Published on May 12th, 2014 | by JCDoyle0
The List Of Shame – The Crow
If you haven’t read J O’Barr’s original ‘The Crow’ comics you should, you won’t regret it. The Crow is a masterpiece of comic book art.
It starts with a thief congratulating himself on his recent burglary but he is confronted by a tall, ghost faced man dressed completely in black. It soon becomes apparent that the thief cannot harm the stranger or escape from the alleyway where he has become trapped. In an intimidating, yet poetic way the stranger issues the thief with a message, “Tell them I’m coming, Mr Jones” he says with a painted smile on his face. And this is how we are introduced to Eric Draven, the revenge driven phantom from The Crow.
The story follows Eric as he kills his way through crime ridden streets and despatches the nasty pieces of work that inhabit a dark, permanently rain soaked city. He kills relentlessly in his bid to avenge the death of his fiancé but the comic is not all hatred and death, there are moments of kindness, pity and reflection.
Eric’s mission is to punish everyone he deems guilty of a crime, which is revealed slowly throughout the narrative, and he only has a few days to walk the earth to complete this mission. His new lease of afterlife has been granted to him by a God like Crow who whispered in his ear as he lay dying and comes to him in death. A sequence near the beginning of the first chapter not only introduces the main character but acts as a metaphor for the violence that led to Eric Draven’s death. However the advice the Crow gives him at the point of death, not to look, is ignored and vengeance is born, a vengeance the Crow allows back into the world.
Don’t be under any illusions; this is not a pleasant jaunt around town with a typical costumed vigilante. The Crow is brutal, violent and pulls no punches. Throughout the story, J O’Barr introduces a selection of villains, each with a gangland name and a criminal addiction of some sort. There are images drug use, abuse and a vocabulary to match. All of this is somehow made more disturbing by the occasional tender scenes that break up Eric’s vendetta. Just as you think you are getting accustomed to the tone of the book, J O’Barr throws a curve ball, such as Eric’s brief conversation with Sheri on the door steps. He gives away his finance’s necklace which is a small act of kindness but produces a greater reward than all of the ‘justice’ he is dealing out. The memory of his past life is more vivid during these moments because they are a reflection of his previous life and not just a reaction to how it all ended. Moments like this remind you that the beast that has been leaving corpses all over the city isn’t evil; he’s just got nothing left to lose.
The contrasting images and styles in The Crow is one of the main reasons that it stands out when you first read it. It occasionally feels uneasy and disjointed but then it’s told through the eyes of a lost soul. J O’Barr didn’t want it to be easy to read because it wasn’t easy for him to create. The story grew out of a tragedy in his own life, and afters years in the military, he needed to exorcise his demons. Because he is trying to invoke the strong emotions that he had at the time, his work fluctuates between calm and considered to energetic and erratic. This means that the art work shifts styles as much as the narrative jumps between past and present. Harsh black and white panels are followed by beautifully painted scenes of serenity and then shift back just as quickly. It’s as if the author doesn’t believe that the reader should be allowed to feel comfortable with any aspect of the comic.
But despite the violence, despite the crazy mind of the central character, the script is a poetic discord of loss, reminiscent of the Dark Romantics literary genre. There are quotes from Edgar Allen Poe’s work throughout the comic, embedded into the narrative. And there is a feel of Herman Melville’s doomed Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. Eric Draven chases down his wife’s murderers but the quest ultimately leads to his own destruction and all that is left in his wake is pain.
The poetic tone of the script owes a lot to the music that inspired J O’barr at the time of writing. It is littered with lyrics and references to 80’s bands such as Joy Division. In fact it’s not difficult to believe that Eric Draven would sound something like Ian Curtis. There is a melancholy aspect to the character, as depicted in panels where he sits in his old home and daydreams of his past life. As a reader you begin to feel his despair and almost forgive him the atrocities he commits.
In short, The Crow is an emotional punch in the face. It’s hard hitting and cruel and doesn’t allow you time to settle in. It may have only been four issues in its original run but each issue was powerful and thought provoking. It gives you something to think about and stays with you long after you‘ve put it down. I own a collected edition and it’s been read and reread over the years. The spine is bent, the cover creased and some of the pages have folded corners but this just adds to the feel of book. The contents aren’t pretty so why should it be kept in a pristine condition?
Some comics are designed to look good they are nurtured with love and affection with the intention to bring joy. The Crow is not one of these comics; it was born from anger and despair, written to make you suffer, to feel uncontrollable. This was not designed to entertain, although it does in the same way as a Shakespearean tragedy, it was designed to cleanse the writer’s soul and remind you to be thankful that you still have things to live for.