CHRISTOPHER OWENS reviews an updated comic work.
Anniversary editions can piss the shit out of me.
While I understand that it's nice for fans to see a particular book/record/comic celebrated, do we really need extras (like 40 odd pages of drawings and alternative script ideas) to add to an already perfect piece of work? Does it really deepen our understanding of the work?
I say no. But I get the appeal (both from a commercial and collector's perspective).
So when I saw that The Crow had been given such treatment, I wondered what the point was. It's one of (possibly The most) perfectly realised comic books ever, so what could be added to it?
But before we look at that, let's consider how brilliant the original comic is.
First published in 1989, The Crow quickly became one of the most successful independent comic ever published, before a 1994 film based on the material found a whole new audience for James O'Barr's character (although one suspects that the on set death of star Brandon Lee played a much bigger part in its box office success).
For O'Barr, it seemed like history was repeating itself, as he had written The Crow as a form of therapy after his fiancée was killed by a drunk driver in the 1970's. So his tale of an ordinary person (Eric Draven) being brought back from the dead by a crow to avenge both his and his fiancée's (Shelly) murders from a gang of nihilistic thugs. Throughout, we get flashbacks to his life with Shelly, depicted as idyllic and devotional, which leads to a conflict between himself and the crow.
It's a simple tale of love, death and vengeance. But because it's a tale filled with iconic imagery and packing a visceral, emotional charge, it transcends it's humble roots and becomes something much more. O'Barr himself states that there "...is pure anger on each page" and he's right. Not just in the writing, but in the artwork.
In O'Barr's hands, Detroit is drawn as a crumbling metropolis overrun with sadistic thugs hell bent on destruction without any thought as to why they want it. We see an old woman shot in the back of the head for no other reason than she was the nearest target. We see a young, badly treated child sitting on a step waiting for her junkie mother to have sex with her dealer before getting her fix. The attention to detail in each scene makes the scenario all the more squalid.
The use of poetry, song lyrics and quotes in-between chapters adds a more gothic, romantic and tragic veneer to this gritty tale. Arthur Rimbaud's 'Ordinary Nocturne' is used to brilliant effect, acting as a eulogy for Eric and Detroit itself, while the lyrics to 'The Hanging Garden' by The Cure reflect the desolation that Eric feels wandering through the city exacting his revenge.
Finally, quoting Voltaire's famous line about how "one owes respect to the living. To the dead one only owes truth" in the coda is a beautiful way to sum up the whole experience.
This edition adds 60 pages to the tale which, apparently, had to be cut out for space. Most of them take the form of flashbacks to Eric and Shelly's life. On their own, they're quite beautiful and reinforce the love between them. Truthfully, however, they tell us nothing that we don't already know and add nothing new to the tale except a slower pace.
However, the ending has been extended and while we probably could have lived without it, it does a good job of bringing Eric's character arc to a more satisfying close (and therefore adding an extra poignancy to the use of Voltaire).
A bog standard copy of The Crow will set you back around £5, so curious readers are advised to start there, rather then this somewhat bloated edition, which is more appropriate for older fans.
James O'Barr, 2011, The Crow: Special Edition. Gallery Books ISBN-13: 978-1451627251