty of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked plunderers played out against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages backdrop. It followed the life of a refugee boy driven from his ancestral homeland in Scandinavian Thule who grew up to roam the world and attain a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Foster wove his epic romance over decades, following the progress of a near-feral wild boy who grew into a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, vengeance-taker and eventually family patriarch in a constant deluge of wild and joyously witty wonderment. The restless hero visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The strip spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections based on Prince Valiant – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (4000 + episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end times of newspaper narrative cartoons as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster crafted the feature alone until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator. Foster continued as writer and designer until 1980, after which he retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of many extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates with Mark Schultz (Xenozoic) scripting.

This latest spellbinding and luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback collection reprints the pages from January 2nd 1955 to 30th December 1956 (#934-1038) but before we proceed kicks off with an illustration-strewn, memory-stuffed and erudite Introduction from contemporary adventure-strip master Timothy Truman in ‘Schooled by Foster’.

What Has Gone Before: Having brought Christianity to Thule and been instrumental in repulsing an invasion of Saxons and Danes in England whilst his wife Aleta single-handedly dismantled an incipient coup in her homeland of the Misty Isles, Valiant and his family make ready to return to Thule…

The eternal saga picks up as the voyagers encounter a slight problem. An upsurge of piracy makes sea travel all-but impossible and a rising of barbarian hordes from beyond the Danube has cut off overland routes through northern Europe. They are seemingly stranded until Aleta’s Viking handmaiden Katwin offers a solution.

Her father, a great seafaring king, sometimes plied an eastern route to Scandinavia via fabled Constantinople which his men called “the Long Portage”…

Soon a brace of well-stocked trade-ships are in the bustling trade capital and Katwin is rounding up Northmen homesick and bold enough to sign up for the risky venture. Before long the assembled crew, Sir Gawain and the astounded royal retinue are approaching Sevastopol on the Crimean coast of the on the Black Sea, readying themselves for the perilous trip up the Dnieper River and overland to the Baltic…

The journey is arduous and made worse when nomadic Ukrainian Patzinaks begin stalking the vessels from the banks of the river. Wary pursuit soon devolves into repeated archery assaults but war-wise Valiant and Gawain quickly devise suitable armoured defences – and even a few land-based counterattacks – and the trek continues.

The cautious progress hits a real snag only after one of the flat-bottomed ships breaks its mid-river mooring whilst Valiant and the majority of the crew are scouting ahead. It floats silently to shore in the dark night and in an instant the vigilant Patzinaks seize their chance.

Rushing the beached boat they capture Aleta – although she is quick enough to hide her children from them. The attending Northmen guards become berserkers and fall upon the Ukrainian raiders but are too late to stop some carrying off the golden-haired queen to their fortress.

By the time Valiant’s party return with the dawn the defenders have buried their dead and are preparing to follow the plunderers. As the enraged Prince leads a column of warriors across the grassy plains, in his dingy city the Great Dragda Khan is finding his glorious new captive far more than he can handle…

Once he is humiliatingly disposed of, Aleta than turns his ambitious lieutenants and potential heirs against each other and by the time her husband arrives to besiege the Patzinak stronghold his job is already half done…

When the Northern reivers finish sacking the city the journey resumes. Valiant wants to avoid any more delays but is convinced by his wife that they should spend time and money in the far more civilised bastion of Kiev where again Aleta’s diplomatic acumen comes into play when the bored and boisterous Vikings begin making trouble.

Departing with a third barge – packed with fabrics, brocades, booty and a flight of dressmakers – the voyage continues.

The pace slows however when the river dwindles and after Valiant is wounded hunting an Aurochs the travellers are forced to hire local natives to guide and even help carry the ships overland to the next navigable section…

Before too long – and after only a few murderous incidents – the boats and goods are hauled through a swamp to another river and the final leg of the voyage can begin. The crew are happy that now they will be going downriver but joy turns to fury when they are attacked by a party of far-travelled Swedish raiders from Gotland.

