This series has been one I’ve been keeping an eye on for a long time. On one hand, it’s Marv Wolfman writing Raven! New Teen Titans is, quite rightfully, one of the gems in DC’s crown and no writer that I know of has ever matched the naturalism and thoughtfulness that Wolfman brought to Raven’s character. On the other hand, Raven has become a very different character in the twenty years between Wolfman stepping down as writer of the New Titans, Wolfman’s last foray into the new Raven’s story was really quite awful, DC solo miniseries are often of polarized quality, and this particular series was announced over a year ago, clearly in a different stage of DC’s plans. Sad as it was, this series, tucked unobtrusively between two volumes of Teen Titans, seemed like it might exist solely to be forgotten.
But the thought of Raven written by the man who knows her best was too much for me and I took a chance on this one. And I’m glad that I did.
Though nearly all incarnations of Raven have generally failed to replicate the original draw of her character in the past, this issue does an impressive job of recreating her for the modern world. Raven is clearly a representation of the same character Wolfman put to page some thirty-years ago, but where New Teen Titans was about young people on the cusp of adulthood, this series seems to be moving in a more YA focused direction and accepting the inevitable influence of goth culture, something that actually works better for its diminished prevalence. Best of all, while its impossible to deny its influence, Wolfman accomplishes all this without feeling like he’s in the shadow of the Teen Titans Go! version of the character.
There is a certain deadpan outsider quality about this Raven, however, where the television series’ characterization focused on her need to control the emotions she put out, Wolfman reintegrates that limitation with her role as an empath, focused on what emotions others are feeling.
This issue is fairly small-scale in terms of its plot, but it really works for the story. It leaves plenty of time for fun and character building outside of the Raven identity. Rachel Roth is a real person and her reactions to normalcy, the support and cruelty and dogma of a teenager’s life, are wonderful. Admittedly it feels a little bit like all the “muggles” – apparently this Raven wishes she’d gotten her Hogwarts letter – are unusually friendly, but this seems intentional and, though they’re not terribly deep as characters yet, they are engaging as opportunities for Rachel to forge connections with others. This mundane focus also helps make the threat feel real, despite its low stakes. The reality of Raven’s experience, the thought of a first day of school being interrupted by some socially compromising supernatural mystery, is a nightmare that hits pretty close to home.
Exploring Arella’s history prior to her occult wanderings is a fantastic idea that takes advantage of the minor changes that the new continuity allows and Wolfman does an admirable job of utilizing Raven’s new history and current predicament to the story’s advantage.
My greatest worry for this book is that it won’t find its audience. Though it was a big part of NTT’s success, Wolfman’s original stories didn’t usually strike this particular balance between the teenaged and the superheroic and more recent Teen Titans comics have usually sought a more high energy tone. This book takes a minute to accept Raven’s introversion and lack of power and that could make it a very unique and valuable read. It feels like this book was written for all audiences but very much with teen girls in mind. I love that, and think it’s a fantastic opportunity for young readers of all genders to find a female hero that speaks to them, but I understand if there’s just not enough excitement to hook those who are used to Deathstroke the Terminator or Brother Blood.
Allison Borges is a new name to me but she manages to combine a solid artistic range with a clear and appropriate style. There’s something of Patrick Gleason coexisting besides a cartoony bounce that should make Teen Titans Go! converts feel comfortable. And, whether it originates in Borges’ imagination or Wolfman’s script, the panel layouts are really great, inventive without trying too hard and consistently energetic and fun.
Unfortunately, despite the strong foundation that this lays for the series artistically, there are numerous examples of Borges just not living up to her own potential. Necks seem to be a a recurrent problem for her and there are simply too many places where things are subtly or, in particularly unfortunate moments, not so subtly wrong. One also has to admit that while the degree of variance in her work is impressive, sometimes it feels like panels belong in different comics.
These issues mark Borges as a promising but seemingly still developing talent and hurts the polish of the issue. However, without ignoring the areas that need improvement, I think that the art is very much on the right track in how to approach this miniseries. The style encourages a sense of fun and exaggeration and the differences in the style are often used to highlight key emotions and let the reader into Raven’s head. Plus, the issue’s dream sequence is something else, delivering some of the issue’s best emotion and some legitimately haunting imagery.
Perhaps the thing that struck me most about the art work is the look in Raven’s eyes. This book, wisely I think, highlights the teenaged powerlessness that Rachel feels separated from her friends, but that has the potential to really undercut this character. Allison Borges shines the clearest by depicting this but unflinchingly pairing it with strong agentive emotion from our protagonist.
Raven #1 is not your normal DC Comic. It has traces of the New Teen Titans ethos, but it’s undeniably modern and, though it possesses a polish and caution that suits a Big 2 title, it’s got an indie book’s spirit. Marv Wolfman returns to one of his classic characters and succeeds in giving fans a new and complete vision of the Devil’s Daughter. Though the art is drawing from a few too many sources and has sporadic moments of weakness, Allison Borges nails the tone of this series and delivers a Raven that feels familiar and powerful.
Like Raven herself, the plot is a little mundane, but the emotions - the book’s soul self - can reach out and grab you. Raven #1 is a clever reintroduction to the character that positions her as a hero to young girls and provides an entry into her fandom that will appeal to anyone with an appreciation for character and heart over bombast.