Hunting down the comics of my youth: The Raven Banner
by rick olivares
Of late, I have been picking up a lot of the comic books that I enjoyed as a kid. Is that an indictment on the medium today? Somewhat.
There was a time when Marvel was not only producing terrific superhero comics but also mature and fantasy stories. In the 1980s, the House of Ideas came out with the Epic line and Epic Illustrated.
What was featured there? Arthur Suydam’s The Adventures of Cholly and Flytrap. Dean Motter’s and Ken Steacy’s The Sacred and the Profane. Dave Sim’s Cerberus. Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman. Chris Claremont’s and John Bolton’s Marada the She-Wolf. Michael Moorcock’s Elric. And there was Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar. There was also J.M. DeMatteis’ and Jon J Muth’s Moonshadow.
Epic was so diverse that it was indie before indie was even a concept. In fact, they paved the way for Vertigo (as DC saw the success of Epic).
One original graphic novel that I loved was Alan Zelenetz’ and Charles Vess’ The Raven Banner that was a tale of Asgard.
In a nutshell, the story is about a young man who goes on a journey to retrieve the Asgardians gods’ enchanted Raven Banner that was stolen by some trolls after it was lost in battle. This Asgardian goes from an irresponsible son (his father was the bearer of the banner) to a noble warrior who loses his life at the end of the story during a battle with invading giants.
I have always loved Thor because of its mythological origins but what attracted me to The Raven Banner was largely Vess’ artwork. Along with P. Craig Russell who drew Elric as written by Roy Thomas, this was the closest I could get to the works of Frank Frazetta and Roger Dean whose works were so darn expensive.
If Frazetta was the epitome of high fantasy, and Dean, an architect of alien worlds and futuristic landscapes, Vess’ art was the first name in magical and mythological landscapes.
And Vess was the first – to my knowledge – to depict Asgard as something really out of myth instead of the gleaming spires of a futuristic city.
I became such a huge fan of Vess that I picked up his Marvel Fanfare #34-37 featuring The Warriors Three, Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth, The Books of Magic #3, Stardust, and hardcover collection, Drawing Down the Moon.
The Raven Banner could have been really good. The caveat there is the pacing by Zelenetz (who also wrote Alien Legion and Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu). The adventures of Greyval Grimson who seeks to redeem the stolen banner takes up a lot of story but when we arrive at the climax with the second battle on the plains of Ida, it is over in the space of two pages. It feels as if the ending was rushed.
But no matter. I loved this story as only a kid can.
I lost this graphic novel during Typhoon Ondoy along with many other cherished collections. In the years since, I have enjoyed the thrill and frustration of the hunt of tracking down my favorites books and issues. Many of the older issues have been collected in new hardcover novels or omnibus tomes. But The Raven Banner has been out of print.
I checked out my usual sources in the United States – Midtown Comics, The Strand, mycomicshop.com and milehighcomics.com but it is has been unavailable.
After a lengthy search, I was able to find it through the help of a stateside cousin in someone’s collection that was sold for the princely sum of $1.99. It’s not in mint condition but beggars cannot be choosers. Furthermore, it has aged gracefully. I am totally fine with it.
Now, I have three of those old over-sized graphic novels of my youth – The Raven Banner, Marada the She-Wolf, and Spider-Man: Hooky (as illustrated by the great Berni Wrightson whose inimitable style is kept alive today by the equally superb Kelley Jones).
And I feel like a kid all over again.