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Franchise / The Crow

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Love is forever.
"It's not death if you refuse it... It is if you accept it."
Eric, from the comic version

The Crow is a franchise of comic books, films, novels and a television series based on a comic by James O'Barr that he wrote over several years but was first published in 1989. There is a basic formula - a protagonist who suffers wrongful death, usually along with one or more loved ones, comes back from the dead for a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and is guided by a spiritual entity in the form of a crow - but the finer details vary from text to text.

In 1978, a drunk driver killed James O'Barr's fiancée, Beverly. O'Barr later heard a story about a couple killed for the woman's twenty-dollar engagement ring. The two incidents became one in O'Barr's mind, leading him to write The Crow, in an attempt to work out his angst over the incidents.

The comic book was adapted into adapted into a film in 1994. The film is a cult classic, much of its fame unfortunately deriving from the accidental death of its lead actor, Brandon Lee.

The Crow, the comic, tells the story of two lovers, Eric and Shelly, who are brutally attacked by a street gang after their car breaks down on the wrong side of Detroit. Shelly dies at the scene, and Eric manages to hang on until he gets to the hospital but expires on the operating table. A year later, Eric reappears. Guided by a sardonic talking crow that perhaps only he can see, Eric tracks down the gang members one by one and kills them in increasingly creative and brutal ways, never stopping until they are all dead and he can go to his eternal rest.

The Crow, the film, tells the story of two lovers, Eric and Shelly, who are brutally attacked by a street gang as punishment when Shelly protests against tenant eviction in an area of Detroit run by a crime lord. Eric dies at the scene, and Shelly manages to hang on until help arrives, but dies after several agonising hours at the hospital. A year later, a spirit guide in the form of a crow - as in an actual real bird, and although it shares a psychic connection with Eric it does not talk - summons Eric from his grave. Guided by the crow, Eric tracks down the gang members one by one and kills them in increasingly creative and brutal ways, never stopping until they are all dead and he can go to his eternal rest.

In short: in the comic it is possible that many (or even all) of the events do not happen the way we see, or perhaps only happen in the character's mind. O'Barr was deliberately ambiguous about it all. The better-known mythology about a crow being the spirit guide who takes souls into the afterlife but brings them back to "put the wrong things right" when necessary, and the crow being an actual bird that if injured or killed will drain Eric's mojo, was an Adaptation Expansion created for the film.

In the comic there is absolutely no exposition regarding exactly how Eric has returned from the grave - if that's even what actually happened. The mythology of the film franchise is so much better known than the ambiguity of the comic that there are plenty of people - plenty of fans, even - who just assume that "Eric is brought back from the dead by a mystical crow" is part of the original comic, when basically everything that happens in the comic is up for individual interpretation and never explicitly stated. (It should be noted that in interviews given in Comics Scene during the early 90s, as the first iteration of the comic was wrapping up, the author himself seemed to lean towards a supernatural explanation, though not quite in the way the film gives it.note )

For further information about the comic (and subsequent comics) and the film (and subsequent films), and tropes used therein, please go to the pages for those works.

The Crow caught lightning in a bottle — the author committed his Creator Breakdown to print as it happened — and as a result, it proved impossible to replicate. Fan response to the various subsequent works in the Crow franchise has varied greatly, from enthusiasm to hostility. As with any franchise that evokes a strong emotive response in the fans, especially one where a tragic death early on is involved, the mileage always varies.

Plans to reboot/remake The Crow as a film have bounced around Hollywood in recent years, finally coming to fruition as of 2022. The film is directed by Rupert Sanders and stars Bill Skarsgård in the lead role, and is set to release on August 23, 2024.

Please list tropes on the pages for various works.

Works in this franchise:

The Crow comic books include:

  • The Crow (1989), Kitchen Sink Press, graphic novel edition by Tundra Press
  • The Crow: City of Angels (1996), Kitchen Sink Press, three-part adaptation of the film
  • The Crow: Dead Time (1996), Kitchen Sink Press
  • The Crow: Flesh and Blood (1996), Kitchen Sink Press
  • The Crow: Wild Justice (1996), Kitchen Sink Press
  • The Crow: Waking Nightmares (1997)
  • The Crow: A Cycle of Shattered Lives (1998) (an anthology including shorts based on the previous KSP comics)
  • The Crow (1999), Todd McFarlane (a 10-part "reboot" featuring the original character)
  • The Crow: Death and Rebirth (2012), IDW Publishing
  • The Crow: Curare (2013), IDW Publishing

The page for the original comic and subsequent comic books can be viewed here.

