The second and, for me, easily the best of the three series to launch in the first issue of Brave and the Bold was the Viking Prince. The Viking Prince’s series would run in that book for most of the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age, even when the Brave and the Bold changed format from an anthology adventure series to a tryout book. The Viking Prince would be the first series to get a featured tryout.
Created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, the Viking Prince made his debut in Brave and the Bold 1. A young boy is found floating in the sea by Captain Olaf, and taken back to his village, where he is given the name Jon.
He has no memory of who he really is. The reader follows a man from a different town, who watches all this, and reports back to his master, Baron Thorvald. We find out that Thorvald tried to have Jon killed, and sends men out to try again. The story looks better than it reads, frankly, as much remains unexplained about Thorvald's actions against Jon.
Captain Olaf and his people, including his daughter Gunnda, essentially wind up in the middle of a fight they really know nothing about. Thorvald appears to die at the end of this story, but in fact will be back in the following issue.
In the second issue of the book Jon is being trained in swordsmanship. While this is happening, he spots a mysterious dragon boat approaching. Boarding it, they find it seemingly abandoned. But that night Thorvald's men attack the and set fire to the village Jon is in. It turns out the dragon boat has a secret compartment where Thorvald's men are concealed. Jon figures this out, and leads a counter-attack. At one point he thinks he is fighting Thorvald himself, but it turns out to simply be a decoy.
In Brave and the Bold 3 Baron Thorvald captures Chief Olaf. Knowing that Thorvald has a spy in the village, Jon pretends to find the hammer of Thor, and demonstrates its destructive powers. Thorvald offers to trade Olaf for the hammer, but plots to double cross Jon. Doesn't really matter, the hammer is a fake anyway.
In a really nice twist, Thorvald has the hammer in the final battle scene, and it gets struck by lightning, just as if it were Thor's hammer. The lightning is said to be just stunning Thorvald, although one would think it killed him.
Baron Thorvald returns in Brave and the Bold 5. Captain Olaf and his men grow frightened of the seas when they spot an ice dragon, a kind of sea serpent in the waters. Jon goes out to fight the creature, and discovers that it is really just an iceberg, carved to look like a dragon. It is pushed along through the water by one of Thorvald's boats. Jon and Gunnda briefly get captured by Thorvald, but Jon spears a whale. Angered, the thrashing whale overturns Thorvald's boat, and Jon and Gunnda escape. After this, the Baron’s appearances become less frequent.
In issue 7 Jon keeps encountering nasty big eagles, first when out fishing, and later when Gunnda is up in the hills gathering herbs for her ailing father, Captain Olaf. Gunnda gets captured by the birds, and Jon follows them. Turns out the birds were trained and sent by Baron Thorvald, which really isn't so much of a surprise. Jon bursts into Thorvald's castle, fights off the birds and frees Gunnda.
We next see Thorvald in Brave and the Bold 11, in a story which uses the fact that the reader understands magnetism, even though the characters in the tale do not. Jon and the other villagers are mystified and frightened when their metal objects being flying away from them.
Jon and Gunnda get shipwrecked when the nails pull away from their boat. Thorvald has discovered a huge natural magnet, which he calls the Terror Stone, and is using it against Captain Olaf and his people. Jon manages to sever the stone from its rope, getting it out of Thorvald's control and leaves it at the bottom of the ocean.
Baron Thorvald makes his final appearance in Brave and the Bold 15. Jon gets captured by Thorvald's men and sealed into a cask, and then thrown out to sea. The cask moves through the oceans exceptionally quickly, winding up in Arabia before Jon has time to starve to death. He gets uncrated there, and is assumed to be a genie.
The man who freed him believes he has the right to three wishes from Jon. The Viking Price is extremely obliging, and sets about making the wishes come true, despite not being a genie. It's a ludicrous tale from start to finish, but Kubert's art makes it work.
There are also some very enjoyable tales that have nothing to do with Baron Thorvald. In Brave and the Bold 9 Jon and the villagers believe they see a fire troll out in the sea when they head into new territory, which terrorizes them. But while everyone else thinks the fire troll is real, Jon refuses to accept this. Jon wants to go back and face the fire troll, and tries to convince the other villagers to go with him.
