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Precinct1313’s Heroes From The Dark Side: The Crow

“Suddenly I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door”

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What makes a hero? is it their ethos of putting others before themselves, sacrificing all they hold dear to uphold what is right and just?, their ability to rise from the ashes of defeat and fight on, even knowing that it may ultimately be in vain? Hero is a rather broad term overall, is Batman a hero?, technically his primary raison d’etre is revenge, to right the wrongs done unto him as child when his parents were brutally murdered before his innocent young eyes. 

So does revenge equal heroic action?, Batman of course has utilised this pent up rage and guilt over his parents untimely passing to help protect the innocent and downtrodden of Gotham from a variety of low level street thugs and malicious SuperVillains. Revenge may have been the basis for his beginning as a costumed crimefighter but his actions since have definitely propelled him to use his uniquely acquired skills for the common good.

Which brings us to the Precinct’s newest series of articles, a look at the darker side of heroics, a series that will present to you, fellow agents, our favourite broodingly sullen and ominously pessimistic characters from comics and beyond. And I can think of no better persona to begin this concatenation than vengeance driven, death cheating wraith, Eric Draven.

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Now, unlike most comic book persona, The Crow shares tragedy both on and off the pages of the classic revenge tale, with the character himself emerging from the mind of his creator James O’Barr through a tragic occurrence that happened to his fiancee in 1978. Almost curse like in its nature, this tragic sequence of events followed the story of Eric Draven into the first live action depiction of the character when young and upcoming martial artist/actor Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) was killed on the set of the movie. It’s these decidedly devastating moments that propel The Crow to be the first of our ‘Heroes From The Dark Side’ recipients…

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I love the The Crow, both the original comic book and (probably even more so) the first movie. I am a Goth, have been since I was about 12 years of age, and even though I’m no longer 12, I am still a Goth (once a Goth always a Goth, as the old saying goes!) and Eric Draven is the Ultimate Goth, so when I first discovered the character way back in the early 90’s it was a revelation… a Superhero variant of me! so cool. I have also been a massive fan of Brandon Lee since… forever, the man inspired me from a very young age, it was through my admiration of the actor that I initially started practising martial arts (Kenpo Karate) in my mid twenties, and when he was tragically taken away from us, it profoundly affected me, almost as if I had known him on a more personal level than that of just a fan.

Brandon died from a gunshot wound on March 31 1993 at a film studio in North Carolina, an accidental shooting on the film set of The Crow. A .44 magnum revolver that was loaded with blanks was used in the fatal sequence, but the revolver had been used in a previous scene where it was loaded with dummy cartridges, one of these had become lodged in the barrel of the gun, so when the gun was discharged the force of the blank primer forced the dummy cartridge from the barrel, fatally wounding the young actor. Brandon was rushed to hospital, where he underwent six hours of surgery, however the attempt to save his life was unsuccessful. His death on the set of The Crow draws eerie parallels to the Eric Draven character himself, and unfortunately Brandon’s full potential as an actor and martial artist was cut tragically short.

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The cult film was based upon the equally cult comic book series by American writer/artist James O’Barr. Debuting in 1989, the classic story follows Eric Draven, an undead vigilante brought back to the land of the living by a mysterious crow, to avenge his murder and also that of his fiancee. 

James O’Barr’s creation of the character was for the specific reason of coping with the loss of his fiancee, Beverly, who was killed by a drunken driver in 1978. After the death of Beverly, O’Barr enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in Germany, his talent as an artist was utilised by the military, for whom he illustrated a variety combat manuals. A further inspiration for the characters contained within the series was a story he discovered in a Detroit newspaper, the murder of young couple over a $20 engagement ring.

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The initial comic series gave way to the aforementioned Brandon Lee film, some rather terrible sequels (that are best left forgotten… trust me) a television series starring martial arts actor Mark Dacascos which aired in 1998 and ran for 22 episodes. Plus several novels and follow up comic book series, that while good, failed to match up (in my opinion, of course) to O’Barr’s original, lacking the emotional punch of his work. There is talk (ooooh, what a surprise!!) of a Hollywood remake of the first film, though I personally believe the movie is perfection and stands the test of time beautifully, plus I detest soulless remakes of great films from my youth.

