What’s Going On In Prince Valiant?


I remember reading this week’s story strip as a kid. It was obviously an important one as it got so much space in the Sunday Star-Ledger‘s pretty good comic section. It didn’t look like a story strip, what with it having knights and sword fights and I would swear the occasional dragon. But I never knew what was going on, since there weren’t any word balloons and everything was explained with these giant blocks of text that I thought were trying to sound olde-tymey. I’m curious how my memory matches the actual fact, but it’s so hard online to look up stuff from the 70s and 80s.

Prince Valiant.

Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant has good reasons for looking like that. The strip, created in the late 1930s by Hal Foster, keeps that close to its roots, with the action in the panels and the dialogue kept quite separate. This separation was not idiosyncratic when the comic strip started. Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Flash Gordon and other adventure strips of the time similarly ran their Sunday continuities with action and dialogue separated.

There is, yes, a lot of history to read in the comic strip, which just finished its 80th year. The comic strip reached panel number 4,176 this Sunday. They put the number right there in the comic, as if they’re trying to lure in the slightly obsessive reader. Kind of them. You don’t need to know it. The characters are straightforward enough to drop in on. The settings are classics, at least for a kind of story I didn’t really read while growing up. But that are at least good backdrops for cartoons set in those kinds of settings. The home setting is Camelot-era England and the lands surrounding the North Sea. But sometimes the gang goes on an expedition. Like, now.

I’m not sure when Team Valiant set out on an adventure to the east. But they’ve been tromping around the Far East for well over a year now and I forget what they set out to accomplish. What they have done is have a series of adventures in fresh, attractive settings. And they have looked great, which is tolerably true to both longstanding Western European folklore about the riches of the East and to how, historically, Western Europe of that time was a pit. At least compared to rich, stimulating places like Byzantium and Arabia and India and China.

The sorcerer-king was made welcome in the subterranean city; but he grew jealous of his host's knowledge, and greedy for power. He learned their secrets and then he deceived them. He stole the terrible key to power that we call the Soul of Asia. To us, that artifact appears sorcerous --- but it its creators, it was a device that released the most basic forces of Nature, the unseen forces that build and destroy our material world. Aristotle posited that our world is made up of infinitely small quanta of energy. The Soul is the key to that primal energy! It rends the fabric of matter and opens gateways to things that would seek to destroy our world! Brandishing the terrible thing, the sorcerer-king could not be contained in the hidden city. He struck a deal with the rightful owners: he would never unleash the artifact's power so long as they did not seek to take it from him.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 29th of May, 2016. I’m delighted to have a story where Aristotle is used to explain the nigh-omnipotent travel valise instead of it being a lost invention of Archimedes. Alas, the Soul of Asia gets taken by a baddy and that takes the rest of the year to deal with.

The current part of the storyline is just a few weeks old, so it’s a good chance to hop on Prince Valiant’s boat if you want. Valiant has just overseen the downfall of a Himalayan-or-so tyrant named Azar Rasa who was hoping to use the awesome powers of the Soul of Asia to conquer Asia. And what is the Soul of Asia? It’s some kind of briefcase-size magical energy construct thingy with an awesome lot of power. It’s potent stuff, built on the learnings of the giants living deep in the Earth.

With the Soul of Asia finally in his posession, Azar Rasa turns the awful weapon toward Karen, Val, and Numair. A figure suddenly rushes from behind and skewers the unsuspecting sorcerer with a savage lunge! It is Vanni 'I have failed my responsibilities too often. Let me make amends now!' Azar staggers and falls into the volcanic well, carrying the Soul of Asia down with him! A massive explosion roils up from the depths - the demon writhes and disappears into a geyser of molten rock and the subterranean chamber convulses and begins to shatter! Vanni and Karen, Val and Numair all rush for the stairs leading out ...
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 25th of December, 2016. Don’t worry, it turns out the gang outrun the Soul of Asia’s tripping of the false vacuum and collapsing the universe in a spasm of zero point energy’s release. Also if you aren’t squicked by giant centipedes then check the previous Sunday’s comic for a really huge view of that demon. It’s dramatic but not for everyone.

