Retro Review: Night Raven – House of Cards

Retro Review: Night Raven - House of Cards (1991) - Cover

Written by Jamie Delano
Art by David Lloyd
Lettered by Jenny O’Connor
Cover by J. David Jackson
Published by Marvel UK (1991)

Review by Luke Williams

Night Raven is a largely forgotten Marvel UK character, initially created as part of the line up for the Hulk Comic, a weekly British newsstand title launched in early 1979, edited by Dez Skinn, assisted by Richard Burton. From the initial strips created by Steve Parkhouse and David Lloyd, the strip, and later short stories, were delivered by the likes of John Bolton, Alan McKenzie, Alan Moore and Jamie Delano.

Night Raven – House of Cards was originally to have been published in the short- lived Marvel UK anthology, Strip. Edited by Dan Abnett, Strip took some interesting chances with European reprint and original material in its too brief existence.  “House of Cards” is trailed in Issue 20, the last edition, but thankfully found life in the underused graphic album format favoured by our European cousins, in that liminal period between the end of Strip and the arrival of the first Death’s Head II mini-series, which heralded the Marvel UK boom of the 1990s.

(John Freeman, who was working at MUK back then, tells me incoming Editorial Director Paul Neary took some persuading to publish the strip as a graphic novel, but it’s to all our benefits that he gave it the green light).

Retro Review: Night Raven - House of Cards - Sample Art

Point of order: your reviewer is not particularly familiar with the character, but from a little research, Night Raven is unusual for a Marvel strip in that it is set in the 1930’s prohibition era New York. The titular character is inspired by the pulp novel tradition of “The Shadow” and stories of that ilk. Also unusually, his (presumably secret) identity is never revealed, at least not initially.

Retro Review: Night Raven - House of Cards - Sample Art

Like many Marvel and DC characters in their later years, he attracted “baggage” via revamps and revisions. Thankfully, House of Cards was published before all that, and boils the character down to it essence.  No fuss, no complications.

In House of Cards, Night Raven becomes fixated with a singer, Inez, who just happens to be mixed up with the local mob and romantically involved with one of the higher ranking enforcers, the ruthless and brutal Soldier. After attracting the unwanted attention of a corrupt politician and rejecting his advances, Inez is in danger, and Night Raven takes it upon himself to protect her and combating Soldier, who sees himself as her protector and aims to spirit her away.

The strip has a noir “Phantom of The Opera” vibe, the tragic beauty and her obsessed would-be lover, lurking in the shadows.

Re-reading tis tale, I have to ask – is there a more underrated Britpack writer than Jamie Delano? Grant Morrison was seen as the enfant terrible and the hipsters choice in the British invasion of the 1980s, but Delano has an ability to get inside the reader’s head that few other writers are able with evocative and emotionally charged narration. Here, the high tension dialogue and captions, coupled with the beautiful, smokey, soft focus washes of frequent collaborator David Lloyd mean that when violence does occur – this is a crime comic, after all – it’s fierce, and all the more startling for it, and beautifully lit.

Retro Review: Night Raven - House of Cards - Sample Art
Retro Review: Night Raven - House of Cards - Sample Art

Readers new to the character needn’t worry about the history of the character, although Marvel collected all the other Night Raven stories in Night Raven: From the Marvel UK Vaults, published in 2017. No background knowledge of the character is necessary to enjoy this slice of pulp fiction. If you can find a copy, snap it up.

Luke Williams

Retro Review: Night Raven - House of Cards (1992) - Cover

Night Raven – House of Cards by Jamie Delano and David Lloyd | 978-1854002884

Two editions of House of Cards were published, the first A4 format, in 1991, the second, squarebound US format, in 1992, as part of the Genesis ’92 wave of material pitched specifically at the US market. You can find copies of both editions on eBay at reasonable prices

AmazonUK also lists a Dutch edition, published in 2004 – but so does Amazon.com, but the details there are of the first UK edition!

Night Raven: From the Marvel UK Vaults

Night Raven: From the Marvel UK Vault TPB
Cover by David Lloyd

Who is Night Raven? Find out in this complete collection of classic tales from the Marvel UK archives! Join the mystery masked vigilante in his pulp-era war on crime, as this lone man of justice stealthily stalks his villainous prey on the streets of New York City…and branding criminals with the mark of the deadly Night Raven!

Follow this dark avenger into battle with mob bosses, murderers and miscreants like the Taxman, the Assassin, Dragonfi re and more -in rarely-seen stories by some of Marvel UK’s finest talents!

COLLECTING: NIGHT RAVEN MATERIAL FROM HULK COMIC 1-20; SAVAGE ACTION 1-4, 6, 8, 12-15; MARVEL SUPER-HEROES (UK) 382-386, 389-395; DAREDEVILS 6-11; MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL 7-17; SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN (UK) 85-92; CAPTAIN BRITAIN (1985) 10-12

Jon Carpenter’s Starlogged blog has a number of items about Night Raven

Brought up on a diet of Commando, British Boys Annuals and Asterix, Lucas Williams’s day job limits his reading time. Luckily for everyone else this also restricts his writing time.



Categories: British Comics, British Comics - Graphic Novels, Comics, downthetubes Comics News, Features, Reviews

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