The original comic series The Crow, in my view, is one of the greatest pieces of gothic horror writing for quite some time. The story, which ran for four issues in 1989, and served as the inspiration for the 1994 film, is so full of power, emotion, and energy that it’s stunning. More than a quarter century later and it’s still an intense read today. It is a truly great and influential piece of comic writing.
With 1996’s Dead Time we have James O’Barr returning to his creation after seven years apart, with the help of John Wagner (2000 AD) and artist Alexander Maleev (Daredevil). In this story, we follow Joshua, a Red Indian from the Civil War era, who sees his family butchered in front of him by renegade soldiers. He is left to die in a barbed wire frame, but awakes in an undisclosed future. Thanks to the powers of The Crow he now has a chance for vengeance.
Seems the rogue soldiers have been reincarnated as a gang of thugs and drug pushers. They have Rosann in toe, a young girl who wanted some cheap thrills, but got more than she bargained for. It’s now up to Joshua to save her and avenge his family by stopping the people responsible.
The artwork style is quite interesting. It is a mix of pastel and chaotic pencil art, with a gritty rough edge to it. It is all mixed together quite well, with darker art showing flashbacks, which are then intercut with present day events shown in a lighter, but more frenzied style. The pastels showcase some of the more extreme examples of emotions Joshua is going through. Some of Alexander’s art is truly stunning, but perhaps less balanced than his work on Daredevil.
Now this might seem a strange complaint when talking about a book of a gothic nature, but I just found it to be a bit too dark. The shading is all over the place and it ruins some of the great artwork on display. I know this universe is meant to be steeped in sorrow, but it’s tricky to see what is going on in some cases, and besides, “it can’t rain all the time.” Which means- brighten it up a bit so I can see what I am reading!
This leads us onto the plot which there is not much to say about. It is basically the same as the original Crow book. There are a few adjustments, like the reincarnation angle, but other than that nothing changes. Some people like this repetition of plot lines, I for one am a big fan of the Friday the 13th movies and they are all basically the same film with different victims. But here it feels like not enough has changed. Joshua is just a copy of Eric Draven.
Every plot point flows exactly the same as the original. So we have the family killing (with the mandatory rape thrown in to show they are REAL bad guys), thugs who have no witty lines of dialogue and a police investigation that goes no where and isn’t really necessary. The thugs act exactly as you would expect them to and fall into the stereo typical roles of thug, druggy, maniac, etc. However, they’re just not very interesting, which delivers a big hit to the stories enjoyment. We are meant to hate these guys, so when Eric, sorry I mean Joshua gets his revenge, we’ll feel something. But they are so poorly fleshed out you will don’t care either way.
I’m not sure what the great John Wagner wrote for this, but it seems very little story was actually needed aside from ‘kill some innocents off and then get revenge on them.’ It might as well have been the same story, but it seems to have lost something, like being ‘fun to read.’
Another problem is that most of the characters are quite dull. The group of evil doers are boring, and because of their lack of dialogue (or any dialogue of value) and back story, they just float around the book waiting to be killed off. The main fault however is with Joshua. He is just not a very well written character. With Eric Draven we felt some emotion, some connection, we felt something! Joshua does not emote anything to the reader because he has no back story other than his family was killed. He doesn’t come across as an interesting person at all. If Joshua had more to say in the story and emoted a bit more (and shouting for revenge every few pages and looking confused does not count) then I could have got behind him.
Maybe it is the fault of the reader in this case. I am a massive fan of the original book and the movie, and I wonder if my enjoyment of them is clouding my judgement here. To be fair it is a hard act to follow, but from reading the original book again and re-watching the film, I noticed they have something special about them which I just don’t get from this sequel at all.
O’Barr wanted this to be the next Crow movie, and if it did get turned into a film then maybe it would have done well. I don’t see it myself. The book just does not have enough substance to keep it interesting which is a shame, but not such a loss as we will always have the original.
Images: Caliber Comics