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James O'Barr's The Crow, Wagner & Mireault's Grendel: The Devil Inside

The Crow, recently back in print, is at once great and terrible. It is the comicbook equivalent of a John Cartpenter movie if Carpenter were a goth art-school grad from Detroit. It reeks of the '80s and silly, but serious goth-drama. It has a scene where the lead character cuts his arms in mock suicide, bandages them up like a martial artist, and then performs a page or two of dance (in front of his cat), presumably all out of sadness. It is gleefully violent. It doesn't really bother explaining itself, but tosses in poems and acute musical references at whim. It finishes up with a 'coda' from someone uninvolved in the making of the book, which stands as one of the silliest pieces of pan-religious paganism I've ever read.

To top it off, the author seems oblivious to the campiness of his work. If Wikipedia can be trusted, he has said of it, "There is pure anger on each page." Regardless of that quote's authenticity or context, The Crow seems unaware of its own campy charms. Just like the crazed religious tract at the end, this nearly painful ignorance only serves to make the book more entertaining.

I highly recommend it to long time comicbook fans, who should be able to appreciate its pulpiness, but would suggest everyone else stick to the Brandon Lee flick instead. Young teenagers prone to angst and naively taking themselves too seriously should probably stay away, too, though they just might love it.

In contrast to this, I read Grendel: The Devil Inside today. This is an artsy, '80s book dealing with violence, the big city's decay, otherworldly forces, and their effects upon an individual, much like The Crow. But The Devil Inside has some really cool writing, and the art has moments of brilliance. Both come with a taste of madness. This one is much shorter, more concentrated, and less haphazard than O'Barr's ode to taking self pity out on others. It feels personal, but in a distanced way. Whereas O'Barr's work has an alienating factor in its unintentional goofiness, Grendel knows you know, and it doesn't care.


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