Prince Valiant Vol. 23: 1981-1982

Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982

In this volume, there’s death, birth, curses, quests, plots, magic, and war. Prince Valiant journeys to the bowels of the Earth on a quest for humanity involving a curse on the Kingdom, monstrous imps, and a mystical casket. Mordred leads an invasion across Britain, culminating in the siege of Camelot. Aleta’s pregnancy promises to bring a new child into the family. Arn begins a courtship of Maeve and embarks on quests to obtain the Sacred Ring of India and to find his lost newborn brother. Renowned painter and graphic novelist George Pratt (Batman, Sandman) introduces the volume.

Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 1
Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 2
Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 3

This volume opens with Val part of the death of a young man and comes to the attention of “the wanderer” who can only speak the truth. She tells Val he needs to learn humility and sends him to the Alps to find an old man. He does find him and his minions and receives a chest to bring back to “the wanderer”. She shows him what humility looks like, but the story abruptly ends. These pages are filled with allegory and some whimsy. Strips 2292 and 2293 show some odd colouring of boots, or perhaps a lack of colour. Murphy does a great job with the fantasy figures.

We immediately are thrown into an overthrow of Arthur’s domain by his half-brother Mordred, and there is an ebb and flow until Val’s sons bring their knowledge and bravery to bear. This tale brings the conflict and action that has driven the strip for decades and allows for the quieter stories. There’s a great panel after Aguar has to retreat and abandon Thule.

Aboard ship, Aguar has a good word for a weeping servant, a pat of thanks for a loyal Friend. “My father remains a king,” Val Thinks. “There is hope.”

Prince Valiant strip 2305

During this tale, Galan and his twin sisters are sent to Scotland for safety, and there’s a bit of a mystery to be solved and allies to be won. It’s classic Foster as he strives to show that goodness can be found in most. It was a small disappointment that the environment and costumes for Scotland didn’t vary from standard fare.

Arn has a boating mishap while pursuing Mordred and gets washed up on a small island where he encounters Maeve, an aggressive young hunter. Her pack of hunting dogs traps him, and he has to pit fight a mastiff to gain his freedom. It’s the second time in this volume we see an action sequence play out in one panel as a series of separate images with no background. Foster never shies away from violence as it’s a major part of the strip, but this felt a bit aggressive, although no one was killed. We come back a few times to Maeve, but Arn is spurned.

Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 4
Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 5
Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 6

Aleta announces she’s pregnant and wants to have the baby in the Windy Isles. “I wasn’t used to spending so much time with you,” she teases Val. This launches a twisting tale involving Justinian, the Eastern Roman Empire, and a treacherous plot to take Aleta’s child. Amongst this larger story are several smaller subplots with Val, Belisarius, Gwain, and much more, wrapping everything together. Murphy has the opportunity to draw Roman environments and costumes, replete with armour and triremes. The battles are exciting and beautifully illustrated, but it’s the dark quiet moments with Aleta that are the most impactful.

A travelling wise man from Cathay, Yuan Chen, enters Galan’s life and is immediately smitten with everything he can learn. Chen is on his way to India and Val agrees to let Galan go with him. Once there he and Chen are caught up in a plot for the throne, and only through quick thinking and action does Galan save their lives. Another story where torture and violence occur, this time on a child. The Indian environment, locations and costumes, add richness to the story and Murphy has a way with cloth.

Arn has taken up a quest to find his new brother. Another exotic journey through the Eastern Roman Empire as he lives amongst the Jewish population and works with a traveling Rabbi. The strip excels when it explores an historic culture. This one ends on a cliffhanger!

Nothing further on Val finding humility, but this volume is all about Val’s family suffering. Perhaps more important is their ability to weigh the options against their own morality and take the proper action. Arn and Galan on their solo adventures adapt and overcome, but not at the cost of their beliefs.

Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 7
Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 8
Prince Valiant Vol 23 1981 1982 interior 9

Three rows of two panels per row seem to be the norm, but for big events like the siege of London or Justinian’s coronation, we get one large panel taking the place of two rows. Six panels to a page provide a good size for artwork, and Murphy does his best to fill them with engaging environments. This is a very visual strip but has always maintained the text below the image, taking the reader one step away from the panel: you’re not in the story, you’re being told the story.

The introduction is a bit meandering but interesting from George Pratt. The essay after the strips takes a different turn and provides layouts from Foster to Murphy for some strips from 1974-1979. A nice “behind the scenes” look and a little more of Foster’s artwork.

At volume 23 this series is well established in its design. Introduction, strips, essay. There is no table of contents, page numbers, or strip dates. A sewn binding of medium matte (or is that semi-gloss) paper. The strip quality is superb: every page bright and crisp.

I was skeptical about Murphy as he took over but I am enjoying his art, now that I stopped comparing it to Foster. And the writing is all Cullen Murphy, John’s son, who took over with strip 2241 in 1980. Oddly Foster’s name is on the front and back cover and the title page “Prince Valiant Vol 23: 1981-1982 by Foster & Murphy”; he didn’t write or draw these strips so it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Prince Valiant HC Vol 23

from Things From Another World