What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What’s with the witchcraft lately? August – October 2022

This year’s seen Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant leaning into the witchcraft. At least the supernatural-women side of things. This, in large part, is from focusing more on Morgan Le Fay, a choice I understand. As a character she opens a lot of strange, weird story possibilities. And it shores up Prince Valiant’s taking place in the time of King Arthur, like the title panel used to tell us.

I’m less sure I like the current story, which has a woman captured by a witch-hunter. I don’t dispute this kind of thing happened. (And I’m aware the story is much distorted in the popular culture, of which Prince Valiant is part. In particular, witch-hunting mostly happened in what we call the Renaissance or early Enlightenment.) But I start out uncomfortable with stories about witch-hunting in a setting that posits witches actually exist. The historical lesson of witch-hunting is about how authoritarian group-think targets the helpless. This often with heavy doses of misogyny and racism. Adding in a layer of “also they kept missing the real ones” needs to be done with thought. So far I feel Schultz and Yeates are aware of this. The text is explicit this witch-hunting craze is Camelot’s population going wrong and the characters are coming to realize it.

Since my pre-roll started with a downer let me try fixing the mood. First, a puzzle on the old game show Whew! rebroadcast the other day mentioned how Prince Valiant is a Viking. That’s … I mean, a little like calling Cotton Mather an American writer but let’s allow it for the sake of only experts knowing what to call pre-Viking cultures. This does mean that if I had a nickel for every time the story of a wholesome Viking family became the subject of a long-running syndicated American newspaper comic strip, I’d have two nickels. Which, like the kids say, isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.

And Prince Valiant got a bit of screen time and amazing trivia in this Sunday’s Thatababy comic. Thought you’d want to see that too.

Thatababy addressing the audience that after a recent strip mentioning Beetle Bailey, people wrote in with the trivia about how Beetle Bailey's sister is Lois from Hi and Lois. So Thatababy reveals things their research crue has discovered, including: Prince Valiant, Hagar, and Rodney (B.C.) attended the same high school, with a picture of them all on the football team. Also: Alley Oop, B.C., and Barney Rubble were college roommates! And Judge Parker, Rex Morgan, Gil Thorp, and Mary Worth 'were entwined in a sordid love quadrangle'.
Paul Trap’s Thatababy for the 23rd of October, 2022. Yes, I’m keeping panels in reserve for my Alley Oop, Judge Parker, Rex Morgan, Mary Worth, and Gil Thorp plot recaps.

So now let’s catch you up to late October 2022 in Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this after about December 2022 I should have a more current essay here.

Prince Valiant.

7 August – 23 October 2022.

Prince Valiant’s son Nathan and the Ab’saban teen Yewubar, out late at night, saw something unsettling. Morgan Le Fay, in a glade, alongside Queen Aleta, and her daughter Maeve, queen-to-be of Camelot. Le Fay has a dire warning for the other witches: times are getting worse. There’s a fear of witchcraft coming, and all women are becoming suspect. She admits she was wrong trying to steal Prince Valiant’s mind, which is not quite an apology, but is at least something. And warns that Valiant is becoming aware of this corruption at the kingdom’s core. Then something inaudible, and the women vanish. Nathan and Yewubar run away, only for Le Fay to block them.

But all she does is warn them. Nathan is Aleta and Valiant’s son and so has her protection. Yewubar is a visitor from Africa (her father’s an emissary) and apparently strong in the craft too. So she bids them to “choose to help those in need”. This seems more reasonable on Le Fay’s part than I had gathered from that time in 2003 my eyes passed over most of the words in The Once And Future King. I don’t think she’s in it. That’s Madame Mim I’m thinking of.

Having witnessed a clandestine meet between Aleta, Maeve, and the sorceress MOrgan Le Fay, Nathan and Yewubar flee in a panic, only to find their path blocked by Morgan herself! The sorceress smiles wickedly. 'So, little spies, have you learned surprising things tonight? You are clever - but not as clever as you think ... You, boy - I know you are the son of Queen Aleta and Prince Valiant. And as such, you shall always have my protection - but you must be schooled. And you, girl - you are of the visitors from far Africa. I have studied among your bonsams, and I see that you may be strong in the craft too. Listen! Remember what you have heard here tonight ... and choose to help those in need! Now, go!' Nathan and Yewubar run as if the devil were on their heels. As Morgan looks fondly after them and muses: 'It has been a productive night. Seeds have been sown.'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 21st of August, 2022. Yeah, I did not know that Morgan considered herself a protector of Prince Valiant’s children. I don’t have any backstory on that, I’m afraid. It’s a twist I’d love to know more about and if there’s some Price Valiant expert who could fill us in, please say something. If she’s just messing with the kids please let me know that too.

By light of day, Yewubar and Nathan debate: the heck was all that? Did they see what they thought they saw? They decide to investigate Le Fay’s castle, but get distracted on the way by a parade carrying a bound woman. The captured woman is Afton. We saw her, as Aleta, Queen of the Witches, declared her under protection, in summer 2020 our time. Afton’s partner Aubrey, following the captors, meets up with Yeubar and Nathan and shares an incredible story. She insists that the villagers were cool with her and Afton and their strange ways and knowledge far beyond the customary. But then Dialyodd, who styles himself God’s avenger, came searching for witches. That is to say, women who seemed all uppity what with not dying of famine like his sort are. While the villagers protected them, that didn’t mean Dialyodd and his followers couldn’t just kidnap them.

Dialyodd’s plan: burning at the stake in the town square. Yewubar has a plan for rescue, though. She sneaks through the crowd and spreads the bee-attracting scent used in that bee-swarming stunt we saw set up a couple months ago. So a sudden unforeseeable swarm of insects interrupts this witch-burning. Yewubar thinks she’s helping.

In a desperate plot to disrupt Afton's firey execution, Yewubar quickly moves through the crowd, opening her amulet and spreading the Queen Bee pheromones within. Very soon, swarms of excited bees appear, and panic erupts! As the crowd, including Dialyodd's henchmen, falls into chaos, Nathan grabs Audrey. 'Find Yewubar and stay together! I'll meet you back at the horses!' Then he draws his knife and runs toward Afton kicking away the just-lit woodpile beneath her before leaping onto the platform upon which she is bound! He begins slashing her ties, as the accused witch recognizes her old friend. 'No, Nathan,! Run, before ... 'but it is too late! Dialyodd's cold, quick eyes have already cut through the chaos, and seen his victim's wood-be rescuer!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 16th of October, 2022. I wonder what Old English word the translator decided was best rendered as ‘pheromones’.

This is all quite distracting, giving Nathan time to free Afton. But also time for Dialyodd to see Nathan, and snag him as the devil who conjured the winged demons. And that’s where we’ve gotten, which, must admit, seems like it could have gone better. But is well-timed for an October cliffhanger too.

Next Week!

When I last checked in on Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, Earth was about to be conquered by Lunarian extremists. As we look over the comics today, a small-time gangster tries to get into a musical comedy based on an early 20th-century comic strip. How did we get here? I’ll try and explain Dick Tracy in a week, all going well.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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