Sunday, 24 March 2019

X-Men #44, Red Raven, Red Raven!

X-Men #44, Red Raven vs Angel
Dear Reader, turn your clock upside down and travel back in time with me to the dim and distant days of 1972 and that indoor market on Lytham Road in Blackpool.

I've only just started reading American comics and, during this fortnight-long summer holiday, I get my hands on the issue of Captain America in which our hero finds himself battling a talking gorilla that can control dogs. I also get a Batman comic in which the cowled crusader is confounded by bolas. I get an issue of The Flash which mentions Jerry Lewis, and an issue of Teen Titans in which our youthful do-gooders have a caveman in the back of their van.

What I also get is an issue of the X-Men.

Naive fool that I am, I'm still too inexperienced in the ways of super-herodom to know that I don't actually like 1960s X-Men comics and, so, the tale seems a thrill ride to me, in which the main appeal is that one of its be-winged characters wears a yellow and red costume and the other  wears a red and yellow costume. It's amazing how costume colour can be the most important factor in story-telling, when you're eight.

But that was then. This is now. We're back in 2019 and, for the first time since I re-read the tale in a mid 1970s' issue of Mighty World of Marvel, I have my hands on that story once more.

Will I be as impressed by it now as I was then?

There's only one way to find out.

X-Men #44, trapped by the Toad
The X-Men have been captured by Magneto - and the Toad can't wait for them to be executed.

Magneto, however, harbours hopes that he might yet convert them to his cause, and so imprisons them in his dungeon.

Unfortunately for the magnetic menace, the Angel manages to escape and flees the island, in search of the Avengers.

Sadly, grown tired from flying, he seeks rest on a lump of rock protruding from the ocean - a rock which turns out to be the mere tip of a submerged island!

And, now, that island is submerged no longer - because it's the home of Red Raven who's put his own people, the Bird-People, into suspended animation to prevent them trying to wage a disastrous war against humanity.

X-Men #44,  Red Raven and the bird people
His story told, Red Raven knocks the Angel out and then re-submerges his island, vowing to keep the Bird-People in their deep sleep for another twenty years.

Regaining consciousness, to find the island gone, the Angel takes to the air and sets off, once more, in search of the Avengers.

The story's credited to Stan Lee but, with its revival of a Golden Age character, it'll come as no shock to anyone that it's plotted by Roy Thomas. Oddly, though, there's no acknowledgement of Red Raven's previous use by Marvel. You could easily think he's a newly minted character.

X-Men #44,  rock
Don Heck and Werner Roth's artwork isn't going to win any awards but it's efficient in its story-telling and isn't in any way off-putting.

There are some oddities to the tale.

There's the manner of the Angel's escape from Magneto's clutches. He finds some sort of laser cutter on the floor, next to where he's being held captive, and uses it to slice through the net that's holding him. That's a remarkable piece of luck and I wonder if it is a piece of luck or if the device has been left there by either Quicksilver or the Scarlet Witch who are currently back with Magneto, after their initial Avengers stint, and are clearly not happy to just go along with his megalomaniac plans.

Quicksilver can fly! During the Angel's escape bid, Pietro actually takes to the air and flies after him for a short spell before having to return to Earth. It's clear from the dialogue that this power has never been used before but was it ever mentioned or used again?

X-Men #44,  Red Raven
Red Raven must be the least observant man in the history of the planet, as, according to his flashback, he managed to reach adulthood before realising that he alone, among the Bird-People, doesn't have wings. How on Earth do you not notice a thing like that?

Red Raven also seems to be totally mentally unstable, oscillating randomly between wanting to kill the Angel and wanting to save him, wanting to fight him and wanting to talk to him. I do wonder if the Bird-People's plan to invade the world even ever existed or if he's just convinced himself it did.

The Toad really is an obnoxious little psychopath in this tale. My memories of the character are of him being a servile weakling, bossed around by Magneto and wishing he was free of his influence but, in this one, while Magneto seems content to be reasonable about things, the Toad is constantly goading him to commit murder.

X-Men #44,  Red Raven vs the AngelThere's no sign of the Bi-Beast. How can we have a story about the Bird-People without mention of the Bi-Beast?

Admittedly, that's almost certainly because he hadn't been invented yet. But, when reading the tale from a 21st Century perspective, his absence does feel highly noticeable.

Anyway, all that aside, did I strike gold with my first ever X-Men comic, all those decades ago?

No I didn't. It's clearly not some kind of classic and it's not as compelling or as accomplished as the Captain America tale I reviewed the other week.

