Comic Book Villain: The Crow

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Originally published at Truly Disturbing on June 25, 2012

The first look at a comic to film adaptation is The Crow. Great comic and legit film but how do the two compare and contrast?

Every single page of THE CROW (Caliber Press/Kitchen Sink Press) is packed with raw emotion and unbridled rage. This is a literary and visual masterpiece that is genuinely unforgettable. That raw power, which made this masterwork unique, was successfully translated into the Alex Proyas’ film adaptation. Readers should know what they are getting in for with the upcoming July revival by IDW Publishing.

Risen from the dead, Eric’s sole purpose is to hunt those who have taken everything from him. More than just a zombie, Eric comes back with his memories intact and mission in mind. He has returned from the grave as an unstoppable killing machine. In this epic revenge fantasy, Eric pursues the gang members who savagely raped and killed his fiancée. James O’ Barr created THE CROW because he lost his fiancée to a drunk driver. A random act of violence forced him to find catharsis in his writing and artwork. The reader can truly sense there is something personal within the black and white pages.

At times, Eric is so consumed with grief, his depression leads him to commit suicide. In a sense of tragic irony, Eric cannot die even after he slits his wrists. “How do I continue without you by my side?” is a major theme of the narrative. Eric is hollow inside but still breathing. Through Eric’s anguish and mourning, Barr gives voice to the voiceless, the ones who struggle to move on after a tragic event. Eric’s flashbacks and dream sequences provide such haunting surrealistic imagery. Using washed out watercolors, the inks highlight the innocent beauty of Shelly, Eric’s lost love. Shelly is captured in mesmerizing close-ups, always reminding readers what was tragically taken away.

Because Barr studied Renaissance sculpture, Eric’s muscular poses are drawn in impressive detail. As the narrative’s setting, Detroit comes alive in the meticulous backgrounds. Street names and once-existent buildings share a seedy aspect of the urban horror. Orphans, the working class, and lowlifes coexist in the street corners. But even in this dark neighborhood, there is still a ray of hope. Sherri, Captain Hook, and Officer Albrecht represent the best of what humanity has to offer.

At first, you wouldn’t think music to be important in a comic book, but it is essential in Barr’s narrative. Eric’s painted face is based on Robert Smith, lead singer of the Cure. Iggy Pop’s physicality provided the inspiration behind Eric’s flexible body movements. Songs from Joy Division, such as “Dead Souls” and “New Dawn Fades,” are used as chapter titles. As Eric dashes across the hallways of a rundown building, the captions recite the lyrics of Robyn Hitchcock’s song, “Raymond Chandler Evening.” In a clever way, a soundtrack has been provided for the reader; telling them this is the music you should be listening to while reading along.

How do you visualize a black and white comic book on the big screen? Notice how director Alex Proyas uses the pouring rain to desaturate the primary colors. While keeping the black and white palette, Proyas just uses hints of blue and red during flashbacks. Proyas keeps the shadowy look of Barr’s illustrations in the interior Gothic architecture of Eric and Shelly’s home. As if it were a sequence already storyboarded, Eric’s assault on Gideon’s Pawn Shop is a fast-paced blaze of intense action.

For the second time, music is vitally important to capture the film’s dark setting. For the soundtrack, Nine Inch Nails does a cover version of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls.” Stone Temple Pilots catapulted to success with their hit song, “Big Empty.” The lyrics from Rage Against The Machine, Rollins Band, and Helmet reinforce with the themes of loss, depression, and redemption. Sadly, this is Brandon Lee’s final film, which ultimately established him as his own star. His critically praised performance helped him to overcome the shadow of his father, Bruce Lee. The movie is downright compelling if you look at each scene and wonder what his career might have been like if he had lived.

Yes there have been sequels, but they do not match the potential of the original. THE CROW came out in theaters at a time when there were only superhero movies, such as SUPERMAN and BATMAN. If THE CROW wasn’t a success, there would be no WATCHMEN, no SIN CITY today in theaters. In their film adaptation, screenwriters John Shirley combined two of the characters, Captain Hook and Officer Albrecht, into a major secondary character, Sergeant Albrecht. When Eric confronts Sarah’s drug-riddled mother, the screenwriters, John Shirley and David J. Schow, lifted lines of Barr’s dialogue word-for-word. Though changes were made, the film keeps the essence of the comic.

This is why readers should be excited for THE CROW #1, from IDW Publishing, in July. Shirley, who is writing the five-issue miniseries, understands the narrative’s timeless themes. The quest for vengeance coincides with the emotional journey of the main protagonist. Set in Tokyo, Japan, a foreign exchange student, Jamie Osterberg, witnesses the love of his life taken away from him, forcing him to become The Crow. With Kevin Colden (FISHTOWN) illustrating the interior panels, variant covers will feature artwork from Kyle Hotz (GHOST RIDER 2099) and Ashley Wood (ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS). Using the exotic setting and rich mythology of Japan is already something different and unexpected. Interestingly, in both the movie and comic, Eric uses a samurai sword against his would-be attackers. Shirley and Colden are going to do something fresh and original with the undead vigilante.

More than just a revenge fantasy, THE CROW is a masterful combination of breathtaking artwork and emotionally-gripping dialogue. Because Alex Proyas, Brandon Lee, and John Shirley were faithful to the dark spirit of the comic, the adaptation worked successfully onto the big screen. With the film’s screenwriter back at the helm, readers should definitely take a look at THE CROW #1, which comes out in July.