Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Raven Banner: A Tale of Asgard

The Raven Banner
A Tale of Asgard
by Alan Zelenetz (story) and Charles Vess (art)
Marvel Graphic Novel  No. 15 (1985)

In theory, this Marvel Graphic novel was precisely what the series was designed for: bringing more artistically oriented comic art to the public in the form of a higher-priced, higher-quality trade paperback. In this case, the art was provided by Charles Vess, the American artist (b. 1951) who probably is best known for his work on Neil Gaiman titles for DC / Vertigo during the 1990s. 

Vess is inspired by the great illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (he dedicates 'Banner' to Arthur Rackham) and this graphic novel certainly has a style in keeping with the illustrations of that era. 

'The Raven Banner' is set in the Marvel Universe, with Thor making a fleeting appearance. 

Zelenetz's plot does not seem to be based on a Norse Myth per se, but it does use the Giants from that mythology as adversaries for Odin and the people of Asgard.

As 'Banner' opens the Giants and the forces of Asgard are locked in battle. Asgardian warrior Grim Magnus is the holder of the Raven Banner, which - so long as it is held aloft - cements victory for Asgard. Unfortunately, as Magnus is struck down, his son Greyval Grimson, instead of taking up the Banner, is preoccupied elsewhere with wine, women, and song........... and the Trolls capture the Banner, and their allies the Giants put the forces of Asgard to flight.

When Greyval learns of this disaster he initially is indifferent. But the knowledge that the Giants are now emboldened to advance on Asgard, and put an end to the Gods, brings a dawning realization that he has shirked his duty and must make amends.

Aided by the Valkyries and Baldur, Greyval Grimson sets off on a perilous journey to recover the Banner from the lair of the Trolls...........

I found 'The Raven Banner' to be something of a disappointment. Zelenetz's writing had a lot to do with this; it is suffused with a stilted, wordy, self-consciously 'Olde Tyme Mythes and Legendes' flavor that rapidly palls. 

It doesn't help matters that Zelenetz introduces a talking, anthropomorphic otter named Oddbrand Otter to the story; Oddbrand likes to make cutesy, alliterative exclamations like 'deary deary' and 'do hurry do hurry'.

As for Vess's artwork, it really isn't suited for a narrative that is in essence a superhero narrative, one calling for the more traditional comic book style of dynamic poses, speed lines, and large-font sound effects. Vess's art often comes across as too static to give the story the visual 'punch' it requires.

The verdict ? Marvel certainly deserved kudos for trying to do something different with this graphic novel, but the execution falls somewhat short of the design. 'The Raven Banner' straddles the awkward middle ground of a book that is too staid for the superhero readership, and too lacking in edginess for the Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated crowd.

1 comment:

#19 said...

The raven banner is a thing that was regarded as having the same powers in battle as given here in both lots of Viking sagas (where it was believed to be from Odin) and possibly IRL for Harald Hardrada.

See Wiki for details.