The already weakened Val almost dies and is relegated to a bed for the remainder of the trip, allowing Foster to reprise and embellish the story of Prince Valiant’s origins and earliest battles (as seen in volume 1 of this series), becoming storyteller to little Arn and his twin baby sisters…

By the time the flashbacks conclude the ships have reached Baltic salt marshes and the ecstatic travellers are preparing to cross the seas to their northern homes. Arn meanwhile has begun his martial training and his doting parents realise with horror that he is going to as headstrong, reckless and worrisome as his sire…

In mid-ocean a tense moment with three Irish raiders ends happily as the Celtic corsairs recognise Valiant from his memorable trip to the Emerald Isle and join him to create a formidable flotilla of seagoing might.

Gawain’s exceedingly homely, inept yet oddly effective servant Pierre experiences a joyous moment when the journey is almost concluded. As he and his master switch ships and divert course for Britain, the bumbler discovers his even dumber brother Jex is a slave at the oars of this new vessel. Before too long the glamorous knight is encumbered with two idiots, not one…

Val and Aleta meanwhile have concluded their arduous ordeal by sailing on to Thule and an exuberant welcome from regal patriarch King Aguar just in time to enjoy the beauty and bounty of a Scandinavian summer.

Seasons turn however and as autumn begins, the northern practice of overturning their ships and stocking up for the long hard winter begins throughout Thule. Ever eager for excitement, Val uses the time to explore inland from the populated coastal region, seeking suitable fields for the populace to cultivate, rather than depend on chancy fishing and raiding to supply their needs in the cold, infertile months.

His expedition is most fruitful as the search yields splendid unused meadows for arable and pastoral farming, lacking only suitable road routes to move people to and crops from them.

Whilst charting the region the party discovers a vast forbidding mountain and Arn falls in love. Amazed and beguiled by the daunting snow-capped peak, the little princeling simply must scale it and nothing his father can say will dissuade him.

Capitulating to the inevitable, Valiant grudgingly allows the escapade, taking some comfort from the fact that his little boy will allow doughty and taciturn Garm the Hunter to accompany him…

Honour and youthful independence upheld, the party returns to the coast and palatial Vikingsholm which is frantically preparing for winter. This soon entails a state visit to the nearby fief of Earl Jon for recreational hunting and bond-building. Even Aleta enjoys the hardy sports and endeavours – at least for the first day.

The second finds her and Katwin staying home to luxuriate in soft pillows and warm baths whilst the menfolk continue to prove their rugged manliness by shooting animals.

Thus the manor is practically defenceless when brutal and scurrilous Northern neighbour Gunnar Freysson and his son Helgi decide that they will supplement their inadequate winter stores by stealing everything the provident Jon has cached away.

If they leave no survivors, who will know that it was friend and not foe who committed the atrocity?

Striking when all the able-bodied men are away, the raiders meet with complete success until they confront Aleta. Taken aback at such a prominent potential victim, Freysson momentarily baulks, allowing the quick-witted queen to craftily light a signal fire.

With no other choice but concealment, the panicked raiders lock Aleta and Katwin in the house and fire it, intending that when the already returning hunting party arrives there will be none to accuse them…

However the rogues have not reckoned on Aleta’s quick wits. She finds a cunning way for them to survive and when Jon, Aguar, Valiant and the warriors storm in to quell the blaze they discover the women scorched but safe. On learning who is responsible they lay their plans for revenge…

As the raiders struggle over frozen mountain passes with their ill-gotten gains, losing many men and much loot to the artic conditions, Valiant and maimed shipwright Gundar Harl concoct a cunning plan. When the exhausted villains finally return to their hall they find their own women and children safely sequestered and vengeful men-at-arms waiting for them…

With Harl now the new lord of Freysson’s fief, the Royal Family return to Vikingsholm for the winter but little Arn is restless and still craves to prove himself. Arguing that the farmland Valiant discovered is useless without a safe route through the mountains, the crafty child campaigns long and forcefully that he be allowed to find one before the snows come…

