-Post may contain spoilers-
Here she is! The mono-emotion Titan cloaked in black gets her own mini-series. Raven is a collection of six issues featuring the titular character in a solo story apart from the Teen Titans.
I mentioned before that American comics are not my forte. I (mistakenly) believed them to all be superhero related, and I never really had any interest as a result until I came across Saga and Scooby Apocalypse. Both definitely not superhero tales. I did, however, enjoy the Teen Titans cartoon (and kids’ comics, admittedly) a decade or more ago (oh god I’m old). Raven was my favorite of the group (read: Raven was my crush), so when I saw her comic on the stand, I shrugged and said “Why not?” It now joins Spider-Gwen and Jessica Jones as one of only three superhero series I’ve picked up in the last decade. What? No I didn’t buy them just because they feature female superheroes. Of course not. That’s silly. Anyway, with practically nonexistent expectations thanks to my general lack of interest in superhero stuff, I can safely say Raven’s solo adventure still somehow let me down.
In Raven, Raven assumes the name Rachel Roth to move to San Francisco with her Aunt Alice and her family. Stuck with the label of Trigon’s daughter, Raven seeks to learn if there is anything more to her by taking time to associate (okay, that’s a strong word) with a branch of her family previously unknown to her. Almost immediately, strange occurrences begin to happen with classmates at Raven’s new school, prompting Raven to investigate the matter.
Storywise, there’s not much going on. An extraterrestrial ball of light spawns in the city and begins luring citizens inside it so that it can feed off their energy and grow. That’s definitely an A+ villainous motive right there. We do get more tangible antagonists, but they’re barely even two-dimensional in their goals and offer little more than a brief commentary on the apathetic and avaricious nature of some humans. So yeah, random mass of light is the big bad. While truly everything is at stake in this story, it almost feels as if nothing is. That mostly stems from the book having an antagonist that cannot be visualized or speak more than a few repetitive lines. It’s outright boring because there’s little substance onto which readers can latch.
The themes of the book fare better, but they’re still a mixed bag. On one hand, there’s the relationships between Raven and her new family and that between her and her schoolmates. Borderline hyper-religious Aunt Alice has some of the best exchanges with Raven, and it is quite fun to see the two of them adjust to each other over the course of the book. Less effective but still entertaining are Raven’s interactions with her schoolmates. Watching her awkwardness is fun, but her friends unfortunately possess the myriad of personalities found in a sack of bricks. None of them react to revelations all that realistically, instead just accepting things without much question. Madison is an exception, as she is the only classmate to get any amount of ample focus. But the rest of the group are not present enough to have any real impact or development. And that makes it even worse when Raven credits her bond with one of her new friends as what saves her at one point. I believe she had literally two exchanges with the person. I don’t think that counts as a strong friendship. Maybe it does in Raven’s book, but for the purposes of writing it does not really pan out. Worst of all is at the end of the story, all the development (yes, the little bit that we did receive) is done away with like it never happened, making everything even all the more pointless. The only takeaway is that Raven has learned to seek help from those around her, which isn’t that much of a takeaway considering she has already worked as part of a team. This leads us to the other theme of the book: friendship is power. Perhaps as a love letter to generic shonen manga, Raven overcomes the adversity before her through the bonds of friendship and family. It barely avoids feeling cheesy thanks to Raven’s powers actually somewhat supporting the idea, but that does not make it any less disappointing as a resolution. It seems that Raven wanted to focus more on life lessons than actual story content, but the execution of those lessons just makes them come off as hollow and frustrating.
So if the story is resolved through (cringe) friendship, there’s gotta be some action elsewhere in the story, right? RIGHT? That depends on whether or not you count glowing tentacles tossing Raven around like a rag doll as action. That’s about all there is, and it gets repetitive almost instantly. Raven’s fighting form (read: her soul self) is actually pretty neat. I’m used to her, well, raven form from the show, so seeing her as a winged harpy-like creature was a surprise, but it was definitely a welcome surprise. (Can other people see her soul self? People in the hospital seemed to be able to, but then the police never seem to notice. Some clarification on that would have been appreciated for people like me who are unfamiliar with her powers.) An issue I do have with the design is that her soul self, when only partially formed, blended into the glowing tentacles at times, making it difficult to follow some of the action. If action had been more of a key feature of the book, this issue would be more problematic than it is. As it stands, it’s a minor annoyance.
The art is deceptively simple for most of the book, and I mean that in a good way. There aren’t many hard lines that over-stylize the characters, and the backgrounds are drawn using simple shapes and colors for the most part. It brings to mind the animated superhero shows that used to air on Cartoon Network. The style is similar, with the artists for Raven designing characters with mostly bare-bones features on their faces. The artists add few detail lines, but it benefits Raven by giving it a sleek appearance. There are a few shifts in art style, notably when Raven is battling her literal inner demons and then during the final acts of the story. The former works, as the more abstract (almost watercolor) style helps differentiate the physical world from the spiritual world (yeah, I couldn’t think of a better term). The latter, though, shies away somewhat from cartoon-like expressions and features to add (slightly) more detail to go along with the increased conflict toward the end of the book. It achieves that goal and appears more typical of modern comics, but it was a little disappointing to lose the nostalgic charm of Allison Borges’ style in the last two parts of the volume. Still, save for a few scattered over-simplified panels, the art is a treat throughout the book. There was just something alluring about Borges’ style that had me craving more of it over the styles of the other artists. Not to mention Raven’s expressions are goldenly entertaining throughout her work.
Raven doesn’t quite get her wings off the ground in her standalone adventure. She wades through ultimately pointless development and a boring blob of an antagonist to arrive at an unsatisfying conclusion to her predicament. The art is the biggest positive for this book, with the story falling almost completely flat, saved from complete failure by some decent dialogue exchanges and enjoyable humor. Raven’s grim, sarcastic humor is not enough to cause any verbal laughs, but it is enough to result in a few wry grins here and there, which definitely works better given the book’s tone and her own personality. This isn’t a book that should be high on anyone recommendations list, or even on one at all. Pick it up only for the art or collection purposes, as it offers little value in other areas.
- Engagingly simple art
- Scenes between Raven and her family are fun and endearing
- Raven's facial expressions
- Story is almost completely pointless
- Boring antagonists
- Difficult to follow some action scenes
- Plot points come almost too conveniently for characters
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