DC Comics is known for a lot of questionable decisions.
- The 1970s Comic Explosion and Implosion
- Identity Crisis
- Final Crisis
- Amazon’s Attack
- Turning Superman into an adult film star
These and so many more like them have ruined childhoods, caused readers to run away screaming, and set character development back years. All isn’t lost, however. For every questionable decision, there has been a multitude of great ones.
- Crisis on Infinite Earths
- Creation of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman
- Blackest Night
- Jack Kirby’s Fourth Wall
- Sinestro Corps War
These moments, unlike the ones mentioned above, have inspired readers, properly reset continuity, and changed the way writers have written characters.
DC is good at a lot of things. However, where they excel is creating dramatic stories and characters that reshape their own landscape. Kirby’s Fourth Wall, for example, saw the creation of an entirely new set of characters, places, and stories by which DC could lean on for the rest of its existence.
Like Kirby’s Fourth Wall, their dark and magical world has allowed them to tell some great stories and introduce characters that have continuously reshaped their landscape. It’s populated with characters like John Constantine, Zatanna, Trigon, Etrigan the Demon, Deadman, Mister Myyzptlk, Madame Xanadu, Dr. Fate, Sargon the Sorcerer, Nightshade, The Spectre, and Raven, among others.
And places like:
- The Ghost Zone
- Land of the Nightshades
- Mirror World
I’d even go as far to say that their dark and magical world is superior to their competitors. Don’t get me wrong. Marvel has done a great job with characters and places like Dr. Strange, Dormammu, Shuma-Gorath, Mephisto, Baron Mordo, The Faltine, Umar, the Dark Dimension, and the Mirror Dimension. However, I just believe they lack when compared to their DC counterpart.
Just look at the history of Raven.
Raven is one of the most important magic users in DC. She’s able to do practically anything she can dream up, has a father who’s an inter-dimensional terror, is a longtime member of the Teen Titans, and is arguably one of the most relatable comic book characters for all the wrong reasons.
But before we get to that…
Raven first appeared inside the pages of DC Comics Presents #26 back in 1980. She is the creation of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Although at the time she didn’t possess nearly the power she now has, Raven is one of DC’s greatest magic users.
And here’s why.
First and foremost, she’s an empath. This means that she can sense and alter the emotions of other beings. If she wanted you to feel sad, mad, or happy, she could. Raven is also able to heal those around her by absorbing their pain. Neither of these, however, is what makes her such an impressive magic-user.
Raven is able to astrally project a dark cloud that takes the form of a bird. This dark cloud is known as her Soul-Self. Once projected, the Soul-Self can travel long distances, telepathically communicate with Raven, ingest and absorb solids and energy, and act as a shield. If she wanted to, Raven can also become one with her Soul-Self. If she decides to do this, she’s able to teleport herself and others short distances. With it, Raven is also able to fly.
As the daughter of Trigon (more on him in a minute), Raven is able to manipulate, control, and generate shadows and darkness. In addition, she can control time, energy, and emotions. She’s also able to project bolts of energy, create fireballs from her cloak, and amplify one of the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride). Lastly, although uncontrollable, Raven has a degree of precognition.
Although her power set is impressive, Raven isn’t an interesting character because of it. Powers don’t make one character more interesting than another. Raven is an interesting character because of her history.
Raven is the daughter of Trigon and Arella. Arella was a member of a cult of people who worshipped Trigon. Unbeknownst to her, as a member of the cult, her primary reason for being was to be sacrificed to Trigon…and so she was. Shortly after her sacrifice, Raven was born and whisked away to Azarath to be raised by a being named Azar.
And here’s why.
Raven fears nothing as much as she fears her father. This goes all the way back to her first appearances. In DC Comics Presents #26, Raven is seen trying to build an army capable of standing up to Trigon. After approaching and being denied by the Justice League (Zatanna could sense the evil within her), Raven successfully turned her attention to the Teen Titans. Although she managed to rally them to her cause, many, myself included, have wondered how much her ability to control the emotions of others (remember, she’s an empath) played into their recruitment.
So, who is Trigon?