Sustained pester-power wins out over parental concern and with faithful Garm at his side Arn sets off. What follows is a mesmerising 16-week epic of endurance and bravery to rival the best of Jack London as the old man and the indomitable boy scale mighty peaks only to be trapped in an unseasonably early blizzard. Having found the crucial route, the pair battle against phenomenal hazards with startling grit and ingenuity, and eventually man and boy struggle home to a rapturous welcome…

As winter cloaks the land old friends straggle in as the year turns. Aleta’s former maid Tillicum visits with her son and Viking husband Boltar, as does courtly scoundrel Gawain. All are aware that Arn is of an age when noble sons generally leave home for other houses to begin their long path towards knighthood. Gawain has come to escort Valiant to King Arthur’s annul Grand Tourney in celebration of Pentecost…

During the bombastic spectacle Val befriends a young knight named William Lydney, even accompanying the neophyte to his home in Cornwall as cover for his true mission for Arthur: ferreting out traitors and rumours of sedition in that troubled region…

Young William has the potential to be a great hero but is sorely troubled. He is utterly devoted to and wants to marry his neighbour’s daughter, Gwendolyn of Berkeley. Indeed, she is pledged to the next Lord Vernon but William’s succession to the title is not clear. There is an older brother, who by rights should hold the title, but he has been missing for years and the impatient younger sibling must prove him dead or wait years until he is of age…

The star-crossed love affair descends into tragedy and incredible sacrifice once Valiant and William’s devoted Steward Alfred unpick the mystery and discover a shocking secret. When the drama finally concludes Alfred leaves William’s service to become Valiant’s latest squire

To Be Continued…

Rounding out this gloriously chronicle are two more fascinating features on Foster’s pre-comics career as an advertising artist and the impact of his “Mountie” paintings on early 20th century American ads in the stunning pictorial essay ‘Maintain[ing] the Right [Stuff]: A Gallery of Hal Foster’s Mountie Painting’ and ‘Reclaiming Foster’s Mountie Legacy’ compiled and annotated by Brian M. Kane.

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a non-stop rollercoaster of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, the strip is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2015 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2015 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 9: 1953-1954


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-735-2

The stellar Sunday page Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur debuted on February 13th 1937, a luscious, luminous full-colour weekly window into a miraculous too-perfect past of adventure and romance, even topping creator Hal Foster’s previous endeavour, the astoundingly impossibly popular comics masterpiece Tarzan of the Apes.

The saga of noble knights played against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages historical backdrop as it followed the life of a refugee boy driven from his ancestral homeland in Scandinavian Thule who grew up to roam the world and attain a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Auteur Foster wove his epic tale over decades, following the progress of a near-feral wild boy who grew into a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, vengeance-taker and eventually family patriarch in a constant deluge of wild – and joyously witty – wonderment.

The restless hero visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes and utterly enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

There have been films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections based on Prince Valiant – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and counting) – and even here at the end times of newspaper narrative cartoons as an art form, it continues to astound in more than 300 American papers. It has even cut its way onto the internet with an online edition.

Foster crafted the feature alone until 1971 when illustrator John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator. Foster continued as writer and designer until 1980, after which he retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of many extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates with Mark Schultz (Xenozoic) superbly scripting. That scribe also provides this volume’s Introduction ‘More Than Pretty Pictures: Storytelling Beyond Genre, Gender, and Medium’ wherein Foster’s extraordinary facility with expressions and pioneering creation of strong and capable female characters is celebrated, analysed and explained by focusing on the artist’s astoundingly able wife and lifemate Helen.

This enormously entertaining and luxurious oversized (362 x 264mm) full-colour hardback reprints the pages from January 4th 1953 to 26th December 1954 (pages #830-933, if you’re counting) but before we proceed…

What Has Gone Before: Having negotiated a truce between Val’s Scandinavian nation Thule and the kingdom of Orkney, the restless Prince undertook his most momentous task yet. Bringing back missionaries from Rome at his father King Aguar’s request, the rowdy knight of Camelot began overseeing the nation’s slow conversion from Paganism and Druid worship to Christianity.

