Zelda Valiant Series (Issue 1) – Mike Matei Comics Review

Through the year of 1990, Valiant Comics issued a brief run of comics based on the Legend of Zelda.  I owned a few of these as a kid, and I remember finding them weird but enjoyable.  A child fan of the Zelda games at this time would ravenously eat up any kind of adaptation that was handed to them, even if the quality wasn’t great.  I was one of them.  I remember having issues with the plots, the way the characters were handled and the way things were drawn.  But when you’re young, you sometimes just figure that it’s either your fault for not comprehending the story because you’re not reading at a high enough level, or that the burning questions would get answered in later issues.  Now that I’ve read them again as an adult, I think I have a pretty clear picture of what’s going on with them.

Just so you know, I’m not going to be doing any spoiler sections for this, the whole thing is spoilers.  The purpose of these articles is to satisfy any curiosity you may have about these comics if you’re not planning on tracking down copies yourself and buying them.

There’s a lot of good and bad things about them, and I want to talk about both.  I’m going to make fun of them when they’re bad, and I’m going to praise them when they’re good.  So, let’s get started.

The Zelda Valiant comics seemed to be a way of extending The Legend of Zelda: The Animated Series, but reworking a few things. For the record, I’m quite fond of the Legend of Zelda cartoon.  It’s definitely fun to watch, and if you’ve never seen it, take my word that it’s nowhere near as bad as you may have heard.  Link’s character design is the biggest change.  In the cartoon, he looked like this:

 

Not a bad character design, in my opinion. But, modern audiences know Link as a blonde, so this design might not be considered too appealing.

In the Valiant comics, it seems obvious to me that he was reworked to be closer to how he looked in The Legend of Zelda 2’s box art for the Famicom:

It’s really hard to tell what Link’s hair color is actually supposed to be in the Valiant comics.  Sometimes it’s very brown, sometimes it’s orange, and sometimes it’s straight up red.  I’m on board with his design in these comics, but the inconsistencies panel to panel go far beyond just hair color.  Take a look at how many different ways he’s drawn:

This is actually all taken from the same story segment.

I’d like to say that drawing a character on-model all the time isn’t always a requirement for comics.  Sometimes a character can go off model in ways that enhance expressiveness or convey action, drama or comedy… if it’s done artfully.  But, Link constantly changing appearance from panel to panel here doesn’t seem to be done to serve any kind of artistic purpose, so it comes off inconsistent and the result of some kind of blunder or disorganization behind the scenes.  I don’t consider it a giant sin, but it’s definitely something that you can’t fail to notice reading these and I do feel I should talk about it.  It is weird that you can’t really can’t figure out how old both Link and Zelda are supposed to be.  Sometimes they look like young adults, and sometimes they can look a lot older than that.

Zelda is almost identical to her animated version counterpart.  Which is great, because I’ve always been fond of that design.

Zelda and Link seem to be wearing sensible clothing for people who travel across different terrains and fight monsters.  They’re both wearing tights, so they’re free to do all sorts of acrobatics, which is the primary theme of their combat styles.  Zelda’s tiara seems like it helps keep her hair out of her eyes, and Link’s bangs seem to have some kind of magical way of defying gravity and never falling onto his face.  Hey, he’s part of a fictional elf-like race, I willing buy that maybe his hair is really malleable.

Should they be wearing armor?  I dunno, they each have a magical Triforce protecting them, so maybe that’s defense enough, and maneuverability is the primary concern.

Anyways, let’s look at Issue #1.  The first thing you see when you open it up is pure nostalgia, good old video game advertisements from the 90s.  These adverts were a nuisance to me as a child, because I felt they were somehow robbing me of pages that could be used to have more stories in them, but they’re an absolute joy to revisit as an adult:

I really miss how simple and innocent advertising used to be.

