The Crow: A look into the comic and film

 

“Abashed the devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is…”

John Milton: Paradise Lost

 

The Crow: A look into the comic and film

 

Greetings from the surf and turf of Del Mar, CA as the family and myself are on our annual vacation to paradise. Anyone in the local area, come on down as I have been sipping on some of the best blond IPAs this side of Texas. Alright so what’s with the doom and gloom infamous Paradise Lost quote? Well as some of you know, this Summer is the 25th anniversary of THE comic book movie, before they were cool. The flick that has a cult following larger than many of the MCU characters we see on screen today. I am speaking to The Crow. In relation to the comic there was a great write up in the past on CBSI by our resident expert on the subject Jon Z. It can be found here.

What I would like to do is expand on the comic background somewhat, and also give some knowledge on the movie to clear up a few misconceptions, and also explore some smaller known facts that help tie the comic and movie together.

 

There is a German passage in The Crow which reads:

ICH BENDÜRFNES JESUS CHRISTUS HANGELENK

MEIN GEBEIN WEINEN

ODLAND, KRIEGSBIET, LEBENWEISE

GESCHWINDIGKEIT, HALBMESSER, ABSTEIG GNAPENSTOB

 

It translates to:

I need the wrists of Jesus Christ,

my bones weep,

wasteland, warland, land of the living

velocity, radius, descent of merciful release

 

A rare original drawing from the “Lost Pages”

 

*One more word of note, this will focus on the The Crow material from or revolving around James O’Barr. The recent Image and IDW issues will be for another time.

Alright, let’s get started. James O’Barr (the creator) as child was raised in a Detroit orphanage. During this time he started exploring his emotions and first loves:

“I was the only white child so no one else would play with me and I learned to entertain myself,” O'Barr says. “I picked up some crayons when I was 2 and I haven't put them down since. Comics came later. I loved old monster movies and that's pretty much what I started drawing, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, all the Universal monsters and the things I would see on the 4:30 a.m. movie. I would draw them and later on, I learned I liked to tell a story as well, so comics is the perfect medium for me.”

As a reminder to some and news to newer fans, this story of The Crow was born out of grief. James and his girlfriend Beverly Ann were high school sweethearts that knew, even at that very young age, that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They became engaged to be married, a wedding that would come after they graduated high school. That wedding would never come. Beverly Ann was killed by a drunk driver shortly before that anticipated graduation, in early 1978.

James had a terrible time dealing with the loss. He enlisted in the Marines. Seeking solace, he decided to put pen to paper. While stationed with the Marines in Germany, while working as an illustrator of military manuals, he read an article about a couple from his hometown of Detroit that were killed over a $20 engagement ring. Seeing a corollary between that tragic event and his own, he used it in 1981 as the framework for an origin story in a comic book that he hoped would allow him a cathartic release from his own pain and sadness.

 

More previously unreleased art from the “Lost Pages”

 

The comic side…

The original comic focused on Eric and his fiancée, Shelly. Just before they are about to be married, their car breaks down in a bad part of town. A street gang comes across them and decides to have a little fun. They shoot Eric in the head while they brutally rape and beat Shelly. The gang leaves them by the side of the road, where they each die from their injuries over a period of time.

One year later, a mystical crow resurrects Eric and offers him the chance at vengeance. Wearing harlequin makeup and dressed in black, Eric dubs himself The Crow, and begins the process of hunting down the gang members that killed him and Shelly.

With the brief history and synopsis behind, let’s look at these comics including 1st appearances, the books in chronological order, etc.

 

Deadwood # 10

Predates Caliber # 1

An ad for The Crow in the back of the comic. There were two variants

 

Caliber # 1

1st appearance

 

The Crow #1

*There were three printings

1st series

 

The Crow # 2

*There were three printings

 

The Crow # 3

*There were two printings

 

The Crow # 4

 

A Caliber Christmas

A reflection back on happier times with Shelly in the story “Atmosphere.”