Not only does no one want to go, Jon has to battle Red Orm, who insists that no one head into the waters, for fear of angering the troll. Jon defeats Orm and heads out alone. Approaching the fire troll, he discovers that it is actually a volcanic vent from an underground volcano. Jon destroys the "chimney," which seals the vent and makes the area safe. A really nice use of Norse mythology, with a perfectly rational and realistic explanation.
Brave and the Bold 10 sends the Viking Price out of his usual stomping grounds. Jon gets caught in a storm at sea, and drifts all the way to North America, where he encounters a group of natives who wear the headgear of the Sioux, even though they apparently live on the Atlantic coast. Perhaps they are on vacation. He gets in the middle of a conflict between two tribes. Twice he saves the life of the daughter of the chief of one of the tribes, so he winds up on their side during the fights.
After helping his new friends defeat their rivals, he takes a canoe and manages to make it all the way back to Scandinavia. Although I doubt this was done intentionally to link with this story, a tale in Birds of Prey, in the 90s, would also have the Viking Prince alongside the Sioux, but in the region that would become Minnesota.
Brave and the Bold 16 saw some big changes for the Viking Prince series. Kanigher and Kubert shed Captain Olaf and Gunnda, and now saw Jon, accompanied by the Mute Bard, seeking to regain his throne by completing the twelve tasks of Thor. Apparently Jon had regained his memory of who he was, and so left the fishing village to reclaim his throne. Torgunn the Claw makes his only appearance, having become regent in Jon's absence. The tasks are far more dramatic and challenging than the kind of adventures that Jon had previously had, and would increasingly tend towards supernatural elements, though those are largely absent in this tale.
Jon loses his memory twice more during the events of this thirteen page tale, so the poor guy must have some serious brain damage by this point. This story introduces King Harald of Skane, as well as his daughter, Ylla, who quickly falls for the Viking Prince, after he rescues her and saves her life. She wants him to stick around, but he has more tasks to complete before he can claim his throne.
In Brave and the Bold 17 the Viking Prince and the Mute Bard get caught in a whirlpool. Jon gets pulled deep into the water, where he meets Merla, the princess of the lake. Simply by making contact with Jon, she is able to endow him with the ability to breathe underwater.
She gives him this power permanently by kissing him. Jon aids Merla in regaining her underwater castle, which had been taken over by an evil sorceror. The story is fairly straightforward, but Kubert's art just lifts this into a magical realm.
The Viking Prince finally decides that it is cold enough to wear clothes in Brave and the Bold 18. He had been shown many times during this run in icy weather, but never needed more than a loincloth before. But I am not going to complain at all about his costume, which Kubert renders lovingly. Jon and the Mute Bard are on the latest of his challenges, to awaken a rose. This leads the pair into the realm of the Ice King.
Jon battles his way through the Ice King's defenses until he finds a sleeping princess, who he awakens with a kiss. She is the Rose Princess, so this conveniently fulfils his mission. Just for good measure, Jon also defeats the Ice King, who can freeze men with his touch, by heating him up with a ruby.
Jon continues working on his twelve tasks of Thor in Brave and the Bold 19, and is climbing a mountain to retrieve the feather of what appears to be a bird. In fact, it turns out to be a flying horse. The horse attacks Jon, who winds up having to climb onto it to avoid being killed. The horse then flies Jon to Valhalla, where he meets Sigrud, the leader of the Valkyries. Valhalla is under threat by the Moon Vikings, and Jon joins forces with Sigrud to defeat them.
I don't know a lot of Norse mythology, but I think this is a hodge podge that would irritate me if I did. It all looks beautiful, and it's an entertaining read in and of itself. In a much later story, in Our Army at War, the Viking Prince would have a Valkyrie lover, which may refer back to this tale, or at least have been inspired by it.
In issue 20 the Viking Prince and the Mute Bard take shelter in a cave during a storm. There are pictures etched into the wall, which the Mute Bard understands indicate that this is an entrance to the afterlife, which, in this story, is overseen by Wotan. Perversely, the story also deals with Odin's cup, which endows whoever drinks from it with invulnerability. As if Odin and Wotan were different people, not just different spellings of the same god's name.
Anyway, the Mute Bard cannot warn Jon about any of this, being mute and all, so Jon ventures further into the cave, and winds up dealing with Wotan. It's another hodge podge of a story, but a great looking one. There is a statue of Wotan that the evil god brings to life to battle Jon, as well as some giant fish that he has to deal with. Jon manages to retrieve and drink from Odin's cup, which enables him to face and defeat the giant statue.
