Comic Review: The Crow by James W. O’Barr. How do you quote William Makepeace Thackeray in a comic and make it look cool??

ImageWriter(s): James W. O’Barr             

Artist(s James W. O’Barr   

US Publisher: Calibre Press.

The Plot:

A young couple is murdered by thugs one night while they take a car ride. The young male’s grief is bigger than death, and thus refuses to die till he avenges his lost love.

The Review:

This book holds another special spot in my heart due to the fact that I bought and loved this graphic novel before it become a cult classic or a movie. I even have the individual floppies that were initially sold. This graphic novel marks the origin of teen angst in comics, in modern day America.

Unfortunately, James O’Barr had a hard time following on his magnum opus. It was one of those cases (and we all know one) where a band’s debut music album is amazing but never follows up with anything similar again. In the case of O’Barr, he has dabbled in some comics, collaborating with other publishers but mainly staying with Caliber Press. He even contributed a noteworthy chapter to DEADWORLD (something we shall try to cover soon also) but mainly you will have to hit Wikipedia to get a full listing of his contributions, and then hunt them down on e-bay, or ask your LCS to get them for you.

So, why, oh why, should we consider The Crow a comic Masterpiece?

Well, let’s clarify that I expect to be writing this review for people unfamiliar with The Crow, and with that in mind lets review the reasons:

  1. Independent work, independent publisher, independent artists/creator, in a market (1990’s) saturated by SuperHeroes in underwear.  It takes guts to dare, but James O’Barr dared and Calibre Press dared and together they found something that appealed to an wide audience who were looking for something more edgy and mature. And this in a decade where the internet barely existed!!! Lots of KUDOS for being ahead of its time, and daring to take risks, and doing it well.
  2. Black and White and Grey goodness! Lots of iconic splashpages. James manages to incorporate onto this masterpiece imagery on an oneiric nature in a way that linger in our minds long after we closed the book.
  3. One of the few comics in modern times where the main character gets to speak in poetry, and we stay with him. Yes. “Mother is the word for God on the hearts and lips of all little children.” You see? James O’Barr dishes us William Thackeray and we eat it up! But the real artform resides in something that I absolutely revere and seldom find: James O’Barr constructs a world of dreams and poetry using the foundations of a ghetto, of a slum, and from the nastiness it raises his hero like a phoenix.
  4.  It is unapologetic pretentious. So much that it becomes good! Heck, the opening page of the first book opens with a poem by Rimbaud. But it remains constant with its angst, it escalates on the lyricism, and maintains pace with all the “Emo” and deeply brooding, and hands-on-your-hair deep looks that all the teens (and some older than teens i’m sure) can relate to. It makes it work.
Barr has conceded in many interviews that this is a plain fantasy of revenge, with many many allegoric images and overtones. He kept all the grief from his fiance being killed by a drunk driver early on his youth and eventually got around putting it onto art.
But Barr had occasions to sell out his creation, and when the movie version of his graphic novel was green-lit, he remained faithful to his vision, and so did Alex Proyas (the director) and Brandon Lee, hte main actor.

The good news is that The Crow can still be found in graphic novel format, and I hear that in June 2011 a hard cover and TPB was released, called the Special Edition

In one hand one should be glad that you can still find masterpieces in print. On the other hand I am not sure how I feel about recycling the same material over and over for a couple of decades.

The good news is that it seems that O’Barr has been working on a lengthy project in the last few years.

The name is SUNDOWN and it is scheduled to be released late February 2012.

It will also be released digitally for the Ipad and Iphone.

Go to this website to take a look at a preview.

On the  bad news side, although James retains the rights to his creation, he did sell the movie rights to it, and it seems that a remake of the cult movie is in the making, starring Bradley Cooper.

The fans are not thrilled ( I should say “a lot of them are not thrilled”).

So, on my Critic’s rating,   The Crow by James O’Barr     gets



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