Jon the Viking Prince. Artist: Joe Kubert.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1955
Creators: Robert Kanigher (writer) and Joe Kubert (artist)
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The middle 1950s were a time of experimentation in American comic books — not because publishers liked the idea of experimenting, but because most of the genres that had …

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… sold a lot of comics in the past had either fallen out of favor, or become the target of do-gooders seeking to enhance their careers by inflaming the public over allegedly harmful publications. They were floundering around, looking for anything people might buy, that wouldn't violate the newly formed Comics Code Authority. The first post-Code title introduced by DC Comics was The Brave & the Bold, launched with a cover date of September, 1955.

Tho this comic spent the bulk of its existence as a vehicle for Batman to team up with practically everybody else in the DC Universe, it started out as swashbuckling historical adventure — not the first time that genre was used in comics, but among the more successful ones. The first issue launched three ongoing series. The Silent Knight was a guy with a secret identity, set in vaguely Arthurian times. The Golden Gladiator hailed from ancient Rome. And The Viking Prince took place in northern Europe, during the tenth century. No single one was favored over the others — in fact, that issue's cover was split three ways, so all could be featured equally. But The Viking Prince was first to have a cover to himself (#2), and the last of that set of swashbucklers to succumb to the early '60s' rising tide of superheroes.

The first issue's Viking Prince story was written by Robert Kanigher (who also co-created The Trigger Twins, Rex the Wonder Dog and any number of other 1950s DC characters) and drawn by Joe Kubert (Hawkman, the other Hawkman). It told of a strong, handsome young man rescued from drowning by a village fishing crew. He was obviously of princely bearing, tho the ordeal had made him lose his memory. They named him Jon, after a legendary prince from generations back. But somebody did know who he was — a nearby potentate, one Thorvald, recognized him and wanted him dead. Dodging Thorvald while trying to figure out who he really was constituted the greater part of his early motivation. The rest was provided by his feelings for Gunnda, daughter of Olaf, the fishing boat's captain.

Kanigher and Kubert (who also collaborated on many war comics, including the critically acclaimed Enemy Ace) stayed together with their Viking Prince only briefly. While Kubert remained to draw the character through his entire run, other writers came in, and his back-story became a little muddled. Later, Jon was his real name and he was, like Prince Valiant, a regular Viking prince complete with kingly father. And he didn't know anybody named Thorvald. Other times, tho, he was just a guy having adventures in medieval Scandinavia.

With one exception (he skipped the sixth issue), Jon continued in The Brave & the Bold as long as it kept its original format, an anthology of swashbucklers. When, with its 23rd issue (May, 1959), it converted to a single star, with the star's logo appearing larger than the comic's title, The Viking Prince was that star. The Silent Knight was the one to get the axe (Golden Gladiator having succumbed early on).

Jon remained the star for two issues before DC converted Brave & Bold into a second try-out comic, testing new characters and concepts before launching them in their own series, as its Showcase had been doing for several years. In #25, Jon was replaced by The Suicide Squad, which ran three issues before it, too, was replaced, this time by the biggest success the title ever had, The Justice League of America. After a few years of such try-outs, Batman and his co-stars took over.

Jon still lurks at the edge of the DC Universe, available for crossovers whenever a DC writer feels like dreaming up a way to put a 10th century Viking into the same story as a modern hero. His most bizarre such appearance remains his first. In Our Army at War #162 (January 1966), Kanigher and Kubert contrived to have Sgt. Rock find him frozen in ice. Further developments have not yet been forthcoming, but he has been found frozen in ice once or twice in the years since.


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Text ©2004-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.