Having said that, I did enjoy it more than I do most Silver Age X-Men tales. Possibly, the fact that it's not really an X-Men tale at all and is clearly Thomas taking an opportunity to reintroduce a half-forgotten character to the then modern age, makes it more appealing to me.

I therefore come to the conclusion that I did get lucky with it in 1972, as there are few 1960s X-Men issues that I would have been better off having.

37 comments:

cerebus660 said...

The first time I ever saw Red Raven was on the cover of Sub-Mariner #26 ( June 1970 ) and I was also impressed with that red costume. And with how psychotic the character was...
There was obviously a concerted effort by Marvel ( or at least Roy Thomas ) to make a star out of Red Raven. Believe it or not, there was a pitch from Roy and a young Barry Smith for a super-team comic featuring ( of all characters ) Red Raven, Quicksilver and Bucky. Unsurprisingly it came to nothing and, I guess, it soon became apparent that nobody but Roy really cared for RR and the character faded away apart from a few guest spots over the years.

TC said...

Quicksilver learned to fly in Avengers #43 (cover date August August 1967), although I don't recall him using the power very often.

Marvel Triple Action reprinted Silver Age Avengers in the late 1970s. MTA #45 reprinted X-Men #45, since it tied in with Avengers #53, which was reprinted in MTA #46. AFAIR, though, they skipped reprinting X-Men #44, although I seem to recall Angel mentioning his encounter with Red Raven.

I think Red Raven appeared as a member of the Liberty Legion in Marvel Premiere in 1976 or so. It was a team of WWII D-list Marvel/Timely superheroes who had been in also-ran strips in 1940s anthology comics like Daring, Mystic, and Marvel Mystery.
The other members included the Patriot, the Whizzer, Miss America, and Blue Diamond. There was a crossover serial that ran through two issues of Marvel Premiere and two issues of T#e Inv@der$.

The Flash actually guest starred in The Adventures of Jerry Lewis #112 in 1968 or '69. Jerry also met Batman in #97 and Superman in #105.

Aggy said...

Just to be clear about Red Raven. This isn't some almost forgotten character who was once loved, like DC reviving the Flash or Green Lantern titles. Red Raven was a one shot failure replaced by the Human Torch in the 2nd issue.

I'm a huge fan of Roy Thomas and the way he retconned both the Marvel and DC characters into a cohesive whole. But yeah, he choose a real lemon for his 1st attempt.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the Bird People.
Were they like, related to the bird people in Queen of the Back Coast? You know, they drank some bad water and turned into flying monsters? I bet they were. Bird people are like swamp monsters and coyotes. You don't usually see 'em, but they're out there.
So watch out.

M.P.

Anonymous said...

They're all aliens from Thanagar M.P., coming to earth and taking our jobs.
We need to build a big wall between earth and the sky, and make the winged Bird People pay for it.

-sean

Comicsfan said...

Sean, you kill me. :D

Anonymous said...

Seems theres something of a surge of interest in Red Raven at the moment, Comicsfan...

On the subject of coincidences, cycling home earlier I passed a billboard ad for the Shazam flick - what are the odds on two Captain Marvel films being out on release at the same time?
(Surely he's not actually called that on screen though?)

-sean

Anonymous said...

Don't encourage him, C.F.
And don't start with the Thanagarians, Sean. That's a whole can of space worms.
After Somesuch Crises on Alleged Earths, back in the '80's, D.C. didn't know what to do with Hawkman. Was he an archeologist from Earth or some space-cop from Thanager? And was he still an A-hole? The answer to both questions is yes.
I picked up a copy of one of D.C.'s reboots some years back, and it was a mistake. I felt bad for the guy. There was some kinda reincarnation thing going on and the poor schmuck didn't even know what planet he was from anymore. All he could do was fly around and smack people in the head with that mace of his.
I can identify with that, I guess. Lord only knows what's up with that guy now.
Probably getting drunk in a bar with Plastic Man, I bet.

M.P.

Anonymous said...

PS Sorry for changing the subject there Steve - enjoyed the review. I like the way your appreciation of the comics includes their more ridiculous aspects.
Which, lets it face it, you can't really avoid with this era of the X-Men.

-sean

Anonymous said...

Well M.P., if you're going to pick up a copy of one of DC's reboots you can't really complain.
At this point, do they even know whether they still have more than one Earth or not?

-sean

Anonymous said...

You're right, Sean. I have nobody to blame but myself.
I think there are 52 Earths in D.C. comics. Captain Carrot lives on one of 'em.
It must be a nightmarish world.

