Sunday, October 26, 2014

A broken thing to fix broken people

I was a weirdo little punk/goth/hippie kid in high school, which means that I kept my copy of The Crow on the same shelf that I kept my Ramones CDs and my Yellow Submarine DVD. I love The Crow. I love the movie, I love the comic, I love the story, I love how sad it makes me and how broken it seems.

In 2010 James O'Barr released a special edition of The Crow that included a new introduction and several sequences that had been cut from the original book because of space constraints. I was hesitant to pick it up and read it because of how I feel about the original publication, but I'm overall pretty damned happy with the results.

I think people make up their own sacred texts. Everyone goes through some phase or another where they find a piece of art that feels like it defines them - someone reads On the Road and it changes their life, or listens to The Shins (if they're Natalie Portman in Garden State) and finds direction, or watches Garden State and finds hope for their future and a template for the unattainable manic pixie dream girl they'll try to date in Natalie Portman. And when you find something like that, a book or a movie or a painting or a song, something that changes who you are, you don't want to look back at that thing ten years down the line and realize it's a piece of shit.

I'm pretty lucky that I realized I could be an unbelievable idiot at a young age. I think I was 10 when I first reflected back on some of the stupid, stupid shit I'd done two or three years before and resolved to be less stupid. At 15 I thought about how dumb I was as a 13-year-old and decided I could do better. At 20 I looked back at 15. At 25 I looked back at 20. So I'm an idiot! I realize that now and just try to do better in general. The nice thing is that it means I can look at the stuff that I loved as a younger person and appreciate it while still being critical.

That whole rant is, unfortunately, pretty good background for The Crow. The story is SOLID, straight-up gold, and it's hard to get in the way of that, so I can still value the tale of undead revenge. The art is, um, iffy at best. Some pages and panels are stunningly beautiful and well crafted, but from panel to panel James O'Barr had a lot of trouble figuring out what his characters looked like (with some exceptions like T-Bird and Funboy; but Shelly seems to look different in every single panel she's in) - but it was O'Barr's first book and he was young; comparing the art added in for the re-done sections to the original pages it's clear that he was a much less experienced artist and the art is a really impressive achievement for a first book. But then you get to the dialogue.

Don't get me wrong, there are some FANTASTIC lines in The Crow. My favorite is probably "Oh you sewer rats are so faithful, you cause me to blush to my bones ... you never stop dying for me!" or "Pain and hate, but never, ever fear. Fear is for the enemy. Fear and bullets." or "Jesus Christ ... Jesus Christ walks into a hotel, hands the innkeeper three nails and asks 'Can you put me up for the night?'" but there is a LOT of really shitty dialogue and an over-reliance on dropping articles in dialect that makes the gang members in the story seem more childish and pitiable than O'Barr probably wanted them too. I double-checked and my original edition of the book appears to be missing the most egregiously painful spoken line: "The hour for prayers if past, fool! Now it's nap time! Every bullet has a bed ... it just needs to be tucked in." The reason that line hurts me so much is that you could just have it be "Every bullet has a bed" and it would be pretty damned good, but it's poisoned by the words around it, which seems to be pretty par for the course with the written words of the story here. The overall story, the graphic story, these things hang together, but the dialogue and narration are an unsettled jumble of really excellent writing and snippets of poetry commingled with stilted phrasing and an honest but clumsy attempt to express pain.

There are still things that I love about The Crow, but looking at it with a more mature eye I can see that there are certain things I'm more drawn to than I used to be. And the new edition has a lot that I find very attractive and appealing and willing to admit into my interpretation of this text as a part of myself. The book is flawed, but then again so is everyone who will ever read it, and it's not so broken that it can't help to make you whole if you need it.

     - Alli

O'Barr, James. The Crow Special Edition. Gallery Books. New York: New York. 2011. (1981)

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