Friday, March 22, 2019

"War!" Cries The Raven!


Having just recently taken a glimpse at the original Red Raven, it's almost regrettable that we must follow up with the character by witnessing the finish of his all-too-brief career in a Sub-Mariner story which took place in mid-1970. Written by Roy Thomas, who brought the character forward from comics' Golden Age and returned him to action in an issue of X-Men (which in hindsight isn't surprising, given the writer's fondness for revisiting 1940s characters), the Raven and his people meet a tragic end, leaving their story to be picked up here and there in other books by other writers (the introduction of the Bi-Beast perhaps being the most prominent example).

In his earlier encounter with the Angel, the Red Raven was presented as a sympathetic character, having been forced to betray his adoptive avian race in order to prevent them from attempting to conquer humanity. Now, however, Thomas switches gears and paints the Raven a different way, when his discovery at sea theatens to unleash the very war that the Raven once swore to prevent.





The Raven's origin isn't really a complicated one, aside from the existence of a "sky-city" that is home to a race of winged men and women (later retconned to be an offshoot group of Inhumans who left Attilan to seek their own destiny). Namor's reason for taking the time and trouble to seek out the Raven is rather thin--feeling the Raven will be a vital ally in his efforts to stop the pollution of the air and oceans by the surface dwellers, despite never having met the Raven or voicing why he's the ideal choice for such a role; Namor, a Golden Age figure himself, would have only known the Raven by reputation (if we can call it that--the Raven had only one tale to his name before his reappearance in X-Men), someone who stopped gangsters (led by a demon--ah, the 1940s) from stealing the country's gold supplies. So the shock that Namor receives in discovering that the Raven wishes to take a more aggressive posture and eradicate the human race entirely is perhaps like a bucket of ice water for the sea-prince, underscoring the fact that he's assumed a great deal simply on the basis of a legend.




With the aid of ray-blasters within the tips of his artificial wings, the Raven is able to put up a fair fight against Namor; but with the arrival of the police in force, who had clashed with Namor earlier that evening, the Raven is able to escape and head back to his sunken island to rouse his people from their sleep--this time having no trace of the misgivings of the man who once forced them into suspended animation and, twenty years later, refused to let them awaken for fear of the lives that would be lost in their war with the humans. Yet now his mania regarding the matter is apparent, and doubtless his people would have pride in seeing for themselves where his loyalties lie--if not for the arrival of the Sub-Mariner, who realizes that it was he who awakened the Raven, and he who would be responsible for the casualties if the war the Raven strives to ignite should come to pass.




Having so recently had contact with the water which renews his strength, Namor is better able to match and exceed the Raven's prowess in battle in this second clash. Yet the actions that the Raven took so long ago to force his race into slumber now come back to haunt him--for though he is able to reach the fateful switch that will awaken the avians, he discovers that life itself has abandoned them, and that the blame for their deaths falls on his shoulders.




The grim circumstances of the character's end aside, I can't honestly say I was ever a fan of the Red Raven. Clearly this story conveyed a certain amount of reverence for both the man and his abilities, though, unlike the Sub-Mariner, I couldn't envision him as a viable force outside of the loosely-structured world of Golden Age comics--and, later, he would only remind me of Nighthawk, another hero with similar features who didn't exactly set the world on fire for me. Still, the character would be brought back--or should I say returned back, in time, to be among the members of the Liberty Legion; and in 1999, all of what we've seen here would be rendered pointless when the Raven returns to reveal that he'd faked the deaths of his race as well as his own. It seemed that, despite evidence to the contrary, there were those who were convinced that the Red Raven still had a story to tell.

BONUS:
Covers featuring the Red Raven's appearances to date!



7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have this issue, bought in a comics store on the '90's, purchased largely on the strength of that beautiful cover. I thought the Sub-Mariner was a fairly strong title during this period, at least from the back issues I've acquired. Dynamic art (very nicely done here), drama-drenched and moody with a little social commentary thrown in. In other words, a classic Marvel mag! I only wish I'd seen it when I was eight.
I too was intrigued by the character, and his connection to the baleful Bi-Beast, an old favorite of mine. The super-villains you first see as a kid are always your favorites, though subsequent generations may find them pretty goofy. There was even a character from the original Nova series, "Condor", I believe, who originally hailed from that same cloud-spanning world in the sky. That might have been a ret-con deal. Not sure.
Nice to see this stuff again, and another great post, C.F.
Cheers!

M.P.

Anonymous said...

Not sure the Sub-Mariner was really in any position to take the moral high ground against the Red Raven attacking the human race.
C'mon, "only in defence, not aggression" - seriously? Namor?

-sean

Anonymous said...

He was loosening up in his old age. After Woodstock Namor had a whole different bag. Y'know, Joni Mitchell...
No more invading NYC with a bunch of Atanteans with fishbowls on their heads. A more pensive, thoughtful Sub-Mariner was the cat we knew in the late '60's, early 70's.

M.P.

Comicsfan said...

Indeed, Sean and M.P., there was a concerted effort being made by Walter Newell and Diane Arliss, spearheaded by Senator Winters in Washington, to establish Namor as an ecological symbol and win him amnesty--though, as Winters acknowledges, Namor's occasional outbursts against surface dwellers don't make his job easy. In addition, Namor himself has a curious way of exercising his definition of nonaggression, despite his good intentions--arriving in force with the Hulk and the Silver Surfer to effectively seize a government installation, and, here, seeking to conscript the Red Raven. You don't go about recruiting outcast super-powered beings to your cause if you don't mean to use them as a form of intimidation and a show of force.

If Namor really wanted to be an effective ecological force, he would channel his anger into passion and concern and bring his perspective on the oceans to the United Nations (as sovereign of Atlantis, you can do that, Namor) and work with international gatherings of scientists and world leaders, rather than taking a threatening posture--knowing, going in, that it will be an uphill struggle to make progress. The alternative is to act as he has and address the symptoms, rather than the underlying problem: the ignorance and uncaring nature of surface dwellers in regard to their environment.

Anonymous said...

Thats right M.P.,Namor did start looking at both sides now. I blame hanging around with Dr Strange in Greenwich Village - that'd turn anyone into a hippy.
He should have stuck with Victor von Doom. Now there was a ...uh, cat who really knew what time it was.

Sorry Comicsfan, but I'm of the opinion that theres only one kind of language the surface dwellers understand.
I mean, sure Namor should negotiate... but it wouldn't hurt his chances to have a strong hand.

-sean

Comicsfan said...

I can't say I entirely disagree with you, Sean.

dbutler16 said...

That 1999 retcon sounds really stupid and contrary to the panel you've posted. Sigh.

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