The Crow Pestilence
Discounting continued discussions surrounding the long-rumored and entirely unwanted remake of the original film, it’s been a really good time to be a fan of The Crow. The classic original graphic novel has its 25th Anniversary this year, while the classic movie based on it had its 20th Anniversary last month. A score of top-notch Crow miniseries have been released over the last couple years by IDW comics, taking the titular guiding spirit of vengeance on adventures from a near-future cyberpunk Tokyo where illegal medical experiments and Japanese mythology intermingle, aiding a murdered concentration camp inmate to strike fear into the heart of the Third Reich, to helping a detective solve the case of a murdered little girl. We’re even expecting the first series both written and drawn by Crow creator James O’Barr, The Crow Engines of Despair, to hit the stands soon. All in all, it’s a really good time to be a fan of The Crow.
That’s not to say though that it’s been without some less exciting moments, again, the remake notwithstanding. Specifically, I’m referring to the latest Crow miniseries by IDW Comics, The Crow Pestilence, whose four-issue run has proven to be the first dud in the ongoing line of solid Crow comics.
Written by novelist Frank Bill, the story follows a Mexican boxer named Salvador double crosses one of the cartels, who kill Salvador, along with his wife and young son. Revived by the Crow, Salvador begins hunting down the cartels in a quest for both revenge and repentance. While I haven’t read any of his other work, Bill’s work here is a complete mess, and the comic suffers as a result.
The reason that The Crow has always worked through the many titles and characters featured over the years is that they’re very simple concepts, with character driven stories where the protagonist culls the villains who wronged them like the striking hand of an angry god. The Crow Pestilence failures stem from doing the opposite, attempting to stuff in too many themes and details while simultaneously failing to flesh out the plot or the cast. This mix-up is made worse because it botches the landing in doing so – the comic had a wealth of possible themes or targets ranging from sex trafficking to a literal cult of crime, but there’s never anything more than a superficial glance or mention of any of them before the comic moves on to something else.
Even if it had worked, the comic never really gave us enough reason to be interested in the characters long enough to care about the world around them – the entire cast from is pretty bland and one-note. Salvador has some initial promise, given his pride is what got him killed, to say nothing of his Mexican origins, and in better hands, or even if Bill had fleshed him out a little more, he could have been an interesting addition to the line of Crow avatars. Instead, he quickly becomes little more than an automaton who speaks in broken English with an occasional “Mexican” touch. The villains aren’t much better, whom aside from all being given various dog-related names, end up being forgettable and interchangeable country bumpkin stereotypes.
It doesn’t help that the story keeps forcing twists out of left field that only make is even harder to follow or relate to. To give an example – spoiler warning – our gang members are, over the course of a few pages in issue 3, revealed to be dabbling in the occult, capable of summoning a Grim Reaper-like spirit called Santa Muerte, to have one of their leaders revealed as an undercover cop, who just pages later, is revealed to be Salvador’s previously unmentioned brother. Unwieldy moments like that occur throughout the comic, most with little to no foreshadowing or prior build-up, and the result is that The Crow Pestilence feels more like a bad Telemundo soap opera than a quest for vengeance.
The art from Drew Moss often doesn’t do The Crow Pestilence any favors either. Though not always the case, there are several panels in all four issues where there is something noticeably off about the comic’s art, ranging from wonky character proportions and movements to the positively terrible action scenes, where the over-the-top gore goes unnoticed mainly because you’re too busy marveling that someone has a gunshot wound that changes locations in each panel. The style itself seems a bland one too – given the protagonist and the subject matter, the title could have had some sort of pop-art Mexican muralist aesthetic, as opposed to the off-brand Rob Liefeld that we got. I know it’s only a four-issue miniseries, and I wasn’t expecting a Rembrandt, but the art is always so top-notch in Crow titles, so seeing The Crow Pestilence drop the ball on one of the series’ main draws is especially disappointing.
If it isn’t abundantly clear by now, The Crow Pestilence is pretty bad all-around, which is a real shame for several reasons. The set up offered some real potential, and given more polish and a better execution, it could have been an inventive Crow/lucha libre vigilante mash-up where an undead El Santo stand-in hunts down cartel sex traffickers, or any number of weird and interesting possibilities, instead of the squandered and rushed story that we got. This was the first time in more than a decade where a Crow title was both written and drawn without either James O’Barr or John Shirley, and I’d love to see more newcomers take a crack at the concept, but only if they set the bar higher than what we got from Frank Bill and Drew Moss in The Crow Pestilence. That’s the real shame with this comic – that it failed on every level despite immense promise and potential.
While thankfully, there are plenty of fantastic recent Crow titles, and James O’Barr’s upcoming The Crow Engines of Despair hints that more are still to come, it’s a shame first Crow series of 2014 is a dud.