The Raven Banner – A Marvel Graphic Novel (#15)

By Alan Zelenetz & Charles Vess (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-060-2

It’s been a while since Marvel published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a collection, but not too long ago they were the market leader in the field with an entire range of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) featuring not only proprietary characters but also licensed assets like Conan and even creator-owned properties like Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar.

From the cod mythology of Marvel’s bowdlerized Aesir Alan Zelenetz and Charles Vess crafted this beautiful fairytale/fable that would not be out of place amongst the true Elder Eddas. Merry Marvelites will be enthralled by the inclusion of Balder the Brave as well as cameos by such Asgardian stalwarts as Thor and Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg – the Warriors Three – but the true story of honour lost and redeemed in the name of eternal glory belongs to the young wastrel Greyval Grimson who forsook his duty and paid the proper price.

Asgard is land of warrior gods constantly confronting monstrous evil, but Storm Giants, witches and dark elves can never triumph as long as heroes battle beneath the flowing Raven Banner. As long as the standard bearer holds it high, victory is assured, although its ancient magic demands the death of the bearer every time. But when the eternal enemies clash upon the Plain of Ida and Grim Magnus fulfills his fated task, for the first time his successor is not there to take up the perilous pennon. Where is the dying warrior’s son?

Greyval Grimson, although wed to Sygnet the Valkyrie Shield-Maiden, is still a flighty lad, full of joy and keen on merriment. As the Banner is torn from his father’s dying grasp the boy is dancing drunk with the treacherous trolls. Seduced from his duty, he is yet unaware that his negligence has not only lost him a father but also imperiled the entire kingdom of the Gods…

The penitent boy’s quest to regain the Raven Banner and his own true self is an unparalleled, magical tale of heroism, as accompanied by Balder and the fuzzy but querulous Oddbrand, the Otter God, he strives to overcome not only the assembled forces of Death and Evil, but also the overbearing ambition of a fellow Asgardian, whose head has been turned by dreams of unearned fame…

This tale of triumph and tragedy is a perfect blend of Marvel’s Norse Gods and the classical legends that inspired them; stirring and beguiling by turns and painted with astounding facility by Vess in full, acknowledged tribute to the works of Arthur Rackham and Hal Foster. It is a magnificent piece of storytelling and I simply cannot understand why such a universally appealing work is not permanently in print. Track a copy down, and see what I mean…
© 1985 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.