Prince Valiant v. 3: 1941-1942
Written & Illustrated by Hal Foster
Published by Fantagraphics
Common consensus is that Hal Foster’s famed adventure strip Prince Valiant reaches the early days of its (long) golden era during the years collected in this book. Considering how much I enjoyed the first four years, when Foster was still finding the strip’s voice, I wasn’t sure how much better Valiant could get. Turns out, Prince Valiant achieves sheer radiance.
Now, for my money, Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates remains the class of the newspaper adventure strip – frankly, it remains the class of all adventure comics, strip, book or otherwise. Hal Foster, however, is pushing hard for the second slot on this list.
In 1941 and 1942, Valiant spends over a year voyaging through Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa, seeking the return of his fabled “Singing Sword” and pursuing the visionary beauty of Queen Aleta. Along the way, there are many fights won by Val’s determination, many romances enabled by Val’s kindness, and many tables turned by Val’s cunning. He travels with pirates in search of gold, battles against slave traders, and inevitably enriches the lives of good people everywhere, while demolishing those less worthy.
In short, Prince Valiant is noble romantic adventure fiction at its finest. The plots are classical, yet surprising, with chivalry and fair play constantly at the forefront. Poetic and strikingly descriptive, the narrations could nearly stand alone, but fortunately are accompanied by some of the finest comics’ art ever produced. Foster’s nuanced artwork captures the most subtle intentions of his immense cast, while the details and carefully crafted color work fill out Val’s world with rich textures from clothing to stonework, from animals to forests. Even the climates Val visits, sweltering Africa, frigid Britain – pounding rains and dehydrating days at sea – ground the reader in a palpable world.
Working from full-color syndicate printer’s proofs, Fantagraphics’ current Valiant reprints are the most pristine incarnations of Foster’s strip … well, ever. Surely the original newspaper versions didn’t showcase the full depth of his artwork, and the care put into the binding and the book design displays the publisher’s commitment to presenting Foster’s work in the best light possible. Prince Valiant v. 3: 1941-1942 finds a legendary strip reaching yet greater heights of creative accomplishment, presenting the strips with the full majesty of size, color and detail that its author always hoped for. After Foster, comics were never the same; this series is, simply, a must-have for any serious comics library.