Review: Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Marv Wolfman’s Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 1 is an improvement at least on his previous Rebirth era Raven miniseries. For me, I still see Wolfman getting too much in his own way; it’s not necessarily that I don’t like the new, young Raven so much as Wolfman’s “lingo” for Raven and others is not nearly as hip as he thinks it is, making this whole book seem kind of stodgy.

There’s a fine mystery, some reversals, even a villain somewhat trite but unexpected nonetheless — all of that, again, is better than what came before. But Raven is also hampered by the book’s low effort to fill us in on the main character’s recent history or even current origins; when notable events take place or people appear, it’s hard to know necessarily what gravity to give them when we don’t know how common or unusual they are. It makes the reading experience uneven; DC achieves their goal of having a Raven title on the stands at a time it’s worthwhile, but assuredly nothing ground-breaking is accomplished.

[Review contains spoilers]

In keeping with the themes of family found in Wolfman’s Raven miniseries one prior to this, Raven is now no longer just learning to be “normal” beside her long-lost aunt and cousins, but also has to contend with the return of her mother Arella and, eventually, her father Trigon. How long as it been since Raven saw Arella? Under what circumstances did Raven leave the dimension of Azarath, and how did Arella do it? Why is Arella so intent on Raven coming home with her now, as opposed to all the time Raven’s been operating in public as a Teen Titan?

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

None of this is made clear, and given the shifting winds of DC Comics continuity, it’s wholly possible Wolfman doesn’t know, either. Ditto, too, the fact that Trigon manages to break his way into our world, an often-momentous occasion that’s unclear here whether it’s momentous or not. This makes it difficult to care about the characters beyond a surface level; Raven wants to stay in San Francisco with her aunt instead of returning to Azarath, but since we never even really know why Arella wants here there or what Raven would do for the rest of her life on Azarath (letting alone how the Titans would factor in), it’s hard to feel one way about it or another.

It’s bits like this that took me out of the story. Wolfman suggests that Raven doesn’t know what Santa Claus or Christmas are, which is not unbelievable insomuch as surely we’re not supposed to think Raven just arrived to Earth from Azarath and hasn’t spent even one Christmas with the Titans yet. There’s a scene early on where, in the midst of sitting around a campfire with her friends, Raven expels her soul-self to handle trouble nearby, but Wolfman never explains what happens to Raven’s body during that time or whether her friends are alarmed to see her slump to the floor unconscious, and so on.

Ultimately I liked the story’s main conflict, which (not totally dissimilar to the first season of the Titans TV show) sees Raven battling cultish mortal forces that want to bring about Trigon’s return. Early in the book we’re meant to understand there’s certain factions at play, including a cadre of faceless women warring against the cultists. But Wolfman isn’t always consistent — or at least, doesn’t explain the nuances well enough — as in a scene where one of the women (Raven’s alien half-sisters, as it turns out) breaks into Raven’s aunt’s home and is later seen riding away with one of the cult soldiers they’re supposed to oppose.

Still, all of this is nicely weird, and Wolfman spins up an interesting, horrifying mythology that involves Trigon trying to spawn throughout the galaxy and keeping the genetic material from his stillborn children for his minions’ experiments. That’s perhaps a smidgen more cosmic than a Raven story ought be, but offers this situation in which Trigon’s other children try to kill Raven so as to thwart Trigon’s return but then team up with her against him. It also opens the possibility of still more “Ravens” out there waiting — I feel like if Wolfman had come to this some 40 years ago, we might yet have seen a Tamaranean Raven, a Psion Raven, etc.

I also have to give Wolfman credit for the bonkers third chapter of this book that sees Raven transporting from a sci-fi underground lab to Baron Winters' mystic Wintersgate mansion to saving people from an earthquake in 1906 San Francisco, and still home in time to attend her friend’s grandmother’s funeral. I was dubious whether Wolfman would make the span spent in 1906 relevant or if it was just a too-complicated exercise in character-building, but Wolfman does manage to bring it all together in the end.

It feels a while since I’ve seen artist Pop Mhan on a title, and the last time I can clearly remember is Spyboy/Young Justice. My impression was of a choppy, manga-inspired style, not wholly different from Alisson Borges on the previous Raven miniseries, which had its strengths and drawbacks. I was pleasantly surprised instead to find that Mhan evokes Jesus Saiz, one of my favorites, with art closer to DC house style with long, clear lines in the close-ups. One place in which Daughter of Darkness definitely advances is in the art.



The conceit at the center of Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 1 is a clever one, and that’s bringing together Marv Wolfman’s supernatural creations Raven and Baron Winters of Night Force fame. Forgive me, I’m not sure if the characters ever interacted before, but if they did, it’s been a while. Wolfman’s new Winters suffers in much the way his Raven does, in that it’s hard to take seriously Baron Winters saying “three yays for us,” but still, I’m eager for Winters to continue the recruiting effort he mentions into the next volume.

[Includes original covers and one variant, cover and page pencils]


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