Thursday, October 10, 2013

Prince Valiant: 4,000 Pages of Adventure

Prince Valiant marked a major milestone this past Sunday -- it was the 4,000th installment of this weekly adventure strip. The current creative team of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates lead up to event nicely. In transit to their next adventure in the Misty Isles, Val, and his family see portentous omens. (Click on images to enlarge).

And page 4000 has the appearance of a milestone. Val's assembled family and friends harken to his speech, as they look ahead to the future.

But it's that speech that bothers me.

Look at how the previous creative teams marked similar events. Hal Foster, for page 2,000 recapped some of the highlights of Prince Valiant's career.

For page 3,000, Foster's successor John Cullen Murphy recounted other key events from Val's past (all of which were dutifully chronicled in the strip).

But for page 4,000, Schultz & Yeates have Val saying "The past is dead and gone and holds no claim on us. There is only the here and now, and we are masters of this moment."

Maybe it's just me, but that sounds like the language of a reboot. Wipe the slate clean and start the story from scratch, changing characters, events, and back stories to suit a reimagined Prince Valiant.

If so, that would be a real shame. Prince Valiant is an ongoing saga with a rich history and a wealth of characters. Val has grown from a young boy to a mature adult during the course of the tale, and his children have grown into adulthood as well. There are places scattered throughout medieval Europe, Asia and the Americas where Val has made friends -- and enemies. But unlike the cluttered continuity of the Marvel or DC Comics universe, there's still a very large world for Val to explore.

There are small kingdoms to discover, new characters to introduce, and lands to explore (like South America). Unlike the comic book universes, Prince Valiant's world is full without being confining.

The backstory of the supporting cast adds richness to the saga and rewards long-time readers for their loyalty. And it's not an exclusive club -- Prince Valiant reprints are readily available, as are chronologies. We don't need a Crises on Infinite Earths here -- just keep telling the story of Prince Valiant as he explores the historic and mythic world of 500 AD.


  1. Andrej6:31 PM

    Well, Mark Schultz is doing this what you talk about for almost ten years... ;) All those fantasy element, so characteristic for his Xenozoic Tales, are something that Foster left behind at the mere beginning of the saga. But, it worked for me, story arcs in Caledonia (Scotland), at least. It was dynamic, modern adventure storytelling, although not in cohesion with tradition seven decades long...

    Then came the second part of Gianni/Schultz run... Alas, it was much more weaker, Flash Gordon cameo was funny, but way too much. Gianni finished his tenure with great hommage to Foster's last pannel, and it was ENOUGH. This time really, really enough. Time for THE END.

    First Schultz/Yeates story arc was extremly boring and I wsh for this (sorry for the word) crap to finish, This has nothing in common with Foster's or Murphy's beautiful tradition, nor with the little strange, but nice Gianni/Schultz run. Saga is entering into a "zombie" state.

    1. Andrej: I have to agree with you on all points. I believe Foster wanted to conclude with the death of Prince Valiant. Maybe it's time for that to happen in the final battle between Arthur and Mordred.

      One thing that both Foster and Murphy did well was give us a sense of time and place (even if it wasn't quite historically true). I think one of the problems is that we're increasingly moving into a generic Middle Ages/fantasy world that misses the whole appeal of the strip.

  2. Andrej6:33 PM

    *in Caledonia and Africa... ;) Collected in handsome Far From Camelot tpb.

    1. Absolutely right. He's been just about everywhere.

  3. Anonymous9:42 AM

    I've been a 30-year fan of the strip, but haven't really followed the differing tones and themes or even noticed when authors changed. So as a long-time (but casual) fan, I am still enjoying the writing, perhaps more than I enjoy the plot of the strip. You can't find writing like this anymore. As for the Valiant quote in Strip #4,000, I found it gloriously insightful and have it written down so as to commit it to memory. As for the conjecture that it might signify a reboot, I understand the concern, but removed from that context it is a great sentiment. Having said all that, when the strip does end, it does need a conclusion to the story as well. It can't just stop being published. Valiant's death would be a most appropriate conclusion. - Matt

    1. You're right, it is a great quote, and certainly inspirational taken by itself. Hal Foster planned to end the strip with the death of Prince Valiant. I seem to recall reading it might have been at the final battle between Arthur and Mordred, which signaled the end of Camelot as well.

      The concept of the strip was that it was an illustrated story rather than a cartoon. As such, it deserves a proper conclusion.

  4. I couldn't disagree more. I love this strip and am really enjoying the recent run. And I interpreted the speech very differently - I saw it as a toast or a "pep talk" to essentially say "hey, bad things happen but we'll get through it". Put me in the "big fan" of Schulz and Yeates category. Like the anonymous commenter above, I also wrote it down..and should commit it to memory!

    1. I was happy to be wrong about this. The feared reboot didn't happen, and it looks like Schultz and Yeates -- especially in the current story arc with Prester John -- are honoring the past while pushing ahead with new stories and new stories ideas. I still wish there was a little bit more in the artwork that more authentically rooted it to the 500s, though. But that's just me. And the current artist has a lot less real estate to play with than even Cullen did.