If you are in any way shape or form, a comic book fan (you’re reading this so I’m going to assume so) then I heartily recommend the original series by James O’Barr, an emotional and poignant tale of revenge and redemption, plus the Brandon Lee movie is more than worthy of your attention, a dark gothic fairytale, with a groundbreaking performance from its young and talented star.

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The Crow

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“Suddenly I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door”

Director Alex Proyas’ adaptation of James O’Barr’s comic book character The Crow is one of my favourite films of all time, an emotional rollercoaster of a movie not just because of the suffering and torment the character is put through in the film itself, but also because of the real life tragedy of it’s star Brandon Lee and the impassioned and heartbreaking reason that Mr O’Barr created the character in the first place.

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Cast: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, Rochelle Davis, Bai Ling, Tony Todd, Anna Levine, Sofia Shinas. Director: Alex Proyas. Writers: James O’Barr (original comic series) and David Schow (screenplay)

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James O’Barr originally wrote the Crow in response to a terrible tragedy in his life, his long term girlfriend was killed by a drunk driver and Mr O’Barr created the tragic character of Eric Draven as a cathartic coping mechanism.

The comic was released in 1989 by Caliber comics and tells the story of Eric and his fiancee Shelley, assaulted by a vicious gang after their car breaks down, Eric is shot in the head and lays dying as his fiancee is brutally beaten and raped by the thugs. One year later he is resurrected by a mysterious crow who guides him on a  journey of retribution against his murderers, returning to his grave after his vengeance has been sated. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr O’Barr at a local comic convention in the UK and must say that he is a pleasant and unassuming man with an enormous amount of talent and love for the comic medium.

“Victims? … aren’t we all!”

Alex Proyas’ 1994 movie adaptation of the original comic series is an exceptionally well made interpretation of the source material, though it is as famous for the tragic death of it’s star Brandon Lee as much as it is for it’s genuinely compelling story. Brandon Lee was the son of martial arts savant Bruce Lee, Brandon also was a martial arts expert and an up and coming actor who had majored in college in theatre studies, eventually taking acting lessons at Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute. Apart from some minor roles Brandon’s first leading role was in Hong Kong action movie Legacy of Rage, his big break came when he starred opposite action star Dolph Lundgren in the 1991 movie Showdown in Little Tokyo. It was just one year later he landed the role of Eric Draven in The Crow, not knowing that it would ultimately lead to his tragic death.

On the 31st of March in 1993, Brandon was accidentally shot on set when a revolver used in a scene to shoot his character which was loaded with blank rounds, accidentally fired a dummy round that had got lodged in the pistol, and mortally wounded the actor, he was rushed to hospital but died during surgery, he was 28 years of age at the time.

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The film opens with Officer Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) attending a crime scene where victims Shelley Webster and her fiancee Eric Draven have been assaulted in their loft apartment, Eric is killed by the intruders and Shelley is rushed to hospital in a critical condition only to die later from her wounds. 

It is here that we are introduced to two of the main characters from the film, Police Officer Albrecht and a young girl named Sarah, who Shelley and Eric took care of in lieu of her wayward Mother Darla. Set in Detroit on October 30th during what has become known as Devil’s Night, a night when all of the city’s major gangs come together to cause mayhem and set large fires in shops and residential areas on a massive scale. It is on this night exactly one year later that a mysterious Crow resurrects Eric to wreak bloody vengeance on his killers, from here Eric blazes a violent reprisal against the gang and wrestles with his inner demons, before eventually returning to his grave.

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The film is masterpiece of visual storytelling, taking place at night during a rainstorm it is beautifully shot and evokes a feeling of a dark gothic fairytale. Brandon Lee’s final performance is mesmerising and emotional, and the supporting cast of actors also give amazing and realistic portrayals, especially the young girl Sarah (Rochelle Davis) and the main villain Top Dollar played by the gravelly voiced Michael Wincott, whose character is both strangely evocative and detestable.

Also of note is the film’s fantastic soundtrack featuring such greats as The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and Pantera, in fact lyrics from The Cure’s song Hanging Gardens appeared in the original comic book itself.

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The Crow is a without a doubt a filmic masterpiece, an emotional, violent and traumatic ride through one man’s quest for vengeance. It is in my humble opinion, one of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time. Brandon Lee is superlative as Eric Draven, a young talented actor who sadly died on the cusp of greatness but left a legacy in The Crow that will endure for generations to come.

Precinct1313 Rating: 5 Resurrected Gothic Vigilantes out of 5.