 

Caliber Presents # 15

Contains a preview of the unpublished The Crow #5, that was meant to complete the original story arc

 

Re-released by Tundra Press in

three volumes in prestige format

The Crow Vol 1

 

The Crow Vol 2

 

The Crow Vol 3

 

The Crow: Spanish

 

Death Rattle Vol 3 # 3

The Crow: Lost Pages

 

Death Rattle Vol 3 # 2

Preview of The Crow: Dead Time

 

The Crow: Dead Time # 1

 

The Crow: Dead Time # 2

 

The Crow: Dead Time # 3

 

The Crow: Flesh & Blood # 1

 

The Crow: Flesh & Blood # 2

 

The Crow: Flesh & Blood # 3

 

The Crow: City of Angels # 1

 

The Crow: City of Angels # 2

 

The Crow: City of Angels # 3

 

The Crow: Wild Justice # 1

 

The Crow: Wild Justice # 2

 

The Crow: Wild Justice # 3

 

The Crow: Walking Nightmares # 1

 

The Crow: Walking Nightmares # 2

 

The Crow: Walking Nightmares # 3

 

The Crow: Walking Nightmares # 4

 

The Crow # 0

 

Little known extras

 

The Crow: Limited Edition Hardcover

Includes the CD Trust Obey: Fear and Bullets which features 11 songs and lyrics booklet. This beautiful set also includes a full color, 6-in. x 7 1/2-in. art print of The Crow by Jame O'Barr. Hardcover (with slipcase), 240 pages, full color. NOTE: Limited to 1,500 copies.

Heavy Metal Magazine Sept 1993

Previously unreleased artwork

 

Here are a few facts to leave you with in regards to the comic:

  • The Crow is the best selling independent black-and-white graphic novel of all time.
  • The Crow has been translated into almost a dozen languages and has sold over a quarter-million copies world wide.
  • James O'Barr was the second American to be awarded the coveted “Storyteller Award” by the International Comic Festival held annually in Angoulme, France

 

The movie side…

 

Well, with that comprehensive look at the comics, I felt it was necessary to also explore the movie. This year marks the 25th anniversary of its release if you can believe it or not! As with wine, this movie has aged very well. The tragedy notwithstanding, this piece of cinema was well ahead of its time just as the comic. Alright let’s speak to the unfortunate elephant in the room, Brandon Lee’s untimely death. There have been many misconceptions on what exactly occurred while filming the movie. Let’s first start with this, there were many issues on the set leading up to the passing of Brandon. Examples of this include, a carpenter driving a screwdriver through his hand, a stuntman falling through a roof, a disgruntled fired crew member driving his car into an on-set workshop, an injury caused by a crane hitting live power lines, and a bad storm destroying large portions of the set. The truth on the accident and subsequent death has had many theories such as the mafia involved to family curses.

Here is the real truth according to the direct source:

“Earlier in the shoot, a prop guy went down to their local prop shop to buy items for the production, during which he also purchased a set of live bullets which he took back to the set of The Crow. As live rounds should never be kept on a film set, the film’s prop master removed them and stored them in the trunk of his own car. As live bullets are never used in films, guns are loaded with blanks which are bullet cases filled with primer – a form of gunpowder – that creates the firing effect. Unlike a real bullet however, blanks have a cardboard tip on the end rather than a lead one, so that any impact the bullet would have once fired from a gun would be minimal, if any. During a scene in which a victim looks down the barrel of a gun being loaded, it was discovered that there were no blanks on set. In an effort to save time, the prop guys took the live bullets from the car and modified them into blanks, also creating dummy rounds – which didn’t have gunpowder but kept the lead tip – to be used for close-ups. Unbeknownst to anyone on set, when the dummy round was loaded into the gun for that shot, the lead tip got lodged in the barrel.

 

 

Two weeks later, on March 30th, that same gun was used for the scene where Brandon Lee was to be shot by Michael Massee’s character Funboy. The scene called for Lee to walk into his apartment, and then activate a squib – a packet of blood that would simulate the gunshot wound – once Massee fired the gun and fall to the ground. Everything went as planned. The gun went off, the squib went off, and Lee fell down. It wasn’t until after Proyas called cut that anyone realised Lee wasn’t moving. In fact, he was losing a tonne of blood from a silver dime sized bullet wound. Unfortunately, when the gun with the blank was fired it also propelled the lead tip that had been lodged there two weeks earlier, hitting Lee in his abdomen just above his naval.”

 

That’s some heavy stuff. In addition, we will always wonder what could have been as this was a breakout role which would have made Brandon Lee a bonafide movie star.

 

 

On a lesser known subject the elements were completely conspiring against them throughout the production. Despite shooting in typically balmy North Carolina. the cast and crew endured freezing temperatures. As if that wasn't bad enough, a hurricane also ripped through the state during filming and destroyed some of the sets.

 

 

Finally, according to Empire Magazine, cocaine abuse was rampant on set, with cameramen shooting while high, crew going into the toilets to snort between shots, and people cutting around.

The parallels between the comic and movie can be felt in a lot of ways. Things such as tragedy, uncertainty, delays, groundbreaking material, and increase in popularity over time are just to name a few.

 

 

Another piece that made the movie so special was the characters and the actors who played them. Although some vary in the comic vs the book, they all played an integral part in bringing this world alive on panels and screen…

 

Rochelle Davis as Sarah (Sherri in the comic)

 

Anna Levine as Darla (Sandy in the comic)

 

 

Ernie Hudson as Albrecht

 

 

Laurence Mason as Tin Tin

 

 

David Patrick Kelly as T-Bird

 

 

Michael Massee as Funboy

 

 

Angel David as Skank

 

 

Jon Polito as Gideon

 

 

Michael Wincott as Top Dollar

 

 

There’s one more piece to speak of in regards to the movie and that is the soundtrack. The influence of Goth and the music was prevalent in the making of the comic as well as the movie. Those of us who were in high school during the height of this music, know just how stacked this album was in terms of talent.

O’Barr was heavily influenced by The Cure and Joy Division in writing “The Crow”. The graphic novel features an entire page with the lyrics to The Cure’s song, “The Hanging Garden” and several chapters of the book are named after Joy Division songs.

O’Barr also fashioned the book’s illustrations of Eric from his Goth music influences,  Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, and The Cure’s Robert Smith, all which were also heavily drawn into the film realization, as well as Brandon Lee’s wardrobe, look, and acting characterization.

 

 

Here are a few more facts that might surprise you:

  • Brandon Lee was unhappy with the way his face makeup looked when the make-up department applied it to him before shooting. Lee and Proyas (Director) then agreed that it would look best if Lee applied his own makeup every night before going to bed so that when he woke up his face paint would naturally look more worn out.
  • The Crow takes place in Detroit on Devil's Night, which is the evening before Halloween. While the Detroit we see in the film is fictionalized, the whole Devil's Night thing is in fact all too real. The Devil's Night concept in Detroit goes all the way back to the '40s but really picked up steam in the '70s and ran rampant all the way into the '90s. While criminal acts of vandalism and the like take place on “Mischief Night” around the country, Devil's Night is generally associated with the Motor City, where hundreds of acts of arson would result in massive fires all around town.
  • John Wick 3 director Chad Stahelski has a long history with the entertainment industry. He started his career doing martial arts and received his first big break when he was asked to come in and finish The Crow after Brandon Lee's tragic on-set death. Stahelski and Lee were good friends and they worked out a lot together, so taking on the role after his friend's death wasn't an easy decision, though it is believed that it's what Lee would have wanted. Since then, the entire experience has shaped who Stahelski is as a person and a director.

 

Most fans of the comic enjoyed the movie as well. Sure there were some differences, but at its core they both shared a common DNA. Now I can’t speak to those other The Crow adaptations for screen as those were, well not of the same caliber.

As a movie fan who has seen thousands of movies over my time, there are a few moments in The Crow that rival any clip that my eyes and ears have witnessed – The death scene of T-Bird. With this, I will end with what I started with, a quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost: Abashed the devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is…”

 

This was recited during Mr. Birds demise. In addition, during the insanity, these lines were spoken:

 

I knew you. But you ain't you. You can't be you. We put you through the window. There ain't no coming back. This is the really real world, there ain't no coming back. We killed you dead, there ain't no coming back! There ain't no coming back!”

This was followed by a brilliant frame after T-Birds car goes boom!

 

 

This 2 minutes, 35 seconds is some of the best in cinema history. The whole scene was orchestrated brilliantly and David Patrick Kelly’s acting chops really shined here as his eyes told all the story. In pure disbelief and emotion he knew his ticket was punched and it was lights out. Poor T-Bird, he went bye bye a little toasty.

As Peter Renna would say, here’s two for the road for you completists looking for The Crow movie memorabilia.

 

Rue Morgue # 147 August of 2014

 

Fangoria Magazine # 133 June 1994

 

That’s all I got folks. Thank you for reading and I hope this brought some good insight. If you have not read the comic, or seen the movie, please do! By chance one new person does this, my job has been done with this piece.

 

 

Happy 25th birthday The Crow, and Brandon may God continue to rest your soul

 

 

Talk soon,

 

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18 comments

  • A. J. Diesel

    Superb article. My personal favorite comic book of all time. One of the finest CBMs of all time. Transcendent performance out of Brandon Lee. Not to mention the soundtrack is killer. Slip Slide Melting by For Love Not Lisa is just terrific! So happy to read this article!

  • Avatar

    The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams is worth a look for fans and perspective fans as well. The 1st edition came out about 15+ years ago I think and it’s more book than comic. Still it’s a solid collection of stories and novellas by O’Barr and several other writers. Also has a lot of nice full page artwork.

  • Ben C

    Over the top, love the movie, love the comics, loved this article!

    Thanks!!

  • Mike Morello

    I had and sold the fear & bullets limited hardcover with the CD (for a lot!!!!), but kept my tundra prestige reprints and my Caliber presents #1 (which is signed by O’barr on the back).

    I have always wanted a 1st printing of #1. I’ll have to grab that soon. I never saw one in an actual store when I was a kid, but always have wanted one.

    Thanks for puting it back on my radar and for a fantastic article, once again. Great stuff!

    • Clint Joslin

      You had one of those Fear and Bullets?!! Lucky you! Looks like you have some good comic stuff from this amazing series! Thanks for reading and commenting Mike!

  • Peter Renna

    Awesome stuff Clint. Really great article. Well done sir. 🤘🧐🤘

  • accustomfigures
    Avatar

    Man, deeeeeep. Awesome article. Been a fan since it came out in 96′. Still excellent (that cast), and a flawless soundtrack. I say City of Angels is also good and another great soundtrack.

    I have the original trade of the first Crow series, and it’s so good. So strange how it’s not in the same conversation with Hellboy. Different flavor, I guess.

    • Clint Joslin

      Thank you very much for commenting! Glad you enjoyed it. You bring up a good point about Hellboy! And yes, both those soundtracks are top notch. Still listen to them to this day

  • Avatar

    Outstanding article! You hit things even I didn’t know.

    • Clint Joslin

      Thanks Jon! Appreciate you reading and the praise. I was hoping there was something that was new to you, as there is so much you have taught people like myself in this hobby! 👍🏻

  • BlueGreen Artifacts
    BlueGreen Artifacts

    Best article I’ve ever read on CBSI. Hands down. Such a tragic fiction and nonfiction story rolled into one. Another haunting aspect, 3 months after his death and the year before The Crow’s delayed-release, The Dragon hit theaters, a biopic chronicling the life and tragic death of Brandon’s father, Bruce Lee. There is a scene in that film where Bruce Lee is battling a Warrior manifestation of a family curse that had followed him from China to America. The warrior goes after a five-year-old Brandon in the scene, but his father shields and protects Brandon from the family curse. The shock of seeing that in the theater after what had happened to Brandon was jarring.

  • Clint Joslin

    Sincerely, thank you for the kind words. I have not seen Dragon in a while, but with what you just wrote, it’s time to watch it again. That’s a powerful scene you described with the unfortunate reality of what transpired. Appreciate you sharing!

  • Avatar

    Love the character and those early Crow books. I will always treasure my NM raw copy of Caliber Presents 1 signed by James O’Barr and Tim Vigil. Also have high grade copies of issues 2 & 3(graded signed/sketch by O’Barr) from the 1st mini series. Still would love to snag a nice copy of that 1st issue and also the 4th issue to complete it. Why not? Right?

  • eye_ess

    The Crow being my all time favourite book, this is now my fav article on this site! Great write up and great comparison points from the movie and the original material.

    I myself at first was really upset when they were planning a remake, but after I talked to James O’Barr last year I am now disappointed Corin Hardy and Jason Mamoa backed out. According to James, they had the full support from the Lee Family as it isn’t a remake of the original movie, but actually a direct adaptation from the comic. They wanted to make it as accurate and exact from the comic as possible (Brandon Lee did one of the best performances ever and they did an awesome job making it my fav movie, but they did change things as you said as well). James even said he was taking part in the creation of it and they all met eye to eye wanting to make it as close to the original material as possible. I guess the studio wanted to change things making conflict, thus forcing Hardy and Mamoa to walk away. I even bought a print that O’Barr said he drew for Mamoa when he found out he was cast and wanted to draw something of Mamoa as Eric (this to go with a bunch of my other Crow stuff I have haha).

    Thoughts on the new movie that was shut down?

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