Red Raven in his only '40s appearance. Artist: Jack Kirby.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Joe Simon (writer) and Louis Cazeneuve (artist)
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Captain America is sometimes credited with being the first Marvel Comics character to debut in his own comic. This isn't quite accurate, but it might as well be. The Red Raven (no relation), the only one to edge him out for the honor, was such a flash-in-the-pan, he might as well not have existed at all. Of all the Marvel superheroes who appeared in their own titles …

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… during the 1940s, only Sun Girl has had less of an impact on the present-day Marvel Universe — and the two are about equally well remembered today.

Red Raven Comics #1 was dated August, 1940. It introduced not just Red himself, but also such stellar personages as The Human Top (whose main impact was to have a villain named after him 20-odd years later), Comet Pierce (early work by the team of Simon and Kirby, but not exactly on a par with Boy Commandos or Fighting American) and The Eternal Brain (title tells all). Red had only the cover and the 17-page lead story, which concerned his origin.

When he was an infant, he and his parents (no names given) were in a small airplane, which flew through a cloud. Usually, this is reasonably safe, but this time the plane ran smack into a sky island, and everybody but the baby was killed. The Bird People who inhabited the airborne island raised him as their own, outfitting him with artificial but functioning wings, and named him Red Raven after his red hair. When he came of age, he was sent back to be a superhero in the land of humans. This ever-so-likely story was written by Joe Simon (Marvel's editor at the time), who later indulged the same penchant for goofiness in such quirky comic books as Prez and Brother Power, the Geek. It was drawn by Louis Cazeneuve (Shining Knight, TNT & Dan the Dyna-Mite).

As of the second issue, Red Raven's comic was re-dubbed to honor its new star, The Human Torch. Not only was Red gone without a trace after only one story — so were all those luminaries in the back pages. Red would never have been heard from again, if not for the later practice of bringing back every company-owned character that ever put on a superhero suit. In X-Men #44 (May, 1968), The Angel ran across his island (which had been relocated to the planet's surface, somewhere in the Atlantic). Red was about to take the Bird People out of the suspended animation he'd placed them in during the late 1940s, to keep them from making war on humans. By the time the story was over, they were back asleep and the island was on the bottom of the ocean.

Retcons abounded. Aside from placing the island in a more conventional (but less interesting) position and making it a fog, rather than a cloud, that had concealed it from the pilot in the 1940 story, writer Roy Thomas (Infinity Inc., All-Star Squadron) added anti-gravity to the wings, to make their lifting power more plausible. Also, he tied the Bird People in with The Inhumans.

The next time the island rose (Sub-Mariner #26, June 1970), the writer (Thomas again) took the trouble to kill off Red Raven and all the Bird People. Then the island sank for good. Thomas used him again, a half-dozen years later, but only as a period piece set during World War II — he became a member of The Liberty Legion, a second-string superhero team full of second-string heroes. (The Invaders got the good ones.) The Liberty Legion promptly went nowhere.

After that, more decades went by before it turned out he'd had a daughter while the readers weren't looking. She became a superhero in Marvel Super Heroes #8 (January, 1992), and took Dad's old name for herself. She's been seen here and there since.

And, as of a 1999 issue of Nova, so has he. That's when it turned out he'd faked all that stuff back in 1970 — his own death, that of the Bird People, the sinking of the island, whole nine yards. So now, there are two vanishingly obscure superheroes called Red Raven where, for a long time, it seemed as though one was too many.

Which just goes to show how far Marvel will go to avoid turning loose of a trademarkable property, whether it has any apparent value or not.


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Text ©2005-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.