The first two pages give a quick primer on the comic’s universe, which is just basically the same thing as the video games.  Link, Zelda, Triforces, Impa, Ganon… you guys know the drill.  Ganon has the Triforce of Power, Zelda has the Triforce of Wisdom, and Link has the Triforce of Courage.  Ganon wants all three so he can rule Hyrule forever.

My addendum to this primer is this story takes place after the first two Legend of Zelda games, and the comics came out before the release of Zelda: Link to the Past on the SNES.  We’re not in the exact same canon as the first two games, but it’s close.

Story 1: Missing In Action

This issue, like most, has two stories back to back.  The first is “Missing In Action.”  We open on Link being forcibly restrained in the throne room of Hyrule Castle, and he’s really angry.  The king hears him out and Link demands to know why both Zelda and the Triforce of Wisdom are missing.

Turns out, Link has a really, really good reason to be pissed off.  So Zelda’s being pursued by Ganon’s forces and they didn’t immediately notify the most qualified person to locate her?  I would be furious too!

And, like most people would in Link’s situation, he sets off as fast as he possibly can to find Zelda.  He even has a Magic Compass, which always points towards the Triforce of Wisdom’s location, and therefore hers.  We’re in a modern age of GPS satellite technology and we don’t have better means to locate missing persons than Link’s Magic Compass.  The one guy who is in the best position to rescue the princess was not informed of the situation.  What incredible negligence.  This would be bad writing if it wasn’t such a realistic and relatable scenario.  I feel like this story element could have been better if there was an explanation why Link was kept in the dark, possibly by other knights in the kingdom trying to keep the glory of rescuing the princess for themselves.

I think it’s worth pointing out that Link’s horse never got an official name until 8 years after this was published, so there’s nothing to really criticize about Catherine.

Link catches up to Zelda the moment she’s about to be killed and the Triforce is about to be stolen.  Someone in the castle is getting fired for this.

At first I was very upset that the copy I got off eBay had coffee stains on it, but this is actually how this panel is supposed to look.

Zelda wonders aloud why Link is rescuing her and runs away.  With the way his day is going, I’m imagining the protector of Hyrule who has risked his life many times and gone through difficult trials is feeling pretty unappreciated.  She says that every time Link defeats him, Ganon always comes back.  Therefore, she needs to leave Hyrule with the Triforce to break the cycle.  I find it strange that we’ve already gotten to this point in the very first story of the very first comic, but I guess we’re just jumping into a universe already in progress. Interestingly enough, Link keeps his cool and is really supportive of Zelda.

Link is upset by this plan…

But a pleading look from the Zelda convinces him to respect her wishes.

So, Zelda wants the Magic Flute so she can be transported far away from Ganon’s reach.  Zelda and Link both come to the conclusion that the only way she will safely reach the 5th Temple of Hyrule where the Magic Flute is with Link’s escort.  Link reluctantly goes along.

Yup, for absolute certain Link needed to be present to make this plan work.  Once again, Link was totally justified for “acting like a madman” at the beginning of the story.  Keeping Link out of the loop just made things more difficult for everyone.

They trek through dangerous territory and finally arrive at the 5th Palace.  They are immediately attacked by an Iron Knuckle.

I mean, this looks like Rebonack, a boss from Zelda 2, but I guess he is technically an Iron Knuckle.  And I guess it’s not too much of a stretch for a different Iron Knuckle to be riding a floating horse as well.  

Link defeats the Iron Knuckle and pops off his helmet, revealing a regular dude underneath.  Huh.  I’m not super into that.  I never really looked at armored enemies in Zelda games and imagined a human underneath, I always assumed it was just another monster.  I definitely think making Iron Knuckle as a blonde guy with a nice haircut as a plot twist really kind of erodes the official nature of this adaptation and yanks it into fan-fiction territory.  Maybe JJ Abrams had a hand in this comic.

Man, you gotta really admire how in-check this guy’s ego is.  He just lost a fight and he’s giving full props to the guy who beat him.  Alright, I think I’m starting to come around on Iron Knuckle B.J. Blazkowicz here.