M.P.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Everyone should have a spot of good luck and find a laser cutter when they are trapped under a metal net, no???

B.t.w. Steve - excellent review as only SDC can do 'em! Another masterpiece for the archives!

And I love the way Sean (and anyone else!) changes subject. It's one of those aspects of SDC that I eagerly anticipate... nostrils, dangling rabbits feet, workers actions, blizzards... it's all here ladies and gentlemen!

Exclesior!

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Charlie.

Comicsfan, I was reading that Subby/Red Raven issue yesterday afternoon and feeling it all seemed strangely familiar, and I couldn't work out why. I've since realised I read great chunks of it on your site just a few days ago. I am truly hopeless.

TC, Cerebus and Aggy, thanks for the Red Raven info.

MP and Sean, I like to think the Bird-People are the Hawkmen from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. Certainly, their leader bears some resemblance to Brian Blessed.

dangermash said...

Red Raven, Red Raven is a great name for a story.

Anonymous said...

"Hawkmen, DIIIIVVE!!!!"
"Gordon's alive!!!"

M.P.

dbutler16 said...

I bought this as a back issue probably in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and I was so into the X-Men (and still pretty young) that having this was a thrill. Actually, my first ever experience with the X-Men was a reprint of X-Men #45 in Marvel Triple Action #45, and the visuals from that had an impact on me. I had created my own comic, and swiped some of the images from it.

dbutler16 said...

Oh, and yeah, color is very important to a kid, and red & yellow is probably my favorite color combination when it comes to superhero.
And I'd describe Red Raven as "forgotten" rather than "half-forgotten" unless you're Roy Thomas. I agree with Aggy in that I'm a big fan of Roy Thomas bringing back Golden Age characters but this one is a lemon.

Killdumpster said...

dbutler16-

Never apologize for liking original X-Men. I myself am still a big fan.

They get quite a beating on this site, but they were a fun read back-in-the-day (especially when all that was left on the magazine racks was Two-Gun Kid & Sgt. Fury.)

Killdumpster said...

Steve-

Though I claim the title of "King of the Cheese" movie-wise (Charlie Horse 47 can probably back me up on this), I find it totally impossible to watch Dino DeLaurentis' Flash Gordon ever again.

HAIL BUSTER CRABBE!!!

Killdumpster said...

Having the Marvel Premier issue with the introduction of Liberty legion, I vaguely recall the character Jack Frost having more of an Namor-esque attitude than Red Raven.

Killdumpster said...

As far as Liberty Legion goes, I thought the goofiest member was Thin Man. I don't know if he was a real golden-age hero, or was made-up for the team.

Marvel Two-In-One had the Thing meeting the Blue Diamond. I was thinking that character had potential, till they had him pierowetting into outer space like a ballerina with some cosmic gal.

Marvel Two-In-One was always worst than Team-up.

Steve W. said...

As far as I can recall, my only experience of the Liberty Legion was in a guest appearance in The Invaders. I don't recall whether I was impressed by them or not.

When it comes to the Flash Gordon movie, I do feel it's one of those films that's more enjoyable in your memory than it is when you're actually watching it.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

The Raven issue above is the first back issue I ever bought from a comic shop (around 1976). I found it enjoyable though I have not read it since. It did have a coupon cut out of it, which made me suspect all comic book dealers from that point onward!

I agree with KD (gasp!) in a sense that the original XMen had good and bad points, like any title. It would be a mistake to dismiss them in total. I bought some of their reruns, even, notably the Count Nefarius issues prior to the new Xmen.

I can confirm KD's taste in movies is C-grade ("cheesy"). E.g., he graciously sent me a copy of "The Borrowers" in which an alien, exiled to earth in a human form, has to keep getting a new human head to survive. It does have a bit of the 1950s quality about it: interesting enough to keep you mildly engaged but might not watch it twice, lol.

Anonymous said...

The only good point about the original X-Men was that Neal Adams drew a run of issues.
That and Marvel Girl's green miniskirt costume. Ok, thats two good points.

What I don't understand is why this issue here has an Angel logo thats much larger than the X-Men one. Seriously, someone thought the Angel might be a selling point?

And I like the Flash "A-aaaaah" Gordon film. It looks good.
Funny its directed by the geezer who made Get Carter and Croupier...

-sean

dbutler16 said...

Sean - don't forget Jim Steranko did a couple of issues as well...
And thanks, Killdumpster. :-)

Killdumpster said...

