Have you ever lost someone you loved? I don’t mean a friend or a relative, I mean losing someone so deeply ingrained into you that when they are gone, you have no idea how you are able to function? For those of us who have, James O’Barr has taken those feelings of rage, of dis-empowerment, and allowed us some catharsis through his seminal work The Crow.
For those unfamiliar with the tale from either the movie or the graphic novel, The Crow tells the story of a young couple in Detroit who are about to get married and a vicious gang attacks then, sexually assaults the woman, and murders both individuals. The young man is reborn a year later as the Crow, an undead figure of vengeance.
The backstory is, as James O’Barr recounts in the introduction to this edition, that he was in love with and engaged to a beautiful woman who was tragically killed by a drunk driver. There are times when the author’s voice, rather than the character’s, becomes more clear when lines such as “God, you bastard. How could you kill something so beautiful?”
The artwork in this story is brutal and uncompromising. The Detroit that is represented here is a hellscape that would not look out of place in a Bosch painting (other than the guns, of course). Eric (the Crow) is shown both as a lithe athlete with the lean muscles of a dancer (ironic since his fiancee Shelley is a dancer and he supposedly cannot dance) and very feminine features, implying a duality to his nature.
When I re-read this story, I picked up on something I had not noticed before, which is how this work may have influenced Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I note this for two reasons, because of a line used by Eric after he kills one of the men who originally killed both he and Shelley “how wonderful is death. Death and his brother sleep.” That is the only other time I have seen sleep and death referred to in a familial relationship, as they are in Sandman. The image of death that eventually comes for Eric also has a passing resemblance to the figure of Death in the Sandman mythos.
Would I recommend this graphic novel? Without question. Even if you already have a copy, or are a fan of the movie, pick up this special edition, as there is additional artwork in this version that O’Barr was not able to include originally and it enhances the story greatly. James O’Barr used his pain to give the world a gift and I thank him profusely for it.