The films in the Crow franchise to date are:

Novels in The Crow franchise to date are:

  • The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams (1998), a short story/poem anthology
  • The Crow: The Lazarus Heart (1998) by Poppy Z. Brite
  • The Crow: Clash By Night (1998) by Chet Williamson
  • The Crow: Quoth The Crow (1998) by David Bischoff
  • The Crow: Temple of Night (1999) by S. P. Somtow
  • The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2000) by Norman Partridge (the fourth film in the franchise was very loosely based on this novel)
  • The Crow: Hellbound (2001) by A.A. Attanasio

Television series in this franchise are:

A 1998 Canadian television series based on the concept — The Crow: Stairway to Heaven — lasted one season (22 episodes); while it garnered decent ratings, the show ended when Universal bought its production company, Polygram Filmed Entertainment. Universal eventually released the full series on DVD, Hulu, and Netflix.

The page for the television series can be viewed here.

This franchise in general contains examples of the following tropes:

    open/close all folders 

    Tropes common to the franchise 
  • Animal Eye Spy: The avengers of the series have the ability to see through the eyes of the title bird.
  • Anti-Hero: Eric is the darkest type of well-intentioned anti-hero, Pay Evil unto Evil being his driving motivation.
  • Attractive Zombie: Pretty much all of the revenants brought back by the crow retain the attractiveness that they had in life.
  • Back from the Dead: Very ambiguous in the original comic, played straight in the film.
  • Came Back Strong: The avengers are all much stronger, faster, and more durable than they were in life.
  • Code Name: All the gang members have them. Lampshaded by Detective Torres in the movie, asking"Don't any of your street-demons have real grown-up names?" Eric also furiously lampshades this at Gideon's:
    Eric: A whole jolly club with jolly pirate nicknames!
  • Creepy Crows: With a crow as a kind of guide and familiar to the undead avenger protagonist, this trope underlies the whole franchise.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Eric does this when confronting Funboy (in the comic) and Top Dollar and his entire gang (in the film).
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The crow and the avengers it creates are rather dark and sinister looking, but they are the good guys.
  • Disposable Woman: Shelly's unpleasant demise is the plot's kick-off point in the comic, first movie, and the TV series.
  • Elsewhere Fic: Much like the original works, many Fan Fics set in the Crow universe use original characters resurrected by the title bird to seek vengeance for their loved ones.
  • Eye Scream:
    • In the original comic, when Eric was shot the first time, the ballistic shock from the bullet tore his face open, creating the cut across his nose and damaging his left eye enough to turn the iris white.
    • The films have two severe examples:
      • In the first, Top Dollar's sister/lover/advisor Myca has a vast collection of disembodied eyes in the movie...which they eat. Later on, the crow pecks out Myca's eyes.
      • The interrogation of the tattoo shop owner in the second film leads to his eyes being put out.
      Go fuck yourself, you dried up BITCH!
  • Feels No Pain: Those revived by crow guardians cannot feel any pain unless it is self inflicted.
  • Forced to Watch: A key element in in the backstory of each of the leads, and often in the supporting characters. Eric intervenes in Darla's addiction, in movie and TV series both, not because of any drug message, but simply because Darla's daughter is watching her mother kill herself and is unable to stop it.
  • Healing Factor: Those revived by crow guardians are not indestructible, as they can be injured, but they feel no pain and the wounds heal rapidly.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • The trope is actually mentioned outright in the comics, and it's implied that Eric's awareness of this is what causes him to give Funboy a painless death.
      • Played straight in the TV series and possibly the Image adaptation of the Eric Draven story, as it was Draven's willingness to kill that trapped him on Earth and prevented him from being reunited with Shelly. A Crow killing also turns his victim into a supernatural opposite called a Snake.
    • This trope is in fact a big part of the comic. While Eric kills nameless mooks (and some with name) without remorse, he spends time with all main targets, asking them if they remember him (they do) to see their reaction. Only Funboy shows any signs of regret and is saved from his wrath. Others mock him, taunt him or try to bargain with him. Thus he kills them in cold blood. Funboy says that he would regret, or apologize but his soul is so twisted that even he admits that he is evil and beyond redemption. Thus Eric grants him painless death by forced suicide.
  • I Am Not Shazam: invoked In the films, the main characters never refer to themselves as a "Crow". In most cases throughout the franchise, that phrase/title is reserved for the actual bird that brings people back to life, although Eric does call himself "the Crow" several times in the comic, and is referred to as such by the narration at least once.
