Prince Valiant Vol 2: 1939-1940
Continuing the epic journey of Hal Foster’s most famous creation, Prince Valiant Volume 2: 1939-1940 brings Val into conflict with the Huns and Rome itself.
In this second volume, Prince Valiant helps his father reclaim his throne in the kingdom of Thule, fights alongside King Arthur, and is made a knight of the Round Table in recompense for his bravery and wit. Bored by the peace he helped to create, Val decides to independently pull together the forces to battle the Huns’ descent on Southern Europe. When Val’s army breaches the Huns’ stronghold, however, he discovers that corruption reigns still further west in Rome. Thus Val sets off with Sir Gawain and Tristam of Arthurian legend fame, and the familial kinship of the trio sees them through chivalrous escapades, false imprisonment and daring escapes. By the end of this volume, they go their separate ways, and Val boards a ship to Sicily—yet a storm approaches, throwing him off-course, as adventure follows him everywhere.
For a second volume, as Hal Foster works into his third and fourth year, Prince Valiant comes into his own and as readers we’re treated to a wide range of storytelling. As we learned in Volume 1 Val and family were exiled from their own kingdom and as he grew into a young man his focus remained on returning to Thule. After aiding King Arthur repel a Saxon invasion Val and his father return to retake Thule only to find their mortal enemy eager to abdicate. Wham, totally anti-climactic. It takes you completely off guard and moves the story away from expectation.
Now rightful prince of Thule once more, Val grows bored of court life and seeks adventure. Again Foster shows a lighter side to the strip with Val caught unjustly in a love triangle; honour, true love, commitment and just doing the right thing all add to this short interlude. And so the focus of this volume comes to light: Val’s fight against the Huns. The fall of Rome under Attila The Hun and the opportunity for Val to come into his own as a leader take center stage. Rome and Camelot don’t come together very well, but this is a fantasy tale so why not.
Prince Valiant represents all that Foster holds as the ideal leader/hero: strong, brave, honourable, steadfast, true, intelligent, quick-witted. This comes to the forefront when Val learns of a place where these ideals are held in the highest regard.
To the fortress of Andelkrag, Prince Cameron of-the-high-head gathers all who love beauty, music, poetry and noble deeds. Often has he been assailed, but when his laughing warriors man the battlement victory is theirs…troubadors everywhere sing of Cameron’s deeds…Now only Andelkrag stands above the smoke of burning Europe.”
Andelkrag falls with Val as the only survivor, steeling him against the Huns. We’re right back into the thick of action with Val aided by two knights of Camelot, Tristram and Gawain, who soundly route the Huns, visit Rome and then engage on a series of misadventures. Epic battles to a take on Hope and Crosby buddy movies from that era.
There’s no question that Foster has the straightforward action story down, but here he shows the human side of the characters. Humour comes straight into play; not only the dialogue but body language and even some physical gags. All of it beautifully drawn as only Hal Foster could. Each page is a visual feast that begs to be savoured.
Fantagraphics has the package down for this series: oversized hardcover using printer proofs for the material. At times the art gets slightly blurry but it’s remarkably preserved and the linework and colours are strong. A rousing introduction by Mark Schultz puts the reader into a Foster state of mind. Wonderful stuff this.
Originally published at Comic Book Daily.