COMIC REVIEW: The Crow: Pestilence #1

There is a scene towards the climax of James O’Barr’s original The Crow when the titular hero is walking through beautifully rendered woods and talking to his crow. They talk about how the story is not about justice or revenge, but forgiveness. Eric, as The Crow, says that he could never forgive those who murdered both him and Shelley. The bird replies, “Not them, idiot! Yourself!!” Cut to 2014 and The Crow is still a prominent figure in the minds of comic book (and film) fans. So welcome to the latest incarnation: The Crow: Pestilence, published by IDW. Written by Frank Bill and drawn by Drew Moss, this is the story of a boxing crime ring called the Saint Death Cult, boxer Salvador and his pain.

Juarez, Mexico. A young boxer, Salvador, refuses to take a fall, but has no problem taking a vicious drug gang’s pay-off. When they take their lethal revenge on the Salvador and his family, he returns as THE CROW, in search of vengeance…and forgiveness.

There’s always been stories about boxers throwing fights and the consequences of those actions. In Pestilence, it’s not just about the money. The SDC use their ill-gottens to transport women around the US who want a new life, as waitresses and whores. Which is where the drugs come in to it. Salvador has a family and he doesn’t want to throw his next fight. He wants to run. So he doesn’t go down and he runs and he’s caught and well, you know what happens to him and his family. This version of The Crow is all about remembering who he is. All he knows is pain and vengeance. This comic is mostly concerned with the act of Salvador becoming The Crow, interspersed with scenes of him returned and taking revenge on the members of the SDC. Of course, they’re incredulous that he’s back to haunt them.

While I appreciate that each version of The Crow needs to be different and have their own story, I feel that most of the writing in Pestilence has lost some of O’Barr’s original heart. Certainly it doesn’t have the poetry. Obviously, this is only issue 1 and it may become more prevalent, but this is a story of revenge and pain, and trying to remember who he was. It is not about Salvador forgiving himself…yet. That said, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had from this book. Frank Bill is a writer of prose fiction and this is first venture into comics. It’s a fair effort. The story, while lacking any real sub-text, is well written and the characters interesting enough. It must be quite hard to think of new ways for The Crow to emerge that aren’t so clichéd and this almost works. The SDC have a much more complex motivation and it’s nice to see a different kind of boxer, who, although is violent and muscular as he needs to be, has his own dimensions. It also features the Mexican town of Juarez, which is an interesting change of focus.

The star of this book, however, is Drew Moss’ artwork. There is a scene on page 22 when you look in The Crow’s eyes and you can indeed feel his pain. Superbly drawn. Moss has previously drawn horror and it shows. The boxing scene is as brutal as you will see and he doesn’t shy away from showing you how violent the lives of these people are. It is a horrifically lovely book to look at. The panelling is fairly straight forward; mostly a widescreen format which is effective in showing the scope of the scenes. The colours (by Oliver Lee Arce) are nicely washed out and have muted tones which fit the story and the setting.

Something such as The Crow: Pestilence will always be compared to that on which it draws upon. Meanwhile, it needs to keep the ideas and the story behind it fresh and interesting while not betraying that original vision. Issue #1 is different enough to keep it interesting but doesn’t quite have the feel of the original work (with the possible aforementioned panel of The Crow’s mournful eyes). On first reading, it didn’t quite hit the right buttons, but on second reading I can see where the author and artist are coming from. Pestilence deserves the name of The Crow and a chance to see what issue #2 can bring.

Title: The Crow: Pestilence

Publisher:  IDW PUBLISHING

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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