Well, I guess they thought a lot of readers have Steve's wing fetish..

Killdumpster said...

dbutler16-
No thanks necessary, bro. What's your opinion on Rick Jones? Lol!

"He Saved EVERYONE OF US!" Lol!

Sean, one of the biggest beefs I had about the Flash Gordian film WAS the soundtrack. Lol!

Call me a purist, but I'd rather watch a movie with some sort of score, instead of laden with pop/rock/rap songs.

There are exceptions, especially when classic songs fit the scene.

In the film KICK-ASS Joan Jett's Bad Reputation was a perfect fit, as well as THOR, RAGNOROCK's utilization of Led Zepplin.

Charlie-
I'm popping in The Borrower right now! It had a pretty good soundtrack, for back in the day, also.

UK brothers- The Borrower was probably on your country's "video nasties" list.
If you like your gory horror mixed with comedy, I highly recommend

Anonymous said...

Sorry dbutler, you're quite right, the Steranko issues - and particularly the cover of #50 - make up a third point in its favour.

Yeah, I'm not that keen on the soundtrack to Flash either. They should have got Roy Budd, the bloke who did the theme for Get Carter.
Now thats a tune. Beats anything by Led Zeppelin...

-sean

Killdumpster said...

Heh.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

The X-Men came and went into reruns...

Other Marvel titles struggled too e.g., Iron Man, DD, Subby, Cap Marvel, Luke Cage...

And I don't recall if THor struggled but I'll be doggoned if I ever could find a Thor fan outside these 21st century blogs!

What can you say? Outside the big two ASM and FF I think the whole thing was a crap shoot month in, month out.

Yet they all have movies, TV shows today except for Subby. Well he always was prickly.

Anonymous said...

I thought Thor was great when I was a kid Charlie. But I suppose you just found that out on a 21st century blog.

-sean

Killdumpster said...

I too thought Thor was awesome in the 60's & early 70's. Stan's/Roy's dialogue actually MADE ME READ the stories. It helped me later on in understanding Shakespeare.

For good or ill, comics can have an impact on on a young mind. I'm a firm believer that reading of any kind is brain exercise.

I've read a few current comics, and instead of entertaining, they seem to preach agendas.

Soap opera-overdrive. I'm a big fan of lengthy slugfests, the more heroes/villains the better.

Killdumpster said...

Oh, and reading Thor was a big plus in interpreting the Bible. Also it started my interest in Greek and Norse mythology.

Come to think of it, Thor was probably the catalyst of my personal agnostic evolutionary beliefs, WOW!

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Sean and KD united under Thor! Gimme a YOWZA!!!

If we look at Comic Book Average Monthly Sales in 1969 (can’t find the 70s in a chart comparing all of the titles) we see that:

Archie was in #1 with 515,000 / month
Superman #2 at 510,000 / month

ASM 7th place with 370,000 / month
FF 12th place with 340,000 / month

Thor 17th with 265,000 / month
Hulk 18th with 260,000 / month
DD 21st with 245,000 / month
Cap America 22nd with 245,000 / month
Sgt Fury 23rd with 240,000
Avengers 25thwith 240,000
X-Men 26th at 235,000

We praise Avengers but dislike the X-Men and don’t even discuss Sgt. Fury? I figure that the 5,000 dudes who bought Avengers every month, but never X-Men or Fury, must be here, lol?

But honestly, those last 7 titles are clustered so closely together… I mean we are talking about a difference of about 10% among Thor, Hulk, DD, Cap, Fury, Avengers, and X-men.

https://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/postaldata/1969.html

Steve W. said...

The lack of popularity of The Avengers is genuinely baffling. Based on the quality of the stories in that era, I would have expected it to be one of Marvel's top tier titles.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, me and kd are going to build a big wall between us and the non-Thor fans out, and make them pay for it!

On the sales figures, Spidey and the FF, then the rest of the A-list Marvels clustered together makes sense... with the rest (then) new always hovering around the cut-off point for cancellation (which I believe was ales of around 120,000?)

I don't know that relative quality has that much to do with it, at least not in the short term. Theres a kind of conservatism among comic readers - new characters never really seemed to succeedback then until they'd been around for a while eg Wolverine and the Punisher were big in the '80s but probably would have been short-lived as new titles when they were created in the 70s.

-sean

Charlie Horse 47 said...

What's even funnier (funny "strange" not funny "ha ha") is that Supes and DC waaaaay outsold Marvel... Generally not much discussion about them either, other than the cool Neal Adams covers from the late 60s,