his is a page from the comic book "Prince Valiant." The comic book series, which is still running, was created in 1937 by Hal Foster (1892-1982). CNS/Fantagraphics Books

Still heroic superheroes

By  Mike Judge, Catholic News Service
  • February 15, 2014

Superheroes have gotten too super. In their original form, comic book characters like Superman, the Flash and Spiderman were drawn in a way that emphasized their humanity as much as their prodigious abilities.

These days the same characters are liable to be shown as godlike or freakish creatures with only a hint of the human, and even without much conscience: Witness Man of Steel, the latest Superman film, where the iconic hero destroyed a city. He also took a life.

That’s why Prince Valiant is so captivating and countercultural. The comic book series, which is still running, was created in 1937 by Hal Foster (1892-1982). Fantagraphics has been reissuing the original Prince Valiant strips in hardbound editions. These are exquisitely drawn tales, stories that celebrate chivalry, adventure, bravery, Christianity and gentlemanly romance.

In February, Fantagraphics published Prince Valiant Volume 8: 1951-1952. But it’s worthwhile to start with Prince Valiant Volume 1: 1937-1938, which was issued a few years ago and includes a nice introduction to Foster’s life and work by Brian M. Kane. As Kane recounts, the Halifax native ended his formal education in the eighth grade, then taught himself to draw by studying art at the Winnipeg Carnegie Library. By 1927, he had created a newspaper adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. A decade later, Foster launched Prince Valiant and it became a sensation.

The strip is set in Arthurian times. The lead character, Valiant (Val), is a Nordic prince who travels to Camelot as a child after his father, King Aguar, is driven from the throne by the evil Sligon. Valiant becomes a Knight of the Round Table. He also acquires a singing sword, Flamberge and meets, and falls for, Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, whom he weds.

In an upcoming volume, Valiant’s journey takes him to Rome in search of missionary teachers who can bring Christianity to his homeland, the Kingdom of Thule.

The action sequences portray wrestling, joisting, swordplay as well as scenes of battle, and it’s a pleasure to linger over the panels soaking in the details. There is no graphic violence, and Christianity is treated with honour.

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