The Crow. Artist: James O'Barr.

THE CROW

Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Caliber Press
Creator: James O'Barr
First appeared: 1989
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The Crow, by James O'Barr, is heir to a long tradition of undead creatures that avenge their own murders, going all the way back to when Alley Oop and his contemporaries would sit around campfires and tell stories about them. Just in comic books, we have The Spectre, Mr. Justice, Deadman, Nemesis, and many more. What sets The Crow apart is the tone …

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… of his comic, which, in contrast to those brightly-clad superheroes, is every bit as dark as its subject matter.

The basic idea of The Crow stems from something people supposedly used to believe (time frame and ethnicity unspecified), about how recently-deceased souls are carried to the Land of the Dead by a crow, and how sometimes, if a soul simply can't rest, the crow will carry the soul back. That's what happened to a young man named Eric. He and his girlfriend, Shelly, were stranded on an isolated stretch of road, when a bunch of fun-loving criminals came along and murdered both. The last thing Eric saw was Shelly being gang-raped as a lead-in to her own death. A year later, the crow of legend brought Eric back. In going about his Earthly business (revenge against the gang that had committed the atrocity), he didn't use his former name. When it was necessary to identify himself, he did so as The Crow.

The Crow was created by cartoonist James O'Barr, who had only a few scattered credits in comics before coming up with this one. The character first appeared in Caliber Presents #1 (January, 1989), an anthology published by Caliber Press, an independent comic book publisher of the 1980s and '90s whose other accomplishments include having published the first appearance of Mike Allred's Madman. The Crow moved out into his own title the following month. It took him four issues to get his business taken care of.

It was this initial series that prompted Miramax Films to make a movie of O'Barr's property. Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, the actor and karate expert who had played The Green Hornet's Kato in the 1960s, played Eric Draven (last name added for the movie). The production got unwelcome publicity on March 30, 1993, when a gun that was supposedly safe for use as a prop accidentally killed him. Most of his scenes had been filmed; and despite the tragedy, the movie was released May 11 of the following year.

Three more movies were released, in 1996, 2000 and 2005, starring other characters named The Crow, who had similar origins. Eric was back in the TV series, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, which began October 3, 1998 on a minor network. Mark Dacascos played the title role. One season was made and broadcast, a total of 22 episodes.

Back in comic books, The Crow went on to a career of mini-series, later collected in graphic novel form. In 1992, Tundra Publishing (Kevin Eastman's company, bankrolled by profits from his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) did a revised version of The Crow's story, combining new and reprinted material. Kitchen Sink Press (Steve Canyon), London Night (Sheena, Queen of the Jungle), and Todd McFarlane Productions (Spawn) all had shots at publishing The Crow during the 1990s.

In 1999, Del Rey, a publisher not specifically associated with comic books, published The Crow: Shattered Lives & Broken Dream, in which several fantasy writers offered their own interpretations of O'Barr's character. Like the original graphic novel, this collection remains in print.

The Crow isn't very active in comic books anymore, but his continued presence in other media attests to his ongoing appeal.

— DDM

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Text ©2005-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Frank Miller.