In Brave and the Bold 21 Jon is hunting for a feather from the Firebird, and looking for it in an Arctic region, which is kind of odd to begin with. He falls through the ice and gets rescued by a mermaid, who apparently takes Jon all the way to the South Pacific. Oh, on the way, he fights an orca. Because why not? So then Jon is on a tropical island called Rokatora. The name of the island, and the way the woman is dressed, both evoke Polynesia.
The island has a volcano that is about to erupt, but Jon diverts the flow of lava from the village. And what do you know, inside the volcano is a Firebird, all ready to burn itself up. Jon grabs a feather, and then then mermaid takes him back to the Arctic. Absolutely the weirdest Viking Prince tale.
The Mute Bard makes his final chronological appearance in Brave and the Bold 22, and doesn't even get to do much, getting separated from Jon in a storm at the start. He will next be seen in the 80s, in the pages of Arak, Son of Thunder. Jon winds up on an island of extremely tiny people, in a sequence straight out of Gulliver's Travels. Reference is made to Gunnda in this story, although her name is rendered Gunda.
Jon helps the tiny people against invaders who land on their island. To convince the people to fight for themselves, he inhales a vapour from a cave which shrinks him as well, and shows them how size is not important in a fight. This also lets him have a great scene battling a spider. As has become usual, the visuals are far better than the silly plot, and action scene carry the tale.
Beginning with Brave and the Bold 23, the book changes from being a historical anthology to being a tryout book, along the lines of Showcase. But since the first series to get a tryout was the Viking Prince, it feels like not much has changed in the book, aside from dropping the Silent Knight, and reducing the size of the logo.
The first story in this issue finally reveals exactly who Jon is, and how is a Viking prince. He is the son of King Rikk, and we see him grow up happy and exuberant. His father arranges a marriage with Asa, the daughter of the King of Skane. Neither one is pleased with this arranged marriage. Torgo, the Dragon King, attacks their town, and captures King Rikk.
Jon sets out to find and free his father, defeating Torgo, and also falling in love with Asa, while she becomes impressed with his devotion and his deeds. So the two are in love by the end of the story, and Jon sets out to bring Asa back to Skane, and meet her father.
The second story follows up on the first, in a way, dealing with Jarl Erik, the sorceror brother of the Dragon King. He wants vengeance for his brother's death, and sets out to conquer Skane. He uses his magic to turn Asa into a wooden figurehead. Much of the remainder of the story is a sea battle. Jon finds Asa as the figurehead to Jarl Erik's ship, and gets it onto his own.
The sea battle is harsh, and Jon runs out of drinking water, at the same time as Jarl Erik sets his ship afire. He uses the last of his water to keep the figurehead wet and safe from burning. This action causes the spell to be broken, and Asa returns to being human. Jarl Erik winds up going down in a whirlpool.
The Viking Prince comes to an end in Brave and the Bold 24. The first story delves into the relationship between the Viking Prince and his father, King Rikk. The two clearly have a very strong bond, and while they enjoy fighting with each other, there is no animosity between them.
So the reader really sympathizes with how upset Jon gets when his father is captured and tortured by pirates. Asa sneaks on board Jon's ship, as he heads out to find and free his dad. A fairly simple story, but with some strong emotions, and excellent art.
The final Viking Prince story adds a supernatural element to the character. Jon starts the story by fighting a killing a big sea monster, but gets scarred in the process. The scar is in the shape of a dragon, and when the Moon is full, Jon's arm gets weakened. This is called the curse of the Dragon's Moon.
There is another man in the tribe who wants to get Jon out of the way, and plots to take the throne for himself, Klagg the Red. Klagg does all he can to take advantage of the times when Jon is weaker, but Jon keeps defeating his challenges. Jon also spends time in the story trying to find a way to remove the curse, but never does.
This could have been a decent new element for the character, though I suspect it would have grown tiresome quickly. But as the series ended at this point, and no later appearance used the dragon scar, it wound up becoming just a footnote in his history.
The next appearance of the Viking Prince came in the late 60s, when he showed up for a two-part team-up with Sgt. Rock in the pages of Our Army at War.