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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.