It has been over twenty years since the first time I read James O'Barr's masterpiece The Crow. I was delighted at the chance to revisit the graphic novel and film for this month's piece for COMICBOOKSOTROS. I decided to take on reading the 2011 special edition which includes never before seen artwork panels done in the original stylings of the artist, as well as a retrospective forward by O'Barr himself. I'm sure your first question is going to be, "Is it worth buying the updated version?" And the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Above: In the graphic novel, The Crow is an anthropomorphic presence that acts as something of a conscience for our main character, Eric Draven, who personifies this crow. However, in the film, the crow has a much more physical presence and is revealed to be the source of Draven's apparent invincibility.
Sometimes, an artist pours so much of their heart onto the page or screen that they become enmeshed with the source material, to the point where they may not know how the story needs to end—perhaps not wanting it to end. O'Barr reflects in his foreword that the story of The Crow was somewhat semi-autobiographical, based upon a true story; The guilt over losing someone to a drunk driver, fueling the anger and regrets that, ultimately made up the story of a clown-faced dark angel coming back from the dead to avenge his true love. What was missing from this original tale that O'Barr felt was missed? Resolution. O'Barr explains that it took him decades to create his new ending for The Crow which is included in the special edition.
Above: The Crow novel opens and ends with a metaphor for guilt in this image of a horse caught in barbed wire. Unfortunately, this imagery didn't make it to the film.
SPOILER ALERT: This new ending and resolution for the main character is titled Sparklehorse, which brings the graphic novel full circle, with the metaphor of the white horse caught in the barbed wire fence. Not only could this captured horse represent his lost fiancée Shelly, but also himself. The crow explains that Eric needs to forgive himself for the death of the horse, which he ultimately puts down to ease their and ultimately his suffering.
I would say by the time you get ¾th of the way through this book, it goes totally dark, whereas comparably that first section of the book is a perfect balance of romantic reflection and indignant retribution. There is masochism to the main character that was not commonly seen in mainstream media when this book was first published. (It is also notable that this self-harming did not really appear in the film.) It is comforting that the author finally appeased Eric's self-loathing with a fitting epitaph in Sparklehorse.
Below: O'Barr frequently quotes the likes of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, and pairs it with touching romantic images like these...The end result is a beautiful and very unique love letter.
Above: The movie also integrated romantic flashbacks which felt a little quick when compared to the novel. However, the film's great original quotes like, "Nothing is trivial," made up for what felt lacking.
To say that the film is different from the graphic novel is an understatement. A lot of changes were made. For one, the movie begins with the voiceover of a little girl who, in the graphic novel, was just a sweet addition and not at all central to the plot. This was an interesting choice as the source material frequently had Eric as the voiceover component.
Above: Top Dollar was definitely too over-the-top for me!
One thing that really bothers me about the adaptation of The Crow is the addition of a very two-dimensional villain and accomplice as seen above. It was just not necessary to create superficially, grotesque characters like these to justify the vengeance that Eric felt over the brutal rape and murder of his fiancé. I actually had to do significant research to figure out who Top Dollar was and supposed to be, as the adaptation was so different. Another thing that really bothered me about these adjustments to the original plot was that a storyline comes up that Shelly and Eric somehow earned their deaths because they were tenant advocates. I don't think there needed to be any sort of explanation for the demise of this couple, as in the original story, they simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time...notably that was the impetus for The Crow in the first place (O'Barr losing someone to a drunk driver)!
Above: The graphic novel is beautiful, but the movie had its moments too! The crow in flame was a big Hollywood explosive finale and one of the visual stunners of the film.
In the novel, when Eric returns from the dead and appears as a clown, he is immediately recognized by his assailants as the kid that was knocked off a year before. Another issue I have with the film version is that, for some reason, Eric has to explain that he has returned from the dead every time he avenges. Even then, some of the characters he goes after don't even seem to be disturbed by this return to the land of the living, whereas their fear was palpable in the novel. It also seems the screenwriters decided they needed to show Eric physically popping out of a grave, which, to me, was a little hokey and unnecessary. In the film, Eric is also pretty much like The Wolverine with self-healing powers and even some telepathic abilities. Again, it just feels like it was a little over the top. My question is why is Eric just being a vigilante come back from the dead not enough?
Above: The use of mixed media in the graphic novel, and the fact that it was all original artwork by the author himself, makes The Crow a very special piece of literature.
Ultimately, the movie feels like a time capsule of the nineties at this point. I had not watched it since 1994, and I must say it did make me chuckle at some of the two-dimensionality of the alternative era culture. It is definitely a dated film, but it has so much heart it is worth another viewing. I'll be the first to admit, it's still a tear-jerker to this day. To say that the creation of The Crow must have been cathartic for O'Barr is an understatement, as anyone who reads or watches this masterpiece is sure to be deeply moved. As far as The Crow goes, read the book, see the movie; Both are good in their own unique ways.