(With thanks to Tony Ingram): As folk know, we try to document Marvel UK curiosities and the graphic novel Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty, published by Marvel US in February 1995, certainly qualifies. Given the publication date, I did wonder if it was one of the handful of MUK projects to survive the cull of projects when the company folded – but creators Cefn Ridout and Charlie Adlard have kindly provided some intriguing background.
Set during the Black Widow’s time as an Avenger, Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty sees the spy teaming up with Nick Fury to investigates a crime lord, after a murder victim is found on the steps of the Russian Embassy, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.
What she discovers is the incredible fate of the fearsome urban legend now known as Black Bird, as he slaughters his way through bureaucrats and Russian Mafia alike in his single-minded mission to destroy the woman who kept him from a peaceful grave.
The eagle-eyed among you will spot a certain Marvel UK vigilante on the cover – and indeed, Fury/Black Widow feature Night Raven‘s introduction to the Marvel US universe, a character already familiar to Marvel UK readers, who first appeared in Hulk Weekly here in Britain, written by Steve Parkhouse and drawn initially by David Lloyd, followed by John Bolton, in stories set between the World Wars, battling organised crime in New York and Chicago.
Written by former Doctor Who Magazine editor Cefn Ridout, Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty features cover and art by Charlie Adlard and was coloured by Frank Lopez and Steve Whitaker, and edited by Richard Ashford, who Cefn worked with at ACME Press on Speakeasy magazine and various comics projects.
In his review of the graphic novel, Win Wiacek cautions that although he gets top billing, Nick Fury is largely absent from the post-Cold War proceedings in this “well-intentioned if erratic thriller that is in actuality the spiritual conclusion to the sage of the mysterious Night Raven” and that the book itself is “uncomfortable blending of genres, with a strange pace to it: almost as if there’s been some savage trimming and pruning with no thought to narrative cohesion”. As you’ll read below, there are a number of reasons the story seems a little disjointed…
Never having seen the book, what’s interesting is that it appears to conclude the adventures of the vigliante, whose stories first ran in Hulk Weekly (collected in Night Raven: The Collected Stories), the stunning Nightraven: House of Cards (written by Jamie Delano and drawn by David Lloyd – a project that almost didn’t see the light of day because of Marvel UK Editor in Chief Paul Neary’s reticence to publish it), and the numerous illustrated text stories written by the likes of Alan Moore which ran in various MUK titles, that led to the character’s contemporary adventures battling the immortal villainess Yi Yang, Queen of the Dragon Tong.
After it was drawn to my attention, I did wonder if this was originally a Marvel UK project that was picked up by Marvel US, along with Nocturne, the four issue series published in June 1995, written by Dan Abnett and drawn by José Fonteriz, a project initiated by Paul Neary in 1994 intended to give Night Raven a modern spin but which takes place in an alternate Marvel universe.
Charlie Adlard tells me, however, that the project was always a Marvel US title, although as he recalls, it too had a convoluted history.
“This originally meant for Marvel Comics Presents,” he reveals, referring to the first volume of MCP – a bi-weekly title that ran for 175 issues launched in 1988 but was cancelled in 1995, (although it did return for a second short-lived volume in 2007).
“We were commissioned to create this project and then Marvel Comics Presents folded,” Charlie, now best known for his work on The Walking Dead, “but, luckily, we were given a graphic novel to finish the story – hence that’s why it reads fairly episodically, with a cliff hanger in every eight pages.
“So it was never intended as a Marvel UK project – it was always US… but, ironically, after the MCP debacle, the title was changed from Night Raven/Black Widow to Fury/Black Widow, even though Fury’s hardly in it, because Marvel US deemed Night Raven to be too little known in the States to warrant a headlining title.”
“Richard commissioned us for the Marvel Comics Presents book,” Cefn Ridout expands, “where Night Raven would have been the star, and we even discussed (and I wrote an outline for) a ‘new’ Night Raven that would bring the character firmly into the Marvel Universe as it stood back then. ‘Twas never to be as that just preceded Marvel’s mid-’90s dark days, when the company went into bankruptcy and Richard was retrenched along with a big chunk of the staff.“Because it was originally written/structured around six to eight issues (I think) of MCP, the storytelling is less coherent than it might be in its quickly ‘collected’ form. And somewhere along the line a couple of captions were lost, but not the footnotes that referred to them, and then there was the delightfully mis-lettered “democracey” in a US comic!
“I really love Charlie’s strikingly detailed work on the book.”
While Fury/Black Widow wasn’t originated for Marvel UK, it’s existence is another argument that there’s a strong case for some new Night Raven collections (or even new Night Raven stories, although nothing seems to have come from rumours in 2010 that writer Fred van Lente was considering it). Marvel have already started work on a Frontier Comics collection for release next year), but with the greatest of respect to the creators involved on that line and the undoubted quality of their work, none of the characters are as well known on both sides of the Atlantic as Night Raven.
The last appearance of Night Raven was in cameo, in The Twelve #1. “The decision to put Night Raven in there was my own,” says Chris, “as a tribute to such a great character and his creators.” Although some have suggested this is a continuity error based on the character’s known history, Tony Ingram, one of the fine team who published the much-missed Crikey! magazine, says it’s not a serious one.
“We know that Night Raven lived through the war years, and while in theory he should already have been pretty deranged by 1945 (his last recorded appearance before that having been his attempt to get the cure for his condition from Scoop Daly in 1941), the text stories don’t catch up with him again until 1957. It’s entirely possible he made a partial recovery at some point and participated in the attack on Berlin before becoming the amnesiac vagrant we next see a decade later, I think.” A get out which I hope delights Chris.
Any new collection could include the text stories and this 1995-published book. It’s clear this pulp hero-inspired character has a following, and there are many artists out there, including the wonderfully talented Jonathan Wyke, who have successfully tried their hand at drawing him.There is, of course, the matter of Alan Moore’s involvement in the character’s creation and development which might, even today, prove a sticking point (although of course a lot of the text stories are credited to Maxwell Stockbridge, who is not only a Doctor Who comics character but was also a pseudonym used by Alan McKenzie at Marvel UK, a name derived by combining the two pseudonyms of the authors of the two premier pulp era heroes The Shadow and The Spider – Maxwell Grant and Grant Stockbridge – because he was a big pulp fan back then … and still is.
(As he comments below, the pseudonym was never, as we suggested in a previous version of this article, used by other writers).
However, among many others, Richard Bruton has argued the case for such a project in the past over on the Forbidden Planet International blog, as has Mark Roberts over on It Came From Darkmoor – and I’m more than happy to join in the call!
• If you’re intrigued enough by this item to want to track down the Night Raven text stories, good luck in the bargain bins of your local comic shop! They feature in Marvel UK’s Savage Action Monthly (Issues 1-4, 6, 8, 14-15), Marvel Super-Heroes Monthly (issues 382-386, 390-395, The Daredevils (Issues 6-11), then feature in Mighty World of Marvel Monthly and Savage Sword of Conan Monthly (issues 85-92). Good luck with that!
Night Raven is © Marvel Comics