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Comic Strip / Prince Valiant

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Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur is a comic strip created by Hal Foster, run by King Features Syndicate from 1937 to the present (Foster's last drawn strip was in 1971, though he continued to do scripting until 1980), that recounted the adventures of the eponymous Norse prince and his family and friends. The comic came out only in the Sunday paper and featured narration juxtaposed with illustrations rather than the usual thought and speech balloons. During most of Hal Foster's lifetime it occupied one whole page of the Sunday funnies.

As the title would suggest, the comic is set during the time of King Arthur and though it does take liberties with history it is notable among modern era Arthuriana for being set firmly in the fifth century (the actual time period Arthur is supposed to have lived), avoiding at least some of the usual anachronistic trappings (the key word here being some. Later medieval concepts like knights and chivalry are featured heavily, but at least no one is wearing plate armour). "Val's" adventures took him to many exotic locations from his native Thule to China, India and even the jungles of Africa. Prince Valiant was notable for its exquisitely detailed and graceful artwork, its strong story-lines, and its idealization of the themes of adventure, chivalry, and Courtly Love (we did say some).

Media adaptations include:

The sweet prince's trademark black hair-helmet has passed into tonsorial folklore as "the Prince Valiant" (or pageboy) haircut.

Not to be confused with Little Norse Prince Valiant, the English dub of Horus: Prince of the Sun.

Tropes associated with Prince Valiant include:

