In its 75 years of Sunday newspaper appearances, it has told a single, continuous story, without reboots and retcons, about a heroic character, his adventures and the lives of those around him.
Valiant has grown up through the stories, become a knight of the Round Table, got married and had children - who, in turn, have grown up themselves.
As it stands the epic is just shy of 4,000 pages, charting more than 40 years of Prince Valiant's life and his travels around the fifth century world.
In this first, gorgeous, large-sized (120-page,10.5" x 14.25" hardcover) collection of full-colour strips from Fantagraphics, it is clear that Foster is still undecided in the direction the story will go, as the young Prince Valiant - exiled from Thule (i.e. Norway) with his father, the usurped King - find themselves in a British wilderness populated with prehistoric monsters and magic-using witches and wizards.
Although these elements appear in the background of this first volume, and there is a fantastic exchange of magic between the mighty Merlin and the evil Morgan Le Fay, it's my understanding that these slide into the background later on, allowing the more historical aspects of the Arthurian myths to take over.
Prince Valiant is compelling reading. I usually read a handful of comics or a graphic novel just before going to bed, but with this volume I was hard-pressed not to just read right through the night to see where Valiant would end up next.
The character of Valiant is an interesting one as well. He's not the wholesome square I'd imagined him to be - before reading any of the stories - but actually a fiery tempered, occasionally arrogant, trickster who succeeds more by his wits and nimbleness than physical strength (although he is quite capable of single-handedly holding a band of vikings at bay on a narrow bridge - armed with his enchanted Singing Sword).
However, he doesn't always succeed - a central story in this volume has a surprisingly tragic twist that I could not have foreseen - and it's how he copes with these failures that shape his character as much as his celebrated successes.
Valiant also isn't afraid of a bit of bloodshed - not that these strips are at all gory - but he has no qualms about killing his enemies, sometimes in quite inventive ways. Again, in my total ignorance of what the title entailed before I actually read it, I think I was expecting Saturday morning cartoon violence, with people being knocked out but never killed. How wrong I was!He also likes his ale, is naively romantic (but totally honourable), stands up for what he believes, gets frequently captured by the bad guys and always manages to escape, is fearless and foolhardy - in other words the perfect hero (even if he has a dodgy hairdo, which you soon grow accustomed to).
Clearly, you can't talk about Prince Valiant without talking about Foster's incredible artwork. With the use of narration rather than word balloons, Foster allows himself space to create incredibly detailed characters and scenery with drama, dynamism, sweep and grandeur, which have influenced the great and the good of the comic book industry ever since.
Quite early on, one sequence in particular rung bells for me. Young Val uses the skin and feathers of a goose to disguise himself as a demon to spook some superstitious bandits... and I realised I was looking at the inspiration of that favourite Jack Kirby creation: Etrigan The Demon (as currently seen in DC's excellent Demon Knights).
|Hal Foster's original "demon"; inset: Jack Kirby's Demon for DC Comics|
Although I am new to the world of Prince Valiant, I'd already consider it a desert island read. While the hardback editions appear to be the definitive presentations, I can't believe I'm only discovering the stories now...
New Spell/Ritual: Induce Nightmare
(5th Level Black Magic Ritual)
As a ritual, this spell takes one hour per attempt to cast (with the normal magic spell check at the end of the hour, and if failed - without a mishap - it requires another hour and so on).
The conjurer requires a personal possession, of substantial size (ie. a clump of hair rather than a single hair etc) from his target. Then, once the ritual has been completed and the target is asleep (wherever they are in the world, compared to the caster - although will not work if the target is on a different plane of reality, in an alternate dimension etc), creatures of the victim's darkest nightmares will appear as if real to them.
Only the target will see these phantasms, but they will appear 100 per cent real and terrifying to them because they come from the depths of their inner psyche
The target must then make a saving throw against Fear. If failed then she gets no sleep that night (and no recovery of lost Hit Points, relearning spells etc) and must make a subsequent Sanity Check on 4d6 vs WIS+LVL or lose 1d4 Sanity points.
Although this ritual may only be directed at a single target once per night, as long as the caster holds on to the target's personal possession, he is free to cast the spell again the next night and so on.