King: Prince Valiant (#1 of 4)

King: Prince Valiant (#1 of 4)
Written by Nate Cosby
Illustrated by Ron Salas
Colored by Luigi Anderson
Lettered by Marshall Dillon
Dynamite Entertainment

In King: Prince Valiant #1, Dynamite Comics continues its King Features Syndicate initiative, looking at the classic character of Prince Valiant. This is a strong, intriguing first issue that has me very interested in learning more about the character.

This issue takes a look at young Prince Valiant, who's only 17 and is not yet a knight, only a squire, living in Arthurian England. The tale of young Prince Valiant is being told by one speaker to another mysterious figure, in a darkened cave (a device that frames the issue).  As told by the first speaker, Prince Valiant has a head full of steam, he's always looking for adventure, and he'll never back down from a fight. Unfortunately for him, his ego is writing checks that his body can't cash*.  By the end of the first issue, Valiant is out on his own, having severed ties with his community. Throughout the series, we're sure to see the connection between the speakers in the cave, and young Prince Valiant.

As I have very little background on the character of Prince Valiant, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Based on the name, and other King Features books, I expected swashbuckling fun, and derring-do. This issue gives you your sword-fighting, but it's darker, more contemplative, and more interesting than I was expecting.   The opening page of the book shows what could be a scene of the cosmos, but it turns out to be the interior of a mysterious cave.  A strange voice asks his visitor to tell him a tale, and so the visitor tells the tale of Prince Valiant. As this is framed both by the scenes in the cave, there is an epic, almost wistful quality to the storytelling. This quality is nicely established in both the narration and the art. Giving the scenes of battle this opening context provides a sense of melancholy, which doesn't bring down the fun but instead gives it more of a sense of weight.

As discussed, the art in King: Prince Valiant really helps to sell the story and set the tone; Ron Salas and colorist Luigi Anderson do strong work. Salas has a somewhat rough line in the book, but simultaneously provides great detail in action sequences, each movement of the combatants feels well thought-out, and he has a strong sense of illustrating the human form in motion and generally. The body language in the book feels expressive and effective at illustrating the emotions of the characters involved. 

The coloring in this book is similarly thoughtful; Anderson brings a slightly faded, muted quality to the colors, which feels appropriate given the setting centuries ago. There's nice variation in colors though, as the castle Camelot is shown in sun-dappled glory, as are any scenes involving the King. We understand this to be a powerful place, one that you'd not easily want to leave. In some cases the backgrounds are somewhat spare, but near the end of the issue, we see the world before Valiant as he goes out alone, and Salas and Anderson combine for a lovely scene that's both beautiful and lonely. Marshall Dillon (letterer for several Valiant books, ironically enough) ably provides lettering here as well; the sound effects lettering adds nice touches in the story, and the choice of lettering the sinister voice in the cave helps the reader hear this strange voice.    

I'm very curious to learn more about Prince Valiant and his adventures (and his ties to the broader King Features universe of characters), and I think King: Prince Valiant is off to a strong, intriguing start.

[Editor's Note: For those interested in the original strips, they are reprinted in some handsome editions by Fantagraphics. -RobM]

* Yes, I just quoted Top Gun. You know you love that movie.