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Prince Valiant Volume Six: 1947-1948
posted February 5, 2013
 

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Creator: Hal Foster
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 112 pages, February 2013, $35.
Ordering Nubmers: 160699588X (ISBN10), 978-1606995884 (ISBN13)

imageHal Foster was ten years into his life's major work by the comics presented in the sixth volume of Fantagraphics' latest reprinting of Prince Valiant appeared in newspapers. He had more than settled into a comfortable groove. The comic in this attractively-packaged and produced edition gives off the handsome sheen of mass entertainment that knows its commercial value. Prince Valiant may be 75, but this material at least still has all its hair and a hell of a tan.

In the continuities presented in this volume, readers get a kidnapping saga, Val and Aleta in the new world, the birth of Arn, a visit with an old friend, and a kind of self-contained mini-quest. Each sequence has its virtues. The new world material negotiates some troubling cultural assumptions reasonably well for its time and station, although that's less a low bar and more just a big stick lying on the ground. Valiant proves far better playing up things like the difference between preferred physical structures and hunting practicalities (whether or not actually true) than its depictions of the interpersonal. The stand-alone quest in the book's second half is fun for watching Prince Valiant march through a minor problem-solving exercise. That sequence has to be entertaining on some level because it's hard to take its villain seriously as a threat. Watching people perform their jobs well is a trusted bedrock of the popular arts, and this applies to Valiant and to his creator.

There's a lot of the domestic material here. Baby Arn gets a couple of solo strips where he narrates things from his point of view that are cute for the drawing if rather clumsily and bluntly executed. I wish I could say I enjoyed the Aleta character more than I did, as defending her is the most fun to be had in terms of a rhetorical stance with Valiant. I didn't, though, and never have. Aleta comes across as an idealized woman rather than a character of her own, the kind of person -- a kind that I'm sure existed in some ways, and never could in others -- that so fulfilled what a male-driven society found valuable about woman that she endorses the constraints of that role more than she ever breaks free of them. I also felt like I was constantly being sold on Aleta's fundamental awesomeness, like she had just replaced some popular television show cast member for the series' seventh season. In the Native American sequences, the locals literally see Aleta as a goddess figure. It's enough to make you want to play outside. Luckily, with Foster, you wait things out and you can pretty much do that. More trees, please.

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