He has a moment where he considers destroying the flute to prevent Zelda from carrying out her plan to leave forever.

I really like this moment, and this is where the central theme of this story really comes together.  There are very logical reasons why Link would want to sabotage Zelda’s plan.  We later find out in the next story that the Triforce of Wisdom has magic that can envelop and protect the castle and its inhabitants.  The next story makes it very clear that this protective magic is extremely important to keep Ganon from completely conquering all of Hyrule, so the Triforce being spirited away to some faraway land could have dire consequences.  But also… if there’s no Triforce to steal, would Ganon still be a threat?  It’s actually a really tough call if you don’t have the benefit of hindsight.

But, this moment really resonates with me.  If you’ve ever been in a long term relationship, you probably can relate to this.  Instead of giving into your impulse to take control of the situation and do what you think the right course of action is, you act on faith, trust the other person and yield to their wishes.  Sometimes this is the best course of action even though all your instincts are telling you to do otherwise, because your partner might actually be right and you might actually be wrong.

Whether you agree with Link’s decision or not, this was definitely extremely difficult for him to do.

But, it seems Iron Knuckle’s words about Link being the mightiest warrior got through to Zelda and made her change her mind.

I do find it amusing that Zelda said “you better put it back.”  Nice to see that she has respect enough for magical artifacts to return them if she doesn’t actually have a use for them.

I’m not entirely sure, but I think there’s something suspicious about that yellow block in the foreground that looks like it was drawn in at the last minute.  You come to your own conclusion what that’s all about.  Also, this ending would have been absolutely fine without the last panel.

So, Zelda decides that Link is in fact competent enough after all to be her protector.  This ties in the theme of Link’s frustration of being kept out of the loop when she disappeared, because he actually is qualified to do the job.  Based on the established canon, the Triforce of Courage doesn’t just choose anybody.

I think it’s interesting to think about what would have happened if Link had smashed the flute.  For starters, he would have looked like a complete jerk, and Zelda would have hated him for it.  Him trusting her wishes actually paid off, and he got the outcome he wanted anyways.  Like I said before, this is good relationship advice.  Sometimes.

So, that’s the first story.  Not bad at all, in my opinion.  However, there are things introduced later in this comic series’ canon (in the very next story, in fact) that introduce a plot hole to this story.  The Triforce of Wisdom is a hyper-intellligent entity with clairvoyance.  In fact, in the next story is this line:

It’s a really bad idea to have these kind of characters in a story.  Characters with future-sight and also hyper-intelligence (and even Never-Wrongedness) tend to introduce uncountable plot holes into stories if not handled with the utmost of care, or placing direct limitations on their powers.  If the Triforce can predict the future and is also an embodiment of good judgment, then there’s no reason for any character not to consult it and get the exact steps they need to take in order to resolve any story’s central conflict.

So, Zelda was carrying the Triforce of Wisdom with her to flee from Ganon to the faraway land.  This means one of three things: The Triforce of Wisdom came up with this plan, Zelda came up with the plan and the Triforce of Wisdom approved of it, or Zelda went rogue and took the Triforce against its wishes (least likely scenario).  So, if the Triforce of Wisdom wanted to be taken away (the Triforce is the central thing that supposedly needs to be removed from Hyrule, and Zelda is simply acting as a sacrificial courier), then Zelda deciding not to leave would be in violation of the Triforce’s plan, a plan concocted by a hyper-intelligent entity that has vision of the future.  Which means the sweet ending of this story is a sham, and they’re dooming Hyrule to chaos by not evacuating the Triforce of Wisdom.

However, as I’m typing this I realized something.  Perhaps the Triforce instructed Zelda to run away with it, knowing Link would come after her and eventually escort her, and his heroic and caring actions would convince her that he truly is the hero she can rely on.  Or perhaps the Triforce is playing cupid and trying to bring Link and Zelda together romantically.

