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Night Raven: Marvel UK’s pulp hero

Posted by at 10:00 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in Comics, Pulps
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Night Raven: Marvel UK’s pulp hero

Night Raven: The Complete Stories“Where brooding darkness spreads its evil wings, the Night Raven stings!”

Marvel Comics for several years had an imprint in the U.K. publishing their comics: Marvel UK. Basically, it just reprinted American comics in a format expected in the U.K.

Instead of monthly titles with a long story focused on a single character, British comics were anthologies published weekly or biweekly with each character getting one or two pages each issue, so a story would be serialized over several issues. Also, titles were usually in black and white.

However, Marvel UK started doing some original content. First it was Captain Britain, though produced in the U.S. before British creators took it over. Out of the several original characters and series, another standout was Night Raven. He was a pulp hero set in 1930s America who fought crime similar to The Shadow or The Spider.

I came across this character when I first read text stories of Night Raven (yes, Marvel UK even had text stories of some of their characters) in the back of the Captain Britain monthly magazine. Then a couple of trade paperbacks came out. One reprinted early comic stories of the character (the first 20, actually); the other was an original story that hinted at who the character was (House of Cards). Much later there was a Black Widow graphic novel that used the Night Raven as a supporting character (Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty) and put a coda on the character, so to speak.

Now finally, Marvel has come out with a more or less complete anthology, Night Raven: The Complete Stories (though it leaves out House of Cards and that Black Widow story). Surprisingly, the bulk of the work is text stories, not comic stories!

So who is Night Raven? Well, we really never know. The first Night Raven comic stories were very short, about 6-8 pages, all standalone. No origin, no time showing the Night Raven when not fighting crime, not even any supporting characters. House of Cards hinted at him being Native American and a veteran of WWI. It was not clear why he moved to New York (or is it Chicago?) and started to fight crime, other than to get over what had happened in the war.

His outfit was unusual, being a bit of a mix of comic-book and pulp hero. He work a black sweater with a large white logo on the chest, the mark of the Night Raven. Two guns in shoulder holsters and black gloves, one of which he could use to burn his mark into the foreheads of criminals (taking a page from The Spider, and something that Lobster Johnson also does). He wears a full face mask/helmet that is apparently made of bone. Only his ears are exposed. There are eye slits, and that’s it. He would often wear a trench coat and fedora over this, giving a more pulp hero (or comic-book “mystery man”) look.

Gangsters and criminals are his foes, but no fantastical foes. He did have one re-occurring foe, the immortal Asian female crimelord Yi Yang. In the later text stories by Alan Moore (who created the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Tom Strong) she curses him with immortality, though he is left scared and in constant pain. This is why he is still alive in modern times in Death Duty.

Overall it’s an interesting character I wish was used more often — though they’d probably mess him up.

The collection has the comic stories from Hulk Comic #1-20. These originally ran in black and white, and this is how they appear here. When I read the collection of them, they had been colorized to appeal to an American audience that expects that. The rest are all text stories, with stories running over several issues. At first these appeared under the “house name” of “Maxwell Stockbridge,” a nod to the house names of Maxwell Grant (The Shadow) and Grant Stockbridge (The Spider).

These appeared in Savage Action #1-4, 6, 8, and 12-15; Marvel Super-Heroes #382-386, and 389-395; Daredevils #6-11; Mighty World of Marvel #7-17; Savage Sword of Conan #85-92; and Captain Britain Magazine #10-12. All are illustrated, just like pulp stories. The collection does give full credits for writing and artwork.

We also get a short article on the pulp influences of Night Raven that ran in Daredevils #9, which was neat. I am still reading these text stories, as I had only previously read the ones in Captain Britain. Now I can learn how he got to that point.

Check out this more original take on a pulp-inspired comic book character.

What do you think?