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Ranting About Manitou Raven

I recently wrote about Marvel's superheroic Native Echo. A less appealing character is DC's Manitou Raven. A website gives some background on him:

Manitou Raven hails from the Obsidian Age, circa 1000 BCE. He was born in North American, from a tribe which would one day become the Apache Indians. Few details are known about Raven's early life. It is also unclear whether his command of mystical forces was learned or innate. By his own account, he fell in love with his wife, Dawn on the night when she burned his house to the ground. Raven was recruited by the rulers of Atlantis -- Rama Khan and Gamemnae -- to join heroes from across the globe (and from rival societies) and form a multicultural "League of Ancients."

The couple traveled to the 21st century to destroy the Justice League, but then switched sides and joined the League. As the website notes:

He and Dawn dove quickly into Twentieth Century culture. Manitou visited a reservation casino built on what was once his tribe's land. It's location was not specified, but he called it gontee ni, "ground of four fingers."

Raven wields several mystical artifacts: his hatchet which cannot pierce the skin of a good man; his dreamcatcher which keeps history and secrets; a headdress that sings with ancient knowledge; and his medicine stick, an unbreakable manifestation of his spirit.

Notes: The word "Manitou" means "god." His name might be translated as "raven god." Manitou Raven uses the phrase "Inukchuk!" to grow super-tall, just like Apache Chief from the Super Friends cartoon. A sign in JLA #67 which read "Apache Land" gave the first clue to Manitou Raven's link to Apache Chief.

With his strange tattoos and glowing eyes, Manitou Raven doesn't look too cliched. But everything else about him is problematical. For starters, he's a typical supernatural shaman type. Naturally, his origin is tied to Atlantis, giving him a classic New Age sheen.

The character is basically a mishmash. The name "Manitou" comes from the Algonquian tribes of the Northern woods. But ravens are most associated with the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, the magical tools come from the Plains or Eastern Woodlands regions. It's absurd to claim Manitou Raven is Apache when he has no connection to the Apache culture.

Worst of all is his warcry. "Inukchuk" is an Inuit figure made of stones. The word has no meaning in any other culture.

The people who created Manitou Raven were supposedly honoring Apache Chief, one of the most stereotypical characters ever. That Manitou Raven utters the same magic word to achieve the same result is nothing to brag about. This character is almost as absurd as his predecessor.

Incidentally, Manitou Raven died recently, and his wife became the new "manitou" (Manitou Dawn). From what I've seen, she's somewhat less stereotypical than her husband. But he's still around, advising the Justice League as a ghost.

Related links
Comic books featuring Indians

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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