  • Immune to Bullets: Because of their pain inhibition, immortality, and regenerative healing, most standard guns have little effect on those revived by crow guardians. Usually they serve as nothing more than an annoyance. Unless the crow itself has been injured, bullets will only cause superficial damage, which will soon be healed anyway.
  • Karmic Death: This can be said for about all of the antagonists' deaths, mixed with Death by Irony. In the first film, for example: Tin-Tin is stabbed with his own knives. Funboy is given a lethal overdose of heroin, though given a more painless death in the comic. T-Bird is incinerated by his own car full of explosives. Skank, who has been taken so much of a pounding, especially from beatings by men larger than him and getting run over by cars, finally dies after a long fall from a several story building. Myca, who's fond of using stolen eyeballs in rituals, has her eyes pecked out by the crow when she tries to take its power.
  • Looks Like Cesare: Eric. That said, at least in O'Barr's colored still art, it's never consistent as to whether Eric looks normal but with the black face paint, has his face painted white, or his skin is deathly pale all over.
  • The Lost Lenore: All the murdered love interests of all the Crow characters throughout the franchise.
  • Meaningful Name: Word of God is that Eric is named for Erik, the titular tortured and scarred maybe-ghost in The Phantom of the Opera. Shelly is named for Mary Shelley, who wrote another work of fiction about grief, resurrection, and revenge.
  • Mook Horror Show: The basic premise is an unstoppable undead killer who obsessively hunts down his terrified victims. Thank goodness his victims are all evildoers.
  • The Needless: The avengers require no air, food, drink, or sleep.
  • Our Zombies Are Different:
    • The protagonists could technically could be described as Revenants, spirits of vengeance driven to avenge their death and take revenge on those who did them harm during their mortal life.
    • One early script treatment from the first film has Eric Draven referred to as one of the Furies, members of the Greek Pantheon so terrifying even the Gods themselves didn't dare cross them, least they suffer their wrath.
  • Posthumous Character: Shelly.
  • Punny Name: Eric Draven (D Raven...get it?)
  • Rape as Drama: In both the comic and film, Shelly is gang-raped before she dies/is killed. In the film, Tin-tin even taunts Eric about this during their fight.
  • Recurring Element:
    • The basic plot is always the same (Protagonist is killed by bad guys, along with someone else close to him, revenge ensues) and all the protagonists' names reference crow or raven (Draven, Corven, Corvis, Cuervo).
    • Eyes are also a recurring theme.
  • Resurrection Revenge: The titular bird-spirit resurrects those who are murdered in particularly tragic circumstances to give them a chance for vengeance against those who killed them (and usually, at least one loved one). The revenants so raised cannot be killed until their vengeance is complete, unless the crow that gives them their powers is killed first.
  • Revenant Zombie: The protagonists are classic revenants who are brought back to life by the title bird in order to seek justice for themselves and the people they loved. As long as the bird is alive, and as long as they remain focused on their quest for revenge and do not develop emotional ties to the living, they can heal any wound dealt to them and cannot be killed. They also have the ability to cleanse others of whatever poison is in their systems, they can see through the eyes of the bird, and they have some measure of psychometric ability in regards to things that remind them of their former life and what happened to them, as well as the ability to transfer any memories they have by touch.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Eric' crusade of gory vengeance for Shelly's rape and murder.
  • Scars Are Forever:
    • Aside from the scar on his face, in the comic Eric carves a stylized crown of thorns into his chest and cuts his arms with a straight razor. These wounds leave scars when they heal, unlike his other injuries.
      • The self-mutilation aspect is not left in the movie for obvious reasons, rather his arms get slashed by a straight razor during a fight. Eric in the comic and movie both wraps his arms in electrical tape to cover his wounds.
    • In the shirtless scenes near the start of the film, you can also see the scars left on his chest by the two gunshots that killed him.
      • Not to mention the brutal scar across his face left over from when he died. Some stories say the facial scar was going to be left out of the movie but Brandon insisted on it being part of his makeup.
    • In the third Crow movie, called "Crow: Salvation" (it would be the second best of the 4, for those keeping track), the makeup is actually applied to cover up the scars from his death sentence by the electric chair. Yeah, that's right, he was judged guilty of the murder he's avenging, and given the death sentence. He doesn't really know WHO he's supposed to be taking revenge on.
  • Scary Black Man:
