Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Viking Prince


A full fifteen years before Marvel Comics brought Conan the Barbarian to the newsstands, another sword wielding hero stalked across the four color pages of DC Comics' anthology title The Brave and the Bold. Created and originally written by Robert Kanigher, The Viking Prince premiered in B&B issue #1 in 1955 with art by the legendary Joe Kubert. For a little over two dozen issues, Jon the titular Viking prince would fight monsters, mages, and madmen and rescue maidens and mermaids, all illustrated with Kubert's amazing brushwork.
And the best thing is, now you can get all of The Viking Prince's adventures in one volume, a hefty full-color hardback available at comic book shops, bookstores and from Amazon.com. This stuff has been hard to come by for many years, a lot of the stories having never been reprinted. I can remember first discovering Viking Prince in the early 1970s as a reprint in a Brave & Bold Hundred Page comic. I was familiar with Joe Kubert mostly from his work on DC's war hero, Sgt. Rock and from a short but very impressive stint on Tarzan. Viking prince showed me a different side of Kubert's work. The Viking Prince leaped and ran through a world of swords and sorcery and high adventure, very much in the tradition of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant, but with an action oriented spin. I hunted down any reprints of Viking Prince I could find, and looking through this new volume, I see that I'd only collected about half the stories. Great to have them all in one place. The stories, mostly written by Bob Haney after Kanigher got the ball rolling, seem a bit dated now, but the artwork, Odin's Blood, the artwork. The first few stories look sort of like Kubert's Tor (a caveman hero) work, with slightly cartoonish faces and 'slick' inking. But after only a few stories we get into prime Kubert, the same sort of art he would do on Hawkman and Sgt. Rock. His inking becomes looser and more detailed, his brushwork more thick and expressive and his page layouts more experimental. Kubert's work has weight on the page. Just amazing stuff, and you can watch the evolution of his style as the series progresses.
A final note. Though I mentioned that Kanigher left the book after just a couple of stories, he would return to the character in 1966 to team the Viking Prince with Sgt. Rock in World War Two, a crossover that would make Win Scott Eckert proud. How did these two heroes meet? Ah, that would be telling. Find out yourself by picking up this volume of sword & sorcery goodness. I've already spent a lot of time just marveling at the art. Highly recommended.

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