Seeing that it is both a rainy Easter morning – a day all about resurrection, as well as rabbits and Cadbury crème eggs – and perhaps more potently, it being the 20th Anniversary of the tragic death of actor Brandon Lee, I figure today would be the perfect time to talk about the second of the two recent Crow comics from IDW Publishing, The Crow Skinning the Wolves.
As mentioned when I reviewed the first of the pair back in January, it’s shocking enough that nearly a decade after The Crow: Wicked Prayer all but killed The Crow franchise, thanks in a large part to fan backlash all but killing the idea of remaking the 1994 film, that fan base actually managed sparked the release of two new Crow comics, both of which are helmed by one of two of the most famous names in the Crow fandom. The first was John Shirley, whom among his works as a writer of cyberpunk and horror, penned the screenplay for the 1994 film, a great choice. The second, and perhaps only better choice to helm a Crow comic, is James O’Barr, who wrote the original series that started it all, and whose work here marks his first work with the Crow in more than a decade and a half.
Back in January, John Shirley’s The Crow took us to a near-future cyberpunk Tokyo where the crow clashed with corporate corruption, yakuza and oni. The Crow Skinning the Wolves on the other hand, takes us back to the past, to an even grim even by the standards of a franchise that begins with the brutal death of the protagonist: the Holocaust. The tale in particular, takes place in late WWII, at one of the various concentration camps, as our undead avenger leaps off the boxcar and immediately sets about killing all of the Germans controlling and running the camp. This sets him on a path that will see him cross paths with the sadistic camp commandant, remember his own tragic past, and acts as the swift hammer of vengeance for the countless millions whose lives were literally turned to ash by the Nazis.
In a glut of everything from FPS video games to Academy Award-nominated films making killing Nazis omnipresent, it says a great deal that this may be the best tale of revenge against the Nazis that doesn’t involve the words ‘Bear Jew’. The story is dark and brooding, and is just as satisfying revenge tale can be, all while maintaining a level of respect to the horrors of the Holocaust. The nameless undead avenger that is our protagonist slaughters his way through Nazis in a quest for vengeance, as we slowly discover just whom and what he is avenging, making his tale all the more tragic – there are some moments that gave me pause, ones that made me all the more invested in seeing him slaughter anything with a swastika on their arm. This is helped along by a memorable villain in the form of the camp commandant, who even by the standards of slimy, inhuman Nazis that operate concentration camps, is a sadist and villain of the first order – one whose helplessness in the face of the avenging angel sent against him is made all the more satisfying.
True to form, O’Barr has crafted a tale that is both haunting and satisfying on every level, with some memorable moments and dialog, as well as filled with references to everything from Wagnerian opera to chess maneuvers adding some clever detail to this tale. Matching the potency of the story is the strength of the art, by James Terry, which by use of the grim color palate of grays, whites, blacks and reds, yet still achieves a stunning level of detail, creates a lush and horrifying work of art that reminds one of the best of the Kubert war comics. Toss in a Holocaust revenge angle that would put a grin on Tarantino’s face, and you have a solid series from start to finish.
If Maus and Inglourious Basterds had a child, and that child died and came back to life for the sole purpose of killing anything in a Wehrmacht uniform, the result may well be like The Crow Skinning the Wolves, and as you’d expect, it is a grim and chilling tale that, despite its brevity, stands up as the best Crow story since O’Barr penned the original. It’s memorable, powerful, and satisfying, and yet respectful to the tragedy that formed the backdrop of the story all the same. If you’re a Crow fan or not, I cannot urge you enough to give this a read – watching the Crow make the Nazi’s howl will put a grin on any face.