Monday, 21 January 2013

Comic Book Review | The Crow: Death and Rebirth by John Shirley


I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a copy of the first issue of The Crow: Death and Rebirth in the comic book store the other month. It had been long enough that I'd almost forgotten the franchise entirely, and I confess that felt a blessing after the last film to bear the brand: 2005's Wicked Prayer, starring Edward Furlong before the fall, is one of the few movies in Rotten Tomatoes' vast back-catalogue to have and to hold the booby prize of 0% approval.

Now I adored The Crow in its first and most fertile forms - which is to say a few of the comic books too - and did not entirely despise its subsequent spin-offs, but having suffered through Wicked Prayer once upon its direct-to-DVD release, I would agree with that collective assessment entirely.

Wicked Prayer was the final nail in The Crow's coffin for me, and in the seven years since, the franchise has had naught to offer. In the end, someone must have had the good sense to say enough was enough, and by God, it was. But now? Now, damn my eyes - now, or else then, which is to say whilst collecting my stack of singles sometime last summer - the idea of a revival no longer seemed so egregious.


In a sense, then, IDW's relaunch of the gothic fiction phenomenon is well timed: they let the damned thing lie for just long enough that I couldn't put my finger on exactly why I was so tired of it.

Death and Rebirth reminded me.

Not too far in the future, in Japan's capital city, exchange student Jamie Osterberg and Haruko Tatsumi - receptionist for a cybernetic biology corporation - are very much in love. Alas, their affair is fated to end terribly, because BioTrope's boss hog Hendra also wants Haruko... if only for her body. She may appear to be on the way out, but Hendra has no plans to go quietly into to great goodnight; instead, she intends to make use of the technology her firm have been developing to install her soul in another shell, and the young woman she's seen at the entrance desk looks like a perfect candidate.

Initially, everything goes according to plan. Hendra possesses Haruko, and when Jamie is caught snooping in the BioTrope building, looking for some explanation for his fiancĂ©e's sudden change of heart, she promptly dispatches a pair of assassins to tie up the loose end he represents. With the Kenjutso Haruko's father has helped him hone, Jamie faces his attackers bravely, but two guns trump one sword, however righteous. He's unceremoniously shot dead.


But this is The Crow - this is a story all about how love conquers all, even death; a story first told by James O'Barr after a drunk driver killed his girlfriend - so of course Jamie's death isn't the end. Far from it, in fact, for all this occurs in the first issue of Death and Rebirth, which concludes with the awakening of our tragic anti-hero, imbued now with the superhuman strength and agility that comes courtesy of the crow spirit.

And Jamie will stop at nothing to see Haruko's killers brought to justice.

It's a strong start, actually — compared to the remainder of the miniseries, at least. Overburdened by the necessary evil of exposition, assuredly, and rushed in a number of other ways - most notably, it would have been nice to spend a little longer with our lovers before their inevitable ends - but I enjoyed the first issue of Death of Rebirth more than any of the subsequent singles, which systematically subtract from the appeal of this near-future narrative. By the end, the setting has been rendered incidental at best, the aforementioned characters have practically vanished, excepting perhaps Hendra, whilst the story has become an embarrassing chronicle of The Crow cracking wise like Spider-man, or rather trying to.


I expected so much more from Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Shirley than this silliness. For one thing, he co-wrote the original film, so he's certainly no stranger to The Crow. One can only wonder if he too had forgotten what made the franchise so powerful in the first place... if indeed it ever was, and Death and Rebirth is such a waste of space that I can't help but second-guess myself.

In short, let this one rot, readers. But maybe don't give up on IDW's revival of The Crow quite so summarily. The next miniseries to bear the brand, subtitled Skinning the Wolves, is by James O'Barr himself, which sounds to me like an excellent litmus test as to the question of whether or not there's any life left in this old sow of a story.

If however Skinning the Wolves doesn't improve on Death and Rebirth, then I'm out, and I most definitely won't be giving The Crow another go.

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