So, Valiant escaped Azar Rasa’s prison by trying, since even in long-running comics security guards aren’t any good at their job. And with the help of the giants, who dress like yetis — did I mention the giants dress like yetis before? — the good guys blew up the mountain and killed the last of Azar Rasa’s followers. They pitched the Soul of Asia and Azar Rasa into Mount Doom, and all is as well as could be. That’s where 2017 started.

Val and his company have barely started their long journey home when three giant figures appear before them. Their eyes are magnetic and an alien voice seems to form in Val's head: 'This Karen and Numair have done us great service, and we would repay them. Come, we will show you a safer route through these mountains.' As if in a dream, Val finds he has no will to refuse. Save for their native guide and the pack animals all follow the giants into a cleft in the ridge and deep into the earth. Val finds he cannot fight the cloudy unreality that settles over his mind. Karen touches his shoulder: 'Do not worry - Numair and I have come this way before. They mean us well.' Time itself loses meaning and Val has no idea how long it is before the passageway opens up onto a vast subterranean gallery holding a shining city like no other he has ever seen!
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of January, 2017. Prince Valiant is strangely reluctant to just trust giant, weirdly-dressed strangers using telepathic coercion to lure him into remote, untraceable redoubts. Strange fellow.

The giants who dress like yetis are grateful to Team Valiant for helping clear up this mess where they kind of let humans get their grubby hands on a briefcase of unimaginably vast destructive power. (They hadn’t wanted to let the original sorcerer-king take it, but he had the thing, and promised not to grab it back if he didn’t use it.) So they offer help, promising to show an easier way that Our Heroes can get to wherever the heck they’re going. They lead the gang deep into the earth and hook them up with a boat and a team of pink dolphins to haul the boat through the underground river.

What had been a dreamlike journey down a subterranean water world has turned into a nightmare! A great behemoth heaves its bulk onto the craft bearing Val and his company. Their giant pilot responds with a blinding ray shot from his strange weapon but the creature's attack sets the boat to capsize! The best recoils, the pilot throws himself athwart the craft in a desperate attempt to steady the violent rocking and falls over the side! The crisis snaps Val out of his lethargy, but a fraction of a second too late to catch the guide. Then the low rumble from the river grows into something terrifying ... earthquake! The walls begin to crumble, the river begins to boil, and the dolphins that pulled them forward abandon their harness! What else could go wrong?
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 12th of February, 2017. Won’t lie to you: any time a giant behemoth rises from the sea I get more interested in the story. Doesn’t matter if it’s Prince Valiant, Star Wars, Sally Forth, Paw Patrol, or Alley Oop. You have my attention. Use it well.

It’s going well.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point today and everyone is blaming the peanut-butter-yoghurt-shelled pretzels they got at the store.

96

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

3 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Prince Valiant?”

  1. In 2008 I recognized that Prince Valiant was returning to what I remember from the 50s and 60 and started saving Sunday Price Valiant comics on 11/21/2008. First, is it true that a book was issued with all of the strips from 11/21/04 to 5/18/2008? Secondly, is there a way to get those strips from 5/25/2008 through 11/14/08? Thank you. Markfdavidson@hotmail.com

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    1. I’m glad that you like the comic. I’m afraid I don’t know the book-compilation history of the comics from personal experience. Wikipedia tells me that Andrews-McMeel published a book with the comics from November 21, 2004 through May 11, 2008, as Prince Valiant: Far from Camelot. I tend to trust Wikipedia when it’s something that fans of a topic will say definitely exists.

      The same article says that’s the only compilation of recent strips. I’m less confident relying on that since it might just be no Prince Valiant fan knowing better has reviewed the page recently. But if reading the comics online is all right, you might try subscribing to Comics Kingdom. Its archives for Prince Valiant go back to the start of January 1998, strip number 3178.

      Comics Kingdom’s got a rather good online presence including good archives of modern King Features Syndicate strips and a great array of their vintage, mostly story or adventure, comics.

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      1. Thanks. But when I went to Comics Kingdom, it seemed to only have Prince Valiant back to about 2012. How do you find, or get to, earlier dates?
        Thanks again.

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