With #FantasyComicsMonth being this month, I held on to a number of things, one of which was this graphic novel, which was written by Alan Zelenetz and illustrated by Charles Vess. Being “A Tale of Asgard,” it is set in the world of the Thor comics but does not feature Thor; in fact, he has all of a cameo appearance in the book, being watched from afar by a couple of the main characters.
The story surrounds Greyval, whose responsiblity is to hold the titular banner but because he is in league with trolls, loses said banner and then realizes his mistake and has to get it back. Thus, he goes on a quest with his love Sygnet, a companion named Oddbrand Otter (who, along with Greyval, makes his first and only appearance) as well as Balder (one of the Warriors Three, I believe?). The quest takes him all over the realm and through Hel, which is very true to the whole Hero’s Journey template.
Ultimately, it’s a tale of fall and hope for redemption that’s very accessible for anyone not familiar with Thor or his part of the Marvel Universe because at least two of the main characters are brand new to the story and therefore you only need what amounts to a passing knowledge of Thor, Odin, and Asgard. Plus, the story kind of serves the art anyway.
Now, unlike other graphic novels that I have had with gorgeous art whose story is kind of weak (there’s a Spider-Man graphic novel that I have whose story is forgettable with gorgeous artwork), The Raven Banner is intriguing. Zelenetz knows fantasy very well, having written plenty of Conan and Kull with the occasional Thor issue or annual. Vess … well, if you want beautiful-looking fantasy artwork, Charles Vess really is your man. He’s a master of the craft and creates a beautiful world. In fact, it was spotting his artwork on the cover of the graphic novel that made me want to grab it (for a cheap price, maybe about $5 or so).
And who knows, maybe my being able to grab it for so very cheap was an anomaly and this goes for a lot more at your average LCS. Either way, it is absolutely worth picking up. Zelenetz knows how to pack everything in here but also paces it very well; he also knows that with this one-shot graphic novel format, the story shouldn’t be bigger than the space (unlike the JLA graphic novel I recently reviewed). And I wound up taking it slow because I wanted to get every inch out of every panel.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?