The job was not without risk with the missionaries and their regal escort (who was still far from a believer in the One God himself) encountering stiff resistance and worse from the Thor-loving populace – and especially their profiteering priests…

The saga resumes with Val and companions Helgi and Torr presiding over a tenuous truce between new and old faiths which is soon threatened after the Prince exposes the seeming “miracles” of the Thor priests for what they truly are. In retaliation the new Christian chapel is burned down, but the missionaries’ stoic acceptance and calm rebuilding impresses the masses far more than all the druids’ tricks and bombast…

Assuming their job completed Valiant and his men depart only to be caught in a terrible forest fire which only two survive…

Struggling home to his family, saddened Val monopolises all his wife’s attention and jealous first born son Arn acts up by leaving home to have adventures of his own. The little lad takes with him a hound of dubious pedigree and ancestry – dubbed Sir Gawain – and has a grand old time. Before true peril can threaten however the wanderers encounter an old friend of Valiant’s: another Round Table knight who is less than pleased to learn that he shares his noble name with a mangy, flea-bitten mutt…

A pleasant time of gentle recuperation amongst friends is capped by another birth as Aleta’s Amerindian maid Tillicum produces a first son for her Viking husband Boltar but marred by separation as Valiant’s wife is called back to her own kingdom in the Misty Isles to quell a rebellion. He is unable to join her when Gawain’s mission is revealed: the Danes and Saxons have invaded Britain in a vast army with unbeatable new battle tactics and now lay siege to Camelot itself…

Assured by Aleta that she can handle her crisis, Valiant and Gawain take ship and soon rejoin Arthur at Tintagel. The troubled monarch has learned that five kings of Cornwall are planning to ally with the invader Horsa and hopes the devious mind of the Prince of Thule can again trump overwhelming odds with keen wits and courage…

The campaign begins as Val impersonates a troubadour and sows treachery and dissent amongst the new allies. Soon one Celtic king is dead and the remaining quartet are frantically realigning with Arthur. With the defenders now united against the Saxons the long campaign to repulse them begins and once more the Prince’s unique and imaginative grasp of unconventional warfare is the defenders’ greatest asset…

With the tide turning, Val is surprised to be ordered away from battle to undertake another impossible task. Throughout Arthur’s reign the realm had periodically suffered raids from Ireland. Now they are a distraction England cannot afford and Valiant is despatched to the Emerald Isle to secure peace.

He has no idea how to accomplish the task but dutifully sails off, and gets into a fight as soon as he touches ground again. Happily his brawl with local chieftain Brian O’Curry impresses everyone so much that the boisterous hulking brute proclaims him a friend for life.

Soon they are travelling to capital outpost Cashel to meet current and pro tem overlord Rory McColm, but the journey is delayed as Brian’s clan encounters and has a quick war with a rival tribe. As Val learns from keenly observing holy man and Christian missionary Patrick, there’s nothing the Irish love more than fighting…

That also proves true when the visitor is finally granted an audience with the cruelly arrogant McColm, who spurns Britain’s entreaties and insults the infamously hot-headed Prince of Thule. Before long diplomacy is abandoned and a furious duel ensues. After Val ends all hopes of Rory’s retaining his crown – by defeating and mildly maiming him – the visitor becomes a harried fugitive running for his life…

With Brian and Patrick’s assistance Valiant escapes Ireland and heads for home where he meets Merlin who has an important prognostication for Arthur. Unfortunately before he can completely reveal it the aged mage is whisked away by enchanting temptress Nimue, leaving Valiant with nothing but frustrating fragments of a vital warning…

Rejoining the king as he struggles against the entrenched Saxons in Kent, Valiant finally deciphers the truncated message and goes about orchestrating the invaders’ ultimate defeat. The crucial first step is to allow himself to be captured and tortured by Horsa’s forces…

The scheme works perfectly and as deep snows give way to spring the crushed and starving enemy are driven from Britain’s shores, allowing the wily tactician time to wonder how his wife fares in sunnier climes. He is eager to join her but sworn companion Gawain has fallen in love with the wrong maiden – again – and by the time the affair ends all he has to show for it is a new, exceedingly homely, inept yet oddly effective servant dubbed Pierre

When Aleta arrived in the Misty Isles with her three children she found her sister and regent Helene increasingly under the sway of her husband Dionseus. The cagy thug had visions of turning the prosperous and peaceful trading nation into a piratical kingdom raiding and conquering the region. To achieve his aims he had slowly infiltrated the government, padding it with his cronies.

