Dark, despairing, tragic morality tales once haunted small indie press sections of your local comic book store. Stark covers, with the look of a Goth girl’s high school notebook, littered the rack. Black and white, as basic as they could be. There was Razor, Shi, and then of course; there was The Crow.
“…One day you are going to lose everything you have. Nothing will prepare you for that day. Not faith…not religion…nothing. When someone you love dies. You will know emptiness…you will know what it is to be completely and utterly alone. You will never forget and never forgive. The lonely do not usually speak as completely and intimately as James O’Barr does here in this book – so, if anything, at least take this lesson from The Crow: think about what you have to lose…”
from the introduction by John Bergin 1993
The Crow is a modern day masterpiece and had it been done by Marvel or DC, by names like Grant Morrison and Frank Miller, it would be cooed about by fanboys as the litmus test of storytelling. But it was not. It was perhaps in its way too honest and too full of pain to be comicdom mainstream. There is anguish here. It drips from every page. Even when you close the book, you will feel it stain your hands and you will not be able to wash it away.
The Crow is personal for James O’Barr. He began work on the tale shortly after the death of his fiancé to a drunk driver. The journey of his creation would not sooth him though, in an interview given in 1994, O’Barr says, “As I drew each page, it made me more self-destructive, if anything….There is pure anger on each page.”
A year ago…a cold October night…
A broken down car on a dirt road…
A man…a girl…madness…pain…and the shadows…
My God. The shadows…
The Crow is the story of Eric, a young idealistic man in love. The woman he loves and the life he is going to make with her. Until one night. His car breaks down on a dirt road and the next car to come along stops. Out steps a group of young thugs, a drug dealing street gang, high and full of hate. Eric is killed and his love, his young bride to be is raped. Murdered and then raped again.
But death does not keep Eric. He returns as a vengeful Angel. As he hunts down those who murdered his love. As The Crow.
Intermixed in the blood and horror of the violence done to Eric and Shelley as well as the violence he brings on the street gang that took their lives; are the memories he has of the love they shared. It is that, those incredible intimate moments that make the pain and despair of the story so palpable. It is that which raises The Crow above the blood and killing that most other comics in this genre live and die by. It is the heart that James O’Barr has so bravely imbedded into The Crow that separates it so. There is an incredible vulnerability to the character. He has suffered so much pain and loss that no amount of violence can undo him now.
The Crow was made into a movie in 1994, starring Brandon Lee, the son of the legendary martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee. Brandon Lee tragically dies during the filming of the movie, from a defective blank fired at him. Ending what could have been a promising career. This only serves to heighten the legacy and mystique to surround the story of The Crow.
The graphic novel The Crow is not to be missed. If you have any love of the comic book world you will read this book. In any other literary format it would have been hailed for its sheer genius and the honest emotion on every page. As comic book fans we can only be grateful that the graphic novel was the chosen medium of James O’Barr.
If I were an Angel I would cast away my wings and halo, forever
Just to spend one more moment near you,
To touch the soft white milk of your skin,
To count every freckle on your nose,
To feel the silky smooth drift of your hair over my face,
To feel your breath hot on my mouth.
I would forget the music of every sunrise
To just once more hear you sigh,
I would laugh in absolute joy at the irony
Of the angel who gave away his divinity, for all eternity,
To fell the warm glow of an earth-bound love,
If just for one single moment.