  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: Ig is certainly a Neanderthal, but he's brighter than he looks.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Valiant's "Singing Sword," which will "sing" only when borne by one of the true royal line of Thule.
  • Animal Motifs: The Thule royal family crest is the red stallion Arvak who pulls the sun chariot in Norse Mythology.
  • Anyone Can Die: Especially true in the early years when anyone around the protagonist could find a sudden and usually brutal end, including his mother, his first major love interest, a close friend and a faithful squire.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Hal Foster wasn't afraid to change things to suit the story. Contemporary historical figures make appearances, archaic place names (like Gaul for France for example) are used, the Western Roman Empire is still hanging on, paganism is still widely practiced in Europe and the clothing worn throughout the series is more-or-less grounded in the Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages. However, popular anachronistic trappings common to Arthurian literature (such as stone castles, chivalry, jousting and the title of knight) are heavily featured. Justifiable, as these elements have become so ubiquitous to Arthurian mythology that their absence would invoke a sense of Reality Is Unrealistic and most of the castles are implied, if not outright stated, to be Roman strongholds.
    • The depiction of continental Europe as a post-apocalyptic wasteland after the fall of the Western Roman Empire has been increasingly disproved by historians since the nineteenth century.
  • Artistic License – Religion: One of the more jarring anachronisms in early strips was the presence of Muslims in the fifth century. This was retconned in a later strip that referred to Mohammed in the future tense, but the Arabs' place of worship is still called a mosque.
  • Badass Boast:
    Val: I am a man of peace. Whene'er I draw my sword, peace follows.
  • Barbarian Hero: Boltar.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Val regularly runs into these, especially after the fall of Rome.
  • Beard of Barbarism: Boltar, Horsa, Genseric and other "barbarian" characters sport some pretty impressive whiskers.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Val has a habit of witnessing and influencing major events in history and Arthurian mythology, often without fully comprehending their significance.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Val and Aleta's initial relationship. For a while, Val only called Aleta 'cruel sorceress' and, at one point, led her around by a chain as a prisoner. Aleta, on the other hand, seemed to have taken lessons from the Robert Jordan school of female communication.
  • Beneath the Earth: The subterranean realm of the Dawn People, whose storyline has Val traveling through it to rescue Aleta, encountering monsters and what-not.
  • Beta Couple: Many of them. According to Phil Foglio, this is because Hal Foster realized the strip would still need regular doses of romance once Val and Aleta got married; so he kept introducing new supporting cast members who could become enamored of each other.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Val was Sir Gawain's squire for years before being knighted himself, and Gawain is still one of Val's closest friends; although these days, Val has a better reputation for common sense than Gawain does.
  • Black Knight: Valiant himself was this in an early storyline, in spirit and intent if not direct appearance. One reason knights wore black armor was if they had not yet proven themselves, and when Valiant participated in a jousting tournament, he wore a helmet and armor painted white to show his unproven status.
  • Blood Knight: Val lives for battle and bloodshed, at least in his younger days. He mellows out as he gets older.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Played jarringly straight, given how often characters are hacked with swords.
  • Breaching the Wall: Viking invaders lay siege to Camelot, and use a known and proven method of breaching heavy walls: they raise an armored roof over a crew of tunnelers, who dig beneath the wall. Once enough earth has been cleared away, the support beams are set alight, causing them to buckle. This in turn causes the wall to collapse from its own weight, creating a sizable rift that the Vikings clamber through to capture Camelot.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Mordred.
  • Chains of Love: Quite literally when Val, after a hit on the head, decides to just abduct Queen Aleta and chain them together. She doesn’t seem to mind much.
  • Chastity Dagger: Queen Aleta has one of these, and she uses it to great effect on numerous occasions.
  • Cool Horse: Val's horse, Arvak the red stallion (named after his family symbol).
  • Corporal Punishment: Spanking is a common and accepted form of discipline, for both women and children, usually taking the form of Comedic Spanking. Most infamously, Aleta is spanked by Val and is apparently into it. She extends the same discipline to her children, with many an Arn-focused story arc ending with him being spanked by his mother. The cycle continues when he stays with a neighboring royal family, and is terrorized by a bratty princess: he not only spanks her himself; but tricks her into getting paddled, after a trap intended for him traps the queen instead.
  • Courtly Love: Parodied in Arf's devotion to Aleta.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Beneath the bright and colorful surface and Camelot's chivalrous ideals, violence and bloodshed is near constant, continental Europe is crawling with barbarians and brigands and battle fields swarm with peasants driven to desperation, looting corpses and picking off survivors. It's ultimately a kill-or-be killed world, where any attempt at a peaceful existence is doomed to failure. It sure looks pretty though.
  • Crossover:
    • In 1972, Prince Valiant appeared with other King Features Syndicate stars in the cartoon film, The Man Who Hated Laughter (though, to avoid a blatant anachronism, his involvement was limited to appearing as an illusion created by Mandrake the Magician to frighten one of the villains).
    • Prince Valiant also appeared in an episode of Defenders of the Earth. In that case, it was justified by a time travel plot.
  • Dark Age Europe: The setting of most of the stories though Val does venture out of Europe several times.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Guinevere to Aleta.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Val thinks nothing of killing his enemies, sacking cities and even selling people into slavery. Lampshaded in one strip where Val callously hangs a would-be murderer and thief, tricks his comrades into killing each other and picks off the survivors as a "light morning exercise". The narration makes note of how harsh this would seem in "this day and age". "But Val did not live in this day and age."
  • Dig Attack: The comic has shown Viking raiders breeching the walls of Camelot by digging tunnels beneath the walls, and installing wooden support beams to control the load. When the tunnel has extended completely past the wall, the support beams are ignited. Once the supports fail, the ground above sinks, collapsing a large part of the stone wall with it. These failure gaps allow the Vikings to launch attack forays into the interior of Camelot. Truth in Television, as this has been a known and proven assault technique since ancient times.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The series is supposed to be based on the writings of Val's friend and biographer Arf Geoffrey.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Merlin explains to Val that magic is nothing more than scientific trickery. Averted, however, by several instances of true magic throughout the series.
  • Driven to Suicide: Empress Sadonia of Saramand when Val kills her son in front of her and she sees that his army has taken her city.
  • Expy: One storyline introduced "Hugh the Fox", leader of a band of outlaws living in the woods. Hugh was clearly an Expy of Robin Hood, complete with a "little" companion who challenges Val to a quarter staff duel.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Early strips were more fantasy oriented with magic and monsters frequently being encountered. These elements were downplayed in later strips but still crop up occasionally.
  • Fiery Red Head: Katwin, Aleta's lady-in-waiting.
  • Fate Worse than Death: In the classical sense of women choosing death to spare themselves from rape. The women of Andelkrag stay inside their Collapsing Lair to keep out of reach of the Huns. Empress Sadonia of Saramand abruptly stabs herself to avoid a similar fate at the hands of Val's army.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Attacked Val's ship, but was repelled. Of course, there were other sea monsters who fed on the giant crabs.
  • God Guise: Aleta is mistaken for a sun goddess by Native Americans who have never seen a blonde woman before. She plays along for survival reasons, but not without some guilt, and it is revealed in the narration that this belief in a "fair god" will eventually lead to the downfall of Native American civilizations.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used to great and disturbing effect during the sack of Saramand and when Edwin's crucified body is discovered.
  • Guile Hero: Aleta in spades, but also Val to a lesser degree: in spite of his chivalrous values and love of fighting, he is just as likely to trick his enemies into killing each other as he is to face them in combat.
  • Here There Were Dragons: Played straight. Dragons and other mythical beasts are encountered as well as magic-users like Merlin.
  • Heroic BSoD: Val sinks into this after his squire (a boy who reminded him of his reckless younger self) is crucified and tortured to death by barbarians. After a Roaring Rampage of Revenge which results in him killing the remaining barbarians, he throws away the singing sword in disgust... only to be forced to take it up again moments later to defend himself from scavenging peasants.
  • Heroic Fantasy: Par for the course as an Arthurian romance. Our heroes are heroic, they defend Camelot, and they have adventures fighting evils both magical and mundane.
  • Historical Domain Character: Figures such as Attila, Gaiseric, St. Patrick, Justinian and Belisarius are incorporated into the Arthurian milieu.
  • Horny Vikings: Val is a Norseman himself so Vikings regularly make appearances, dressed like they stepped right out of a Victorian painting. Other Germanic peoples like Saxons, Goths and Vandals often appear in similar attire.
  • Identical Twin Mistake Bound to happen with Val and Aleta‘s twin girls occasionally. A particularly ironic case saw a traitorous politician escape after Valeta uncovered his dark plans only to run into Karen on another island and attack her for ‚ruining his life‘. Since she was travelling with Val that turned out to be the last thing he ever did.
  • Improbable Age: Val has certainly accomplished a lot of spectacular deeds and been on many adventures by the time of his 18th birthday.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: The Huns have a pretty bad case of this. Their leader is called a Khan (a later title used by other steppe peoples like the Mongols) and he has what appears to be a Chinese design on his throne.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Valiant and Gawain. Val started out as Gawain's squire, and Gawain remains one of Val's closest friends, despite being old enough to be Val's father.
  • Imaginary Love Triangle: When Val first runs into his future friend Gundar Harl the young man imagines him to be a rival for the affections of his childhood sweetheart and promptly attempts to kill all three of them. Naturally she loved him all along and after Val saves and then punches Gundar they become fast friends.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: But, of course. It is Camelot, after all. A good chunk of the cast would qualify.
  • Last Bastion: Abdelkrag, the last stronghold holding out against the Huns who have ravaged Europe. After the fall of Rome, Arthur's Britain becomes the last Christian kingdom in Europe.
  • Last of His Kind: A story from the early 90's has Val and friends in the snowy north, where they befriend a strange-looking man who is implied to the reader to be the last living Neanderthal. Subverted in the 2000s, when our heroes discover a Lost World with many strange creatures, where it turns out there are other Neanderthals still around after all. Three of them even return with our heroes to Camelot!
  • Last Stand: The warrior troubadours of Andelkrag pull off a pretty spectacular one against the Huns.
  • Lava Is Boiling Kool-Aid: In a rather unusual example, one strip of the comic waxed narrative on the lava flow of a snowy peak, with a breathtaking image of a river of Cadillac-pink water. This is actually possible as snow covered volcanoes are not all that uncommon and the snow can stick around during an eruption. The water would be overflowing with melted water, though. As for the pink river, there are four possible explanations. It is caused by the sun shining on the water a certain way (at dawn or dusk), the red glow of the lava reflecting off the water, a poisonous bacteria that's red (usually occurs in salt water) growing the water, red sediment and maybe pulverized pink granite (from the exploding mountain obviously) being swept up by the melt water, or any combination of those. Any way you look at it, you run the risk of frostbite, burning to death, suffocated by smoke, or poisoned by contaminated water. So this trope is averted. Still a nice view though.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Weapon Brown features a character name "Val." Guess who?
  • Lemony Narrator: Hal Foster occasionally interrupts the narration to make wry asides on such things as current events and the fickle nature of women, usually in a more modern conversational style than the rest of the poetic, timeless-sounding prose. It's a bit jarring.
  • Love at First Sight: Val is mostly unconscious during his first meeting with Aleta, but both are immediately smitten with each other to the point that neither is able to pick from the mountain of other marriage candidates they are offered and pressured to accept.
  • The Low Middle Ages: Features both the good and the bad kind of Horny Vikings.
  • Magical Asian: Yuan Chen is a wise old sage from distant Cathay (China) who has been an honored guest at the court of Camelot for many years now.
  • Meaningful Name: Prince Valiant. Though his friends call him Val.
  • Men Use Violence, Women Use Communication: Val and Aguar find that Aleta is able to solve many conflicts through peaceful negotiation that they would have solved through violence.
  • Mighty Whitey: Val and Aleta's interactions with the Native Americans inevitably has shades of this.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Aleta has many nude bathing scenes. It's kind of her thing.
  • Naked First Impression: Aleta has one with King Arthur of all people.
  • Noble Savage: Saxons are noted to be brave and capable warriors in spite of their savage and barbaric reputation.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The Singing Sword, which, as noted above, only a member of the royal family of Thule can make sing.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The fen dragons in early strips were basically gigantic crocodiles who dwelt in the swamps. A much more recent story arc pitted Val against a truly titanic lizard from a Lost World, which attacked Camelot seeking its stolen egg.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: The Dawn People, a.k.a. the Thuatha.
  • Paying for the Action Scene: Played straight and inverted in a story arc where Prince Valiant's troop and a band of drunken Vikings had a rhubarb in a travelers' inn. "Val succeeds in holding the stairs, but the stairs fail to hold Val." Prince Valiant gallantly offers to pay for half the damages, while the Viking chieftain requires goading by an armed militia to pony up his half.
  • Pet the Dog: One strip has Val helping an injured dog immediately following a particularly sadistic act of violence by said hero.
  • Planet of Hats: When Val is on a sea voyage, it's somewhat common for his ship to get waylaid by supernatural means. One of two things then happens: either Val is put to some bizarre test, or he comes to an island where all the inhabitants share a single characteristic.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Val is initially shown to be prejudiced against common people. He gets over that but he still has the values of a fifth century warrior.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: All the time. Val spends a good amount of his time unconscious and often gets himself captured in the process.
  • Print Long-Runners: The continuous circulation of the strip since "around the time Hitler invaded Poland" is mocked in Pearls Before Swine. Unlike many serial stories, Hal Foster wrote, or at least planned out, Prince Valiant's entire story, start to finish, before he drew so much as a single panel.
  • Prophecy Twist: In Val's foolish youth, he asked the witch Horrit to predict his future. She told him that in all his life, he would never know contentment. Val ran off in anguish as she cackled gleefully at having thus tormented him. In fact, Val has had a very good life in the years since, and the fact that he is chronically discontented mainly serves to prod him on to ever new travels and adventures rather than settling down.
  • Prehistoric Monster: Show up from time to time, most famously in the form of plesiosaur-like dragons.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn:
    • Heavily implied in Val's assault on the city of Saramand.
    • Also what the Huns were planning to do to Andelkrag.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Val, like all the knights of Camelot, is a devout Christian.
  • Robinsonade: A frequent plot device in the strip is that when Val takes a sea voyage, his ship almost inevitably gets waylaid on some Odyssey-style cursed island with a puzzle Val must solve to avoid the crew being trapped forever or killed.
  • Scenery Porn: Consistently some of the most gorgeous scenery ever to grace a newspaper comics page, especially when Hal Foster drew the strip.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: In one early story arc Val encounters a castle that has been taken over by bandits with their leader disguised as an ogre. He disguises himself as a demon to scare them out.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Aleta.
  • Stock Ness Monster: The "lake dragons" follow the usual faux plesiosaur mold.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: The death of Tristan is shockingly abrupt considering his importance in early strips and it has little impact on future events.
  • Textplosion: It stands out as an example of a Sunday-only Comic Strip which has always used this format. Speech bubbles are rather scarce.
  • The Rival: Arn of Ord is this in the beginning as he happens to be engaged to the woman Val is in love with. Their duel ends inconclusive when fair Ilene gets kidnapped and the men become Fire-Forged Friends in order to rescue her. Bonus points for a magical weapon exchanging hands and a child being named after the other.
  • Third-Person Person: When Arn first meets Val on a log bridge.
    Arn: Prince Arn of Ord backs up for no man.
  • Time of Myths: Mythological creatures still roam in some remote corners of the earth. The Aegean sea (Aleta's homeland) is referred to as the "sea of myths".
  • Tsundere: Aleta. She's a sorceress, what did you expect? It kind of helps that Val had her chained up for a while.
  • Vestigial Empire: The inevitable eventual fate of the Western Roman Empire.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Val and really all young warriors find regularly reasons to take off their shirts (if they even wear one to begin with). Villains will also in general proceed to strip our dude before chaining him up.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Isolde's fate after her jealous husband murders Tristan in front of her is never revealed. The only other witnesses (Val and Gawain) flee the scene before they can see what happens next.
  • While Rome Burns: Val and Aleta's budding relationship has this in spades. First when they have a romantic reunion as the army Val has raised to rescue her tears into the innocent townspeople, then even more literally later when they are far too preoccupied with matrimonial plans to care that the Roman empire is collapsing all around them. They even go so far as to hitch a ride with Genseric (the barbarian king who lead the sack of Rome) and their wedding is eventually witnessed by the Roman empress who orchestrated the whole thing. The narration does not shy away from acknowledging all the bloodshed that occurs as a consequence of Val and Aleta's love.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: At least aesthetically. The world of the strip is violent and warlike but very clean and colourful, and the people of King Arthur's court value honour and chivalry.
  • Yellow Peril: The Huns are portrayed as Always Chaotic Evil ravagers of European civilization who the heroes end up hunting like animals.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Both Val and Aleta are informed that it’s time to pick a mate and begin producing heirs. Since they are head-over-heels in love, even though they‘ve barely met yet, Val ditches all his potential brides in Thule and travels to the Misty Isles to literally snatch up Aleta the last moment before she can choose a husband from the crowd of suitors.