Review: Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

I’m pleased that Marv Wolfman’s Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 2, the last of his string of Rebirth-era Raven miniseries, ends on a high note. The initial Raven miniseries was something of a mess, and this successful conclusion seems to point the way forward, though seemingly too little, too late — pulling Raven away from high school theatrics, away especially from Wolfman trying too hard to write “teen-speak,” and toward instead a supporting cast made up entirely of other superheroes. That works much better, reflecting I think where the writer is most comfortable.

It’s a small pity that at least a couple of plot points from across Wolfman’s Raven miniseries never quite get resolved. For at least one of these, it seems Wolfman has opportunity but runs out of real estate or a subsequent miniseries with which to conclude. That’s better though than the plot point from the previous book hurriedly shoehorned into the end of this. In all, however, none of this disturbs that much given that this story stands well enough on its own; short of a detail here and there (especially as relates to one powerful scene), interested readers might be advised to skip all of Wolfman’s lead-up and just start here.

[Review contains spoilers]

For my tastes, the first chapter of Daughter of Darkness Vol. 2 shows marked improvement. Lest I’m simply being swayed by the bias of a new volume, the comic shows an upgrade, too: kicky arrows identifying some of the characters these series have gathered now over more than a dozen issues. But also, Wolfman bringing in a who’s who of esoteric legacy magic characters (despite that the team here is unofficially a new Night Force, Wolfman might as easily be introducing the Teen Titans Dark), and also Wolfman finally making the high school drama here less cringe-worthy, more relatable (Raven’s superhero duties preventing her from taking a test). Add to that some horror in the flashbacks, and Darkness is on the right track from the start.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

The “villains,” of sorts, in Wolfman’s Raven volumes have improved as these have gone on. The nameless, faceless, really personality-less “White Carnival” in Raven was the nadir, improved upon by Raven’s previously unknown half-sisters in Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 1, who seemed to be antagonists but later joined with Raven against Trigon. But best are the Shadow-Riders, wonderfully ghoulish wisps as drawn by Pop Mhan that it turns out are supposed to protect humanity indiscriminately from being overpopulated by “arcanes,” such that, as Raven realizes, the magic users are the “bad guys” and the Shadow-Riders the “good.” That’s more nuance than a lot of comics have, letting alone what preceded this.

About midway through Wolfman pens a scene both powerful and curious. Raven Rachel Roth has missed her makeup test and essentially disappeared (off with the Night Force), leaving her Aunt Alice and Uncle Jack frantic. When she returns, she receives a compassionate but unusually stern talking to from Uncle Jack over nearly two whole pages. It’s wrenching, both because of how well Wolfman makes real Jack’s love and hurt, but also because (in the classic superhero dilemma), we know Raven is and isn’t guilty of what she’s accused — she has lied, and she does beat herself up over it, but the lie is here secret identity, not frivolously skipping school.

And yet, it’s also unusual because Jack’s two-page monologue is more than we have or will hear him talk in all of almost 18 issues. Perhaps, if Wolfman’s serial Raven miniseries had a longer run, we’d be meant to understand that Jack is a man of few words and that those words come out only when he’s worried for his loved ones or the like. But in terms of what’s been on the page, Raven’s main connection to the family has been through Alice, who’s silent, near immobile, throughout the conversation. I’ll venture Wolfman made a mistake here not offering the lecture through Alice, not complicating Raven and Alice’s relationship with a little strife; having Jack be the “heavy” comes off uncomfortably paternalistic, without Wolfman having done enough to otherwise set that up or mitigate it in the plot.

I thought there was real potential when the story took Raven back to Azarath. Some conflict in the previous volume centered around Raven’s mother Arella wanting her to return to Azarath and Raven not wanting to go, so this was prime opportunity for Wolfman to delve into that and to expand on the Rebirth Azarath in general (I miss Tom Grummett drawing the upside-down staircases). But Arella declines to see Raven during her visit and so any peace-making on that account is left unresolved. This feels like Wolfman charting a path toward some resolution, and I wonder if we’d have seen Azarath more if Wolfman got another miniseries.

I guess it makes Daughter of Darkness seem less like two distinct halves and more like one whole story in that Violet, Raven’s remaining half-sister from the first chapters, appears again here and plays a role in the conclusion (see also 1906 San Francisco). This felt clunky, though, as I alluded; in the final chapter, Raven “suddenly remembers” Violet long enough to obviously bring her back to reader memory before she’s taken over by the Shadow-Riders and killed. It felt like unsubtle writing, right at the end no less, one of a number of the book’s hang-ups (like Wolfman thinking “Hasta la bye-bye” makes Zachary Zatara sound tough, or the spooky little boy introduced at the beginning who, as far as I could tell, is never seen again).



I’m glad that Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 2 arrives at something palatable, though percentage-wise I’m not sure Marv Wolfman’s newest Raven miniseries spoke well for the character (Wolfman never let go of the “Raven factoid. By Raven” shtick). Then again, I can also see where the classic iteration of the character has likely been superseded by the new, even if I think the classic version was the overall more interesting character. I’m not sure if Raven factors strongly at all into Teen Titans Academy, but she’s surely in the upcoming TV-inspired Titans United. Chances are, given the TV inspiration, this will be the “kid Raven” version, but maybe Cavan Scott can do something more with the character than creator Wolfman did in the here and now.

[Includes original covers, character sketches, pencilled pages]


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