My issue with this theory is that means the Triforce is the kind of entity that manipulates people with false prophecies.  Is that what a wise person does?  Like I said, it’s a much better idea not to have hyper-intelligent clairvoyant entities in stories unless their powers are restricted in some way, because it necessitates reading into it excessively like I’m doing here.

Anyways, onto the next story.

Story 2: He Also Serves…

Hell yeah.  That is one awesome opening panel.  I remember this making a huge impression on me as a kid, and it’s a great attention grabber.  We find out immediately that this is a dire prediction by Impa relayed by the Triforce of Wisdom.

This story really comes out the gate with a really charming and clever opening page.  The juxtaposition of the horrifying opening panel and Impa being playfully chided by Zelda as she relays her important message really sets the stage well.

Okay, after a wonderful first page, this story starts to really strain plausibility.  The Triforce of Wisdom, again, is a hyper-intelligent entity that sees the future.  And Zelda and Link should know this very well.  If these were rational, responsible people, they would see such an ominous prediction from the Triforce as a sign that they need to cancel all their plans and put all security on high alert.  Zelda doesn’t need to do a Royal Tour when the circumstances are this serious.  This was an easy plot hole to fix, replace “going on a royal tour of the northern towns” with something that she can’t actually cancel, like something that would put innocent lives in danger if she wasn’t present.  Then it would make sense for them to take this risk.

So, Link promises to stay in the palace, no matter what.  Zelda and Impa leave, and Link remains in the castle practicing his swordplay.  Miff the fairy comes up to him and scolds him for letting Zelda go out by herself.

Having seen a vision of Zelda and Impa being captured by Ganon and his goons, Link says they’re just up the road and he can rescue them quickly.  But then he remembers that terrible things would come to pass if he left the castle.  He becomes frustrated with the situation, but he decides he needs to stay put like planned.

I don’t understand why Impa’s judgment is being debated here.  She was simply relaying a message from the Triforce of Wisdom, who everyone should know can see the future.

Link does the sensible thing of dispatching a guard captain and several pikemen to ride on horseback to rescue Zelda and Impa.  Miff leaves with them, saying “I’ll show them the way!”

Captain Krin returns, badly wounded.  He claims that Ganon is ransacking villages left and right, and Zelda needs to be rescued, specifically by Link.  Of course, thank god, Link is being sensible like I want him to be, and sticks to the Triforce’s plan and refuses to leave.

How this image never ended up becoming a meme absolutely astonishes me.

Okay, now Zelda is apparently contacting Link magically to ask him to leave the castle.  Link is receiving an overwhelming amount of evidence that casts doubt on the Triforce’s prediction.  Even Impa herself shows up and tells him to leave:

Well, there you have it.  Magical impersonation.  Always listen to the Triforce of Wisdom and you can’t fail.  Link certainly understands this very well, and he deserves serious props.

Also, I think it’s worth pointing out that Link and everyone else lives in a world where magical impersonation is probably very common.  Which is why it really doesn’t seem strange to me that he can be so incredulous against such overwhelming “evidence” that he needs to leave the castle.  He’s certainly dealt with magical doppelgangers before, such as the ending of Zelda 2 (we discover in a later issue that Link’s Shadow is part of this comic’s canon).  Nothing about this seems strange to me, Link was definitely acting cautious and sensible, and of course doing the smart thing by doing exactly what the Triforce of Wisdom told him to do.

So all these characters were Ganon in disguise all along.  I can understand Ganon’s frustration, as Link obeying the Triforce of Wisdom is probably always going to lead to him winning.

Man, I always love shadowy cloaked bad guy characters like these.  Something about them just seems so awesome and menacing to me.

So, okay.  These two panels reveal what’s actually going on.  Wizzrobe is camped outside Hyrule Castle’s bridge waiting for Link to cross.  They have a wand that has all the evil energy in Hyrule in it and it can only be used on this exact day.  Ganon has been using magical deception to try to lure Link outside.  Such an extreme extermination method for a simple warrior and adventurer right?  Well, Link does have a significant level of magical protection provided to him by the Triforce of Courage that he carries in his heart, so they would need some heavier firepower to wipe him out.

