“The Crow”. In the minds of many it’s a cult classic film that was decent in and of itself but was elevated by the tragic on-set death of its star, Brandon Lee, son of martial arts icon Bruce Lee. The movie was based on a comic by James O’Barr, and if you hadn’t read it before seeing the movie, chances are you went out and tracked yourself down a copy of the comic after falling in love with the film. I did. And it is a dark, violent and emotional piece, even more so than the film. The book came out of a tragic loss in O’Barr’s life and it was his cathartic release that enabled him to move on. Now IDW has picked up the rights to the Crow comics and re-released the original graphic novel as well as the subsequent sequels. But they’ve also gotten some new mini-series going, and including “Death and Rebirth” and “Skinning The Wolves.”
If you know nothing about the Crow series then here’s the little blurb at the beginning of the first film:
“People once believed that a crow carried a soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes a terrible sadness is carried with them. And sometimes, just sometimes a Crow can carry a soul back to put the wrong things right.”
Got it? Okay good. Moving on. The comics follow this same format, tragic death of protagonist that was either in love or had a loving family is brought back by The Crow, a spirit of the dead in some lore, to get vengeance. It’s pretty straight forward stuff. The movies (yes all of them) simplify it to just the sense of loss and sadness, which is understandable. But the comics, starting with the original had a little something more, and these new entries are no different.
“The Crow: Death and Rebirth” written by John Shirley and drawn by Kevin Colden, tells the story of Jamie Osterberg, an American student studying in Japan in order to be close to his fiancé Haruko. Having met a year prior when Haruko was an exchange student in the States, the two fell in love and Jamie has spent the last year being educated in Japanese culture and society, and doing quite well. That is until Haruko has a sudden change of personality, which leads to Jamie’s subsequent death while investigating her uncharacteristic change and denouncement of her father. Jamie is brought back as Yata Garasu, the Crow Spirit intent on finding out the truth and gaining revenge for his death.
The story is definitely more steeped in mythology and the supernatural than most Crow stories, and it’s better for it. You don’t question the physical change in the character, or how he ended up with the make-up simply because of the supernatural nature of the story. The thing missing from the films that is apparent here and in “Skinning the Wolves” is that the protagonists don’t come back the same as they were. They’re not just sad, vengeful versions of themselves, they’re slightly mad as well. There is a madness and almost insanity that each Crow has in the comics that really adds to the emotional gravitas of the stories. Sure anyone would be upset at dying and losing their love, but the madness is definitely something that would come out in someone who has died and come back but isn’t truly alive. Just around long enough to tie things up and then their soul can finally know peace, and I think that lack of peace is what causes that madness. A constant knowing that they shouldn’t be here, and that if they were they should be living life and enjoying it, but they’re now stuck in a physical limbo they cannot leave until they get their vengeance.
“Death and Rebirth” really plays on that aspect. The art here is very dark and atmospheric. Heavy shadows, and an almost sketch like quality to the art gives the ethereal moments and even stronger visual quality.
“The Crow: Skinning the Wolves” was written by James O’Barr himself, based on a story he wrote a while back called “The Night Train.” It was turned into a Crow story and was illustrated by Jim Terry, whom O’Barr picked personally to do this piece. And what a story it is.
Set in a concentration camp during World War II, the protagonist, an unnamed man who I will refer to simply as “The Man” was just like all the other unlucky passengers on “The Night Train” ripped from their world and thrust into a frozen hell in the middle of nowhere. An intellectual, “The Man” had the unfortunate honor of being picked to play chess against the Commandant of the camp. He’d gather them and play against them, offering them their lives if they could defeat him. “The Man” won and was rewarded with his life, but that didn’t last long. The Crow has brought “The Man” back and he’s taking out Nazis without remorse and without abandon.
This was a very dark and violent tale, but it was very well written for the little bit of dialogue and narration there is. Again the madness of the protagonist plays a large part in his bloody journey through the camp. This is a less supernatural story, but a more visceral one, and something I would love to see on screen. What was also different was that this Crow has no face paint, tattoos, etc. His scar, and physical disfiguration and shadowing give the visage of the Crow make-up (which is actually the comedy mask face), there’s also no dark leather and trench, but then again if you think about it, that’s what the Nazis were wearing. I really liked that they went with a very different visual style for “The Man” and it all worked amazingly. This is all thanks to the art of Jim Terry, who has an Eisner-esque approach, but also calls James O’Barr’s own art style to mind as well.
IDW is currently starting their next series “The Crow: Curare” and when it hits in trade paperback I will be buying it. These stories have been great and I hope they continue on with these. And if the Luke Evans version of The Crow movie reboot does well, maybe we’ll get one of these stories adapted. On a side note, I got my copy of “Death and Rebirth” signed by the artist. YAY!