The Crow Special EditionA comic review article by: Rafael Gaitan
Heartbreak feeds the labors of love. As Jack Kirby famously quipped once, "Comics will break your heart." He meant it on every possible level, as the business side of comics is well known for its practices and it seems every other week a respected creator can't even pay his medical bills. But what stems when the heartbroken get into the business of breaking hearts?
James O'Barr's The Crow is recognized as one of the most respected and vital comics of the independent scene. A reaction to the death of his fiancé and his substance abuse, O'Barr's work was one of the seminal releases of now-defunct Caliber Comics and it has been translated into multiple languages, including cinema, where it also spanned another tragedy in the loss of Brandon Lee. Some would argue O'Barr's work is cursed, but others would suggest that the power of the material is divorced from the circumstances. Regardless, his work is one that's beloved and meaningful to many, despite his admissions that drawing The Crow just made him angrier and more resentful of his actions.
Long out of print, Gallery Books has released a complete collection of The Crow, augmented with sections previously removed by O'Barr himself as well as two new segments and a total re-inking/enhancing by hand, without the use of computers -- a fact O'Barr makes clear in his introduction. It's a fitting tribute to the book's small beginning and labor-intensive process, and every page pulses with energy and grit that seem to emerge from the lines: Detroit's alive and limping along as the Crow's vengeance smothers the city.
It's a fairly straightforward revenge plot, but what makes O'Barr's story so compelling is his method of intermingling the visual and the referential. Entire passages of poems are inserted where dialogue and captions would be, and the kinetic nature of the gnashing, wet inks and lines give a vibrance that keeps the text from being inert. They dually act as an internal monologue -- perhaps from the titular crow that follows Eric Draven, perhaps O'Barr himself, but ultimately they provide heft. Conversely, with his mastery of visual language, when O'Barr chooses to let a sequence speak for itself it's always fascinating, like the famous dream of the horse trapped in barb wire or The Crow's final assault on T-Bird. Even then, as he hauntingly asks "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" it's the only line of dialogue as the darkness literally washes over the page and the world within.
The story itself has a reputation for being absorbed by the Goth culture, but frankly it's a universal message of love and longing -- the reader feels every fiber of Eric's loneliness, and he's rendered the same in every sequence, but it's a wonderfully jarring experience to see him stand tall and smiling while gunning down scumbags and keeping the same stature in his hideout, a room that seems to grow wider and more unwelcoming as he ticks more notches off his list. At first the Crow's invulnerability seemed passe and pointless, but as the book draws you in, your interpretation gives weight to the credence -- what he represents, whether O'Barr's intention or not, is eternal; it's something that can't be killed conventionally, or in any real form.
Gallery has used a nice weight page that never feels too sensitive, and their decision to make it a paperback allows it to be priced extremely reasonably. For six wonderful chapters that are jam-packed with new attention and upgrades, as well as a wealth of materials including additional essays, sketches and reflections from O'Barr and fans of the series, it's omnibus stuff thrown into a trade paperback. The loving restoration would be worth it alone, but it jumps from being a great value to a seminal piece of comics that one would be remiss to own.
The story of Eric and Shelley has entered the lexicon of comics, and Gallery Books has made sure that the edition they've put out is proper tribute to this. O'Barr's cooperation acts as an official co-sign, indicating he's as enthused to see this book return for an entirely new generation as readers of age are. The Crow: Special Edition is likely not flying off shelves, but that means those who seek its brilliance should have no trouble acquiring it. Heartbreak eventually heals, but not without time, and it's about time for The Crow to return to this plane again.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart. He ain't got time to bleed.