Monday, January 30, 2023

Night Raven - From The Marvel UK Vaults!

Where Brooding Darkness 
Spreads Its Evil Wings 
The Night Raven Stings!

That is the mysterious and ominous message left by Night Raven after he's put an end to some injustice he comes across in his nightly patrols in the big city. It's the olden times of crime run wild in the streets as honest men and women must pay protection to keep the wolves from their throats. Extortionists, robbers and murderers prowl the night, but they are not alone. The Night Raven is an avenger in the style of the classic pulp heroes who hidden behind his mask stalks the villainy that makes civilized life so difficult. His adventures are gathered together in Night Raven - From the UK Vaults. 

Created by Dez Skinn, the character's adventures were written by Steve Parkhouse and drawn by David Lloyd. Lloyd had yet to create his masterpiece V for Vendetta when this strip started in the back pages of Hulk Comic in 1979. The stories are short punchy events told in three-page snapshots. In the earliest yarns the Night Raven, who is given no origin nor any secret identity, puts stop to gangsters seeking them out in their haunts as they play cards or hide. He hunts them down when they try to run protection scams on innocent shopkeepers and murder to enforce their terror. In later tales he is hunted down by a paid assassin but is able to win the day barely in the end. Lloyd drew all these tales, but artist John Bolton takes over when Night Raven goes up against a "Dragon Lady" and her deadly Tong. As masterful as Bolton is, Lloyd's version of the character is definitive to my eye. Borrowing shtick from the pulp hero The Spider (slapping deadly brands on the foreheads of criminals), this comic book character is in the grand tradition of The Shadow. 

I first read the adventures of Night Raven in the 1990 Marvel Graphic Novel which gathered his first adventures from the pages of Hulk Comic numbers one through twenty. It's a slim read, coming in at a mere sixty pages. Since that time a new graphic novel has been created as well as other appearances of Night Raven as a guest star. But this is clearly a character who works best in his original milieu, the savage streets of a city writhing with crime. 

I didn't really have much of an idea what had happened to the Night Raven in the prose pages of many British publications. The idea of a comic was abandoned and driving right the roots of the character, his nightly adventures were presented in prose form with spot illustrations. These are grity stories, deep in character. Stories are told form multiple viewpoints, almost never Night Raven's. We see his deadly struggle against crime as things get more brutal. We learn that he is poisoned by his arch-enemy but that the poison also gives him immortality but at the cost of immense pain. We follow Night Raven through the decades, as he struggles to keep his sanity and fulfill his mission. There are stories by the likes of Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, among others. These were of surprising quality as I'm used to dismissing text in comics, but here are solid noir tales that would've been welcomed in many a pulp magazine back in the day. 

I came to this collection because of the great comics, but I recommend it mostly now because of the outstanding short stories. 

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  1. The name Dez Skinn sure shows up a lot in UK genre publications. I like Bolton's work, including that on The Monster Club.

    1. Skinn, who went on to create Warrior (birthplace of V for Vendetta, MiracleMan, and more) did seem to be the point man for Marvel in Britain. I read somewhere that Bolton was given the Night Raven gig because Stan Lee didn't like David Lloyd's version, but I couldn't find my source for that.