He has no idea of Aleta’s incomparable political acumen and astute manoeuvrings and, after failing to poison her and her heirs, somehow finds himself and all his mercenaries banished without a drop of blood being shed…

Humiliated and infuriated, Dionseus retrenches and begins planning his murderous return at the head of an invasion fleet, just as Valiant and Gawain finally arrive in the Misty Isles. Aleta, delighted to see them, has matters well in hand and prefers that they hang back and let her handle matters her way.

The Queen is grateful however for information provided by Pierre who, after a night of low carousing with servants in town, uncovers a plot by a coterie of nobles who plan to betray her for advancement in Dionseus’ men-only regime…

Eventually, outthought and overmatched in every way, the usurper is utterly defeated and bored Valiant grows even more restless as Aleta sets to reforming her kingdom so that such a coup can never threaten again.

After tedium leads to a ferocious domestic spat the Prince and Gawain resolve to get out of everyone’s hair and go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Of course, no sooner have they arrived in the Holy City than they find themselves in hot water after seeing the plight of a Christian knight.

Thanks to another drunken debauch by Pierre the sly truth is soon revealed. Sir Basil has been held in an impenetrable but easily observed dungeon for a decade: an unwilling Judas Goat used by Sheik Ben El Rasch to trap European knights who would attempt to rescue their fellow and fall captive to a master of the art of ransoming.

The soon to depart occupying garrison of Roman soldiers are too busy preparing for their withdrawal to bother themselves with strictly local affairs so the Sheik has grown rich trading on the good intentions of noble Christian pilgrims and warriors, but now, forewarned, Valiant and Gawain are resolved to teach him a lesson he will never forget…

Sadly they succeed all too well and taking El Rasch hostage leads to them being approached by his deadliest enemies who wish to buy him! Baulking at such barbarism but stalling until they have freed Sir Basil, the Round Table heroes thus incur the wrath of Syrian tribesmen too, but undaunted determine to finish their pilgrimage.

The decade-delayed Basil is eager to join them, but on every step of the quest they are pursued by two furious rival desert factions as keen to kill them as each other…

Although implacable and numerous, the burnoosed hunters have never encountered fighters as cunning, imaginative and skilled as Valiant and his companions. Despite their best efforts – and even the seductive eyes of El Rasch’s daughter – the questors complete their journey and safely head back to the Misty Isles…

During their absence little Arn has grown old enough to notice girls and he does not like them. He and noble playmate Paul make an exception for kitchen-gamin Diane however, since she can sneak them out of the palace, teach them to fish and outfight them both.

When she subsequently saves their lives, Aleta neatly sidesteps all manner of court scandal and disapprobation by declaring her to be for a full year, a royal companion and a boy…

Everything seems spoiled though after the pilgrims return and the lad Diane develops a crush on Gawain. The legendary lover is deeply mortified by the sprite’s attention, but when a palace lothario attempts to get rid of Valiant and pursue the queen, Gawain steps in to defend her honour and is grateful for bold Diane’s help in avoiding a treacherous trap…

Soon however dull peace breaks out once more and before Val and his brother knight can ruin it again Aleta decrees it’s time for the royal family to head North once again…

To Be Continued…

Closing this astonishing epic of daring-dare-deviltry, Brian M. Kane scrutinises in searing detail the history of film and TV iterations in ‘Prince Valiant and the Sacking of Hollywood: The 60th Anniversary of Hal Foster’s Creation on the Silver Screen’, featuring the apparently accursed 1954 movie and Foster’s subsequent starring role on This Is Your Life as well as the 1997 international film remake and animated series The Legend of Prince Valiant

Rendered in a simply stunning panorama of glowing visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a non-stop rollercoaster of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending human-scaled fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, the strip is a true landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2014 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2014 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.