This week’s article is a special Requests & Dedications edition, as the book was recommended by 411mania user SonoftheMountain!
I have had a few of these over time. Power Girl was a request. Cerebus was nominated to me. Moon Knight was done on a suggestion. If someone throws an idea at me, and it’s a book I can easily get my mitts on, I’m usually pretty happy to do it.
So here we go this week into 1989’s The Crow!
TITLE: The Crow
Writer and Artist: James O’Barr
Publisher: Caliber Press
Antagonists: Funboy, T-Bird, other thugs
I genuinely thought this book was older than that. 1989, eh? I thought this was 1981 for whatever odd reason. But nope; The Crow came our way the same year the Berlin Wall fell and I was eight years old. (EDIT: Ahhh, as I wrote more and followed up my research, I see why: James O’Barr started writing it in 1981!)
The Crow tells the story of Eric, a young man whose fiancee Shelly was violently raped and murdered by a gang of drug dealers and addicts. During the attack, Eric himself was shot multiple times in the head and… “killed”?
Whatever his fate, it didn’t stick, as a supernatural crow returned Eric to the end of the living, now granted apparent immortality, and set him off in a flurry of vengeance against the bastards who ruined his life. Eric now relishes the violence he has the power to inflict on others, but he is tormented by his past, as he is unable to move past his grief. He continually relives he and Shelly’s moments together, even as his spirit guide Crow implores him not to torture himself so.
Eric makes short work of his killers and is never really in danger. One by one he cuts them all down while hoping desperately that it will bring him peace.
All right. So… all right. Here’s the deal: I’m trying to keep two things in mind as I cultivate my thoughts on this book:
First of all, and most importantly, this book was created by James O’Barr in the wake of his fiancee being killed by drunk driver. So this was obviously a very personal story from a distraught man who was trying to cope with his actual grief. I can respect that. In that regard, the story is a very morbid kind of wish fulfillment (not only in that his avatar brutally massacre’s his fiancee’s killers, but in that it can be read as James O’Barr wishing he had died with her), but that is fine. I can’t imagine being in that circumstance, and I’m sure I’d have to get my feelings out, too.
Secondly, the book was written in the early 80’s and published in the late 80’s. So, while this is a comically obvious statement, it came out when it came out. Does The Crow hold up in 2019? Not even a little bit. Would it have been better in the 80’s, when comics hadn’t quite done a lot of stuff like this yet? Maybe. It’s hard to say. But also, from its contributions to goth culture (it surely didn’t create it, but it had a definable impact) to the movie it spawned, to Sting’s wrestling career after 1996, the book is influential. That’s undeniable, and I get that it had density.
Okay. So it was an important emotional work to its creator, and it was important in its era. Are we okay with that? Do we understand that I accept and believe in those points?
Because this book is, frankly, really bad.
The writing is frightfully weak. Eric as a protagonist has no discernible weakness and is never in any actual danger. He just plays with his enemies with tormented glee before effortlessly disposing of them. I get that he is also sad, but feeling pity for him doesn’t equate to feeling like there are any stakes. Wish fulfillment is fine, but when I can’t even begin to worry about the hero, where is the engagement?
There’s also a lot of inner dialogue that spawned millions of awful, angsty teenage poems. It’s the kind of stuff you read and roll your eyes at. Maybe it was headier in the 1980’s? Possibly? But reading now, at least, I can say with certainty that it’s just juvenile. And this is where I kind of hate myself because, again, Eric is just an avatar for James’ own loss. So these words are his own way of expressing his loss. Who am I to say his feelings are poorly written when I haven’t gone through what he has, right? An asshole, that’s who. But man, it’s really… not that good.
The art is divided up two ways. There is the story art, and then there is the flashback/spiritual-kind-of-stuff art. The latter is actually well done. It’s lighter and less detailed and the linework is softer as Eric reflects on a time when he wasn’t weighed down with grief and pain. The central story art is much grittier and thicker and heavier, but it’s also kind of sloppy. But not sloppy as a stylish choice; more of in a “still learning his craft” kind of way. Angles and proportions aren’t strong; faces tend to be a bit goofier than they should be given the soul of the story. Very little of the core art feels right. It’s very amateurish.
Talking Point: Try not to tell me what a jerk I am for this one! That’s the main point. Also: What comic did you read YEARS later than most only to find that you didn’t really dig it that much?
God help me if something tragic and unbelievably devastating ever happens to me and then I feel the drive to create art to fill the hole that has been burned inside of me. I would share that art with the world, hoping to get closure for my unspeakable loss, and then some monster would review it thirty years later and go “this isn’t that good. Get better, Stewart! 3/10!”. But this is just… I don’t know. The art isn’t polished and is downright bad at times. The writing is heavy-handed and cliche. The plot has no stakes. So yeah. This isn’t that good. 3/10. Eep.