A long time ago there lived a group of humans. These humans were different from most other humans. Instead of believing in war, these humans stood for peace. As a way to escape war, they created Azarath (briefly mentioned above), a place of peace. It was situated between realities and brought forth a time without conflict. In an effort to see that evil could never enter Azarath, it’s leader Azar convinced the people to allow one final cleanse of the world. One by one Azar and his people extracted the remaining hatred from Azarath. Once extracted, they tossed the hate through the Great Door of Azarath, never to be seen again.
Or so they thought.
Now free, the hateful energy began to take a form. When it was strong enough, it took the shape of a small being and placed itself in the body of a woman. Nine short months later Trigon was born. Immediately following his birth, he killed his mother and all those around her.
When it comes to Trigon, Raven is left with only two choices. She can either 1) die fighting her father or 2) be forced to help him bring about the end of the world. This is what makes her such a unique character. Every time she chooses to die fighting her father, Raven fulfills her own prophecy. That is, she knows she will die fighting him but does so because the alternative is a far worse fate.
Because she has lived a never-ending cycle of life, death, and fear, Raven has had a tough time making and keeping connections, intimate or otherwise. Her inability to create connections has caused others to see her as distant, unfriendly, and unapproachable. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Raven cares deeply about those around her but is poorly equipped to express it.
I often try to write about characters who have histories that tie into real-world issues. Raven is one of these characters. She echoes a very haunting real-world problem…child abuse.
One quick look at the history of Raven and it’s easy to see that her past is filled with dark and torturous events. She was conceived through violence and immediately put up for adoption. She was both feared by and feared for by her mother. Her entire childhood was spent being told that should she not control her emotions, the world around her would collapse. Unfortunately, because she was a child and children are very easy to manipulate, Raven believed this and simply shut off. Worse yet, because she A) feared the being responsible for her creation, and B) feared becoming a worse version of him, she became distant and unwilling to let anyone close to her.
“The trauma of childhood abuse can have long-term effects that continue to shape your sense of self and the world around you in adulthood. Often, one of the most tragic consequences of such trauma is its impact on your interpersonal relationships; by disrupting healthy development in your formative years, childhood abuse can deeply compromise your ability to form and maintain the healthy bonds that nurture us throughout our lives.”
Think about it.
Throughout the history of Raven, she spent her life living in fear of who she was, what she could become, and the being responsible for her creation. Because her mother was ill-equipped to take care of her, she was given to a being who taught her to fear her emotions. He taught her to suppress her emotions. As a father of two young boys, I can tell you with certainty that emotions needn’t be suppressed but instead, supported. Children don’t have a handle on their emotions until well into their adolescence. They need an outlet for them and forcing suppression is extremely detrimental to their development. Unfortunately for Raven, her emotions weren’t fostered and she suffered as no child should.
Remember, from an early age Raven was taught to control her emotions and to never allow them to get the better of her. She was told that if she didn’t get them under control, they would ultimately cause irreversible damage. As a result, she became unable to properly connect with those around her.
The issue with her inability to connect was that she appeared inaccessible, detached, and nonrelatable to those who mattered most…the readers. Readers want to feel something when reading a book. We read comic books because they take us away to a world, unlike anything we will ever experience. We read comic books because they allow us the chance to live a life that we will never live. And we read comic books because the characters inside their pages, while super-powered, have real-world relatable problems. Much to her detriment, Raven didn’t exhibit the most important of the reasons we read comic books. Worst of all, she wasn’t relatable, and being relatable is one of the main metrics children look for when deciding friends.
Children seek others like them to confide in, bond with, and feel comfortable around. Raven’s traumatic and abusive past made it impossible for her to connect in her most formative years. She was held back against her will.
Despite the history of Raven, she has still succeeded where others haven’t. Over the last many years she has made a few small connections (she and Beast Boy were a couple), showed that’s she’s capable of humor (her quick wit in the very successful Teen Titans Go! television show), and endeared herself to nearly every reader that hated her.
Raven has become a guiding light for those who most need one. She is comic book proof, no matter how imaginary comic books are, that the will to overcome one’s past hinges on their willingness to work through their issues. She is proof that surrounding yourself with those who uplift and care for you is crucially important to your development and future. Finally, she is proof that it’s always the darkest (her childhood) before the dawn (her adult years).
Although the history of Raven started off on a rocky path, she is now looked at with love, fondness, and adoration.
As I do with all of these in-depth articles, I’m going to leave you with this.
Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world just a little bit better. So, may they be around forever.