You’re reading that correctly.  I didn’t skip any panels, you saw the exact order of events.  Ganon actually forgot the entire point of his plan and exited the castle disguised as Link, and was blasted by the evil magic wand.

We all do stupid things sometimes.  Sometimes you open a cabinet in the kitchen, bend down to grab something, and when you stand up you crack your head on the cabinet door you just opened.  Sometimes you’re cooking and you ruin your entire meal by dumping a bunch of cinammon in because you thought it was the jar of cumin.  But is it really plausible that Ganon forgot that Wizzrobe was given instructions to murder Link as soon as he saw him cross the bridge?

I’m actually really conflicted about this.  It might actually be realistic that Ganon could make this blunder.  Link stated that the palace’s magic prevented Ganon from teleporting out, and Link did instruct the guard not to let anyone in or out.  Therefore, Ganon’s one and only option to escape was to impersonate Link.  So I think we can agree on that, Ganon had to exit the gate disguised as Link.

But he kept walking, and didn’t change back into his normal form to keep from being blasted, or even give Wizzrobe a shout to hold his fire.  I really think the writer’s intention was Ganon was so pleased with himself outsmarting Link that he had a complete brain fart.

I’m really close to buying it, seriously.  I really do agree that Ganon disguised as Link getting blasted by the wand is the perfect ending to this story, and ties everything together nicely.  It just needed a better setup to be plausible.

My proposed solution to fix this comic would be to add one more panel before Ganon gets blasted.  He slowly realizes his mistake with a speech bubble. “Wait, if I’m disguised as Link, then that means… Wait! Wizzrobe, stand down!” then boom, he gets blasted in the next panel.  That would really sell the whole brain fart scenario better and make this ending less abrupt and confusing.  When I initially read this, I felt like this ending didn’t make sense at all.  Going over the story a lot more slowly while writing this article, I realize what the intention was.

So, the line is a reference to the last line of John Milton’s sonnet, “On His Blindness,” which goes “they also serve who stand and wait.” Which is actually a pretty clever literary reference to tie this whole thing together thematically.  Minus the gripes I listed, I found this a pretty cool story.  Unfortunately, under enough scrutiny, this story reduces down to “always follow any instructions given to you by a supernatural omniscient entity.” Which is kind of lame.  But still, I appreciate what this story was trying to accomplish.

So, that was issue #1.  Not a bad start, I’d say.  Each of the stories, in my opinion, could have been made quite good with some rewrites, and not terribly drastic rewrites either.  Already I’m seeing a lot of potential for good stories taking place within this universe.  The characters and the setting are solid, so let’s see where it goes from here.

So, next time we’ll get into issue #2.  Or we’ll talk about issue #2.  There’s actually two issue #2s, if you can believe it.  I might have to flip a coin to decide which one to do first.

Thanks for reading.

Oh hey, the back cover has an advert of Back To The Future II & III by LJN.  I wonder if it’s any good?

12 thoughts on “Zelda Valiant Series (Issue 1) – Mike Matei Comics Review”

  1. I believe I have one of these comics where Link is seduced by the triforce of power and starts to transform into Gannon. He grows pig teeth and wears a hooded cape.

    1. Totally agree, loved that issue. Link seduced by the dark side by touching the Triforce of power is an awesome idea. Great story to explore that early in the Zelda timeline.

  2. Great post Mike! I loved everything Zelda as a child of the 80’s and collected these and the Mario Bros. comics by Valiant. The Zelda series was still so young that I took all of these stories as cannon within the timeline. So it was surprising to see the only incarnation of Link’s parents depicted here, as well as mock advertisements for fictional in game products!

  3. What a fantastic post! I forgot what I was doing but I was glued to my phone reading both about the comic itself and your take on it.

    Would love to see more of these posts and thanks so much!

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