Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Review - Hal Foster's Prince Valiant: Far From Camelot by Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz
Short review: Prince Valiant gets bored in Camelot and sets out on adventures that lead him to Scotland, Iberia, and Africa.
Val leaves Camelot
To fight some Pictish dragons
Norse, ghosts, and rebels
Full review: Before I had read a single fantasy story, before I even really knew what science fiction was, before I had ever rolled a single die in a role-playing game, there was Prince Valiant. From the time I was old enough to read and knew what the Sunday comics in newspapers were, I would look forward to being transported to King Arthur's court to follow the adventures of Prince Valiant of Thule as we waded through anachronistic enemies, won the hand of Aleta of the Misty Isles, and wielded the Singing Sword to bring his particular brand of hack and slash justice to the world. Far from Camelot reprints strips of the Sunday comic that appeared between 2004 and 2008, long after my formative years of religiously reading it, but they capture the same history-be-damned pulpy chain mail and flashing swords adventure that I fell in love with when I was six.
The book opens with Prince Valiant, now serving along with his wife Queen Aleta as regents of England following Arthur's abdication, chafing at the idleness of courtly life. After a brief set of strips in which Valiant takes out his frustrations on those around him, he is encouraged to take his son Nathan as his squire and head out into the country in search of adventure. From there four lengthy stories ensue, one after another, as Valiant ventures further and further away from his home in Camelot. First Valiant befriends a Pict named Borgut who convinces him to head north to deal with dragons that are plaguing Borgut's village. After some adventure, intrigue, treachery, and something of a love interest for Nathan, Valiant and his squire charter passage back to Camelot. Of course, as this is Prince Valiant, their journey home is interrupted by some anachronistic Norse raiders, and Valiant is taken prisoner.
The stories are told in a fairly boisterously implausible style, with Valiant doing manly things and dealing with manly men. The Norse captain Skyrmir humiliates Valiant until Valiant manages to disable him, resulting in his replacement as captain by the even more ruthless Thornwolf. After sailing to Iberia, the Norse crew finds a mysterious tower and learn of a forgotten Carthaginian treasure that turns out to be King Solomon's gold. After adventures involving the hoards otherworldly guardian, Valiant and Skyrmir escape, establish the sort of macho friendship that results when two men beat each other over the head for a while, only to stumble across and rescue an African princess named Makeda. Meanwhile Nathan finds Gawain, who takes him back to Camelot where he can report Valiant's capture to Aleta.
And so the story winds on as Valiant finds himself drawn into a quest to return King Solomon's gold to its African guardians in the city of Ab'Saba, and Aleta sets out to rescue the husband she thinks is still the prisoner of Norse pirates. Instead of trying to return home to his wife and children, Valiant decided that once he was free of his pseudo-Viking captors he would work his way south along the African coast. And so Valiant's adventures continue until he finds himself in the middle of a Ab'Saban civil war, where, serendipitously, Aleta's expedition happens to show up to tie the story up in a neat little bow.
For anyone who has ever read Prince Valiant in the Sunday papers, there isn't really anything in this volume that should be surprising. The artwork is done in the usual realistic style, the text is placed in little boxes - the Valiant strip has never used speech bubbles. The stories are, as one would expect, filled with villains who are at turns nefarious, duplicitous, and jovial, and monsters that are sometimes implausible, and sometimes merely beastly. Throughout, Valiant perseveres with the kind of swashbuckling bravado that only works in the particular kind of comic strip that he lives in, but it is a kind of swashbuckling bravado that is entertaining as well. Readers who don't enjoy Arthurian epic heroism won't get much out of this book. Those who do, on the other hand, will certainly find this to be an enjoyable and exciting read.
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