Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Crow: A Comic That Both Dehumanizes and Amplifies Romance

A Review By: Amelia
The Crow, by James O’Barr, is a graphic novel about Eric and Shelly, a young couple just starting to make their life together, that are needlessly killed by a group of degenerate street thugs. Shelly is raped repeatedly and dies at the scene of their attack; Eric dies some thirty hours later in the ICU. Eric however, doesn’t stay dead. With the mystic, otherworldly powers of the Crow (believed by some ancient civilizations to be Death and the keeper of the underworld), Eric comes back to avenge his and his girlfriend’s death in the most brutal ways he can imagine. With no powers beyond his refusal to die, he barrels into the fights with nothing more than a couple of handguns, undying love for Shelly, and hate for those who wronged him.

This being said, The Crow is not a comic book written without compassion or human feeling. O’Barr wrote The Crow when he found the grief from his own girlfriend’s death to be to much. He translates his emotions perfectly into the story and makes it hard for the readers not to empathize with Eric’s brutal - but justified - killing spree.
The graphic novel is divided into five sections, and then, within the sections, further divided into chapters. Most chapters follow Eric’s bloody trail through the course of his revenge, but a few are devoted to his memories of better times spent with Shelly. These, unless you have no heart, will leave you teary-eyed more times than you’ll admit to your friends. Also, as an interesting way to divide up the gore and action, O’Barr has scattered numerous songs, poems and quotes all relating back to whatever happened in the last chapter or to the story as a whole. Joy Division and The Cure make appearances, as does the famous philosopher Voltaire. Overall, it’s an interesting and original way to add extra emotional content and pacing to the piece.
The art within The Crow is done in very simple black and white ink sketches. Eric’s memories are done in a soft, watercolour-esque style while everything that takes place in the present is harsh lines and an overall grim décor. To some, the minimalist art style adds to the overall macabre feel of the comic. To others, it leaves something to be desired. In a few interestingly placed panels, O’Barr inserts small black and white photos, the most noticeable being a picture of an open door in the last chapter of the comic. Do these pictures hold something significant to the grieving author? Do they bring back good memories, or bad? As the reader, we’ll never know exactly why these panels are actual photos and not just sketches, but it definitely adds a certain aura of mystery. Unfortunately, mysterious photos or not, if you haven’t found yourself relating to the story and dialogue, the art won’t be able to win you over. At its high points, the art is perfectly gruesome: so brutal and bleak that it really is beautiful. At its low points, the art is dated and the eighties hairstyles will leave you cringing.

Brandon Lee as The Crow
Comparing all this to the movie, well, no doubt more people of seen the movie than read the comic. Looking past media exposure though, there are a few obvious differences. In the movie, the addition of Sarah to the story arc makes Eric seem like less of a ghoul and more of a relatable character; and T-Bird’s gang is part of something bigger - not just a random group of monstrous thugs - which (towards the end of the film) makes Eric’s journey less of a selfish one. What’s left as the biggest question in the comic is whether Eric really did come back from the dead. In the movie, you watch him crawl out of his grave. This is left completely ambiguous in the comic. One group of readers may be left thinking that perhaps he never died but recovered from his wounds (hence why he takes his revenge a year after the attack) while another group may believe that his revenge against the gang was nothing more than delusions as he lay dying in the ICU. Either way, it’s left more up to the reader to interpret and react to, instead of just seeing it done one way and reacting to that.

The comic book, as a medium, is a much harder one to judge than say, a standard Hollywood blockbuster, and the fact that The Crow is radically different from a lot of comic books available makes my closing comments even harder. Eric isn’t your usual superhero in your usual comic book setting. That being said, there are a few things that make The Crow a graphic novel that should not be passed by; the most notable being that anyone who has ever felt the pain of losing a loved one will immediately empathize with the pain Eric goes through as he tries to find his revenge. Also, those looking for a unique comic experience should enjoy it for its content and stark art style.

My final say is that The Crow is a fantastic piece of comic literature, filled with raw emotion that’s comparable to actually having lost someone yourself. The art fills you with a beautiful sense of dread, the original story will have you engrossed beyond turning the last page, and the ever prominent themes of love and hate are as eternal and presented as beautifully as Eric’s love for Shelly.

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