The Crow was part of the revolution in Western comics publishing that occurred in the 1980s. It appeared in the post-Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns era, which brought grown-up content back to mainstream American comics for the first time since the Comics Code came into force during the 1950s.
This Special Edition is like a re-mastering of the original, with a few new scenes inserted for good measure. Creator James O’Barr suggests that he always intend to include them, but that at the time of publishing the original he didn’t have the craft or the emotional maturity to do them justice.
The story is an unsophisticated revenge fantasy. Eric is a murdered man, killed alongside his fiancée when a group of drug-scrambled thugs stumble across their broken-down car. He is brought back from the dead by a crow, and given the opportunity to cleanse the world of the men who wrecked his life.
Eric’s previous life is revealed in flashback as he goes about his own murderous business. These flashbacks are cheesey affairs, reminiscent of 80s rock videos, as back-combed peroxide blond hair is tossed about, little nothings are whispered and doomed plans for a long life together are forged.
Of course, this is designed to contrast with the horror of the revenge, as Eric blasts and slices his way through an amoral criminal underworld, looking for the mob who upturned his life and destroyed his dreams.
It’s an interesting period piece but it doesn’t resonate with the same strength it must have had when it was first published, now we’re more familiar with extreme violence in comics. To a very real extent, the single strand plot here, albeit split and interweaved back into itself through flashback, is raw but unsophisticated.
Clearly the book went on to create some notoriety, producing a film that killed Brandon Lee and influencing an influx of adult oriented horror comics. Still, unlike Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, The Crow is beginning to feel dated and venerable. This Special Edition may be of interest to hardcore fans, but casual modern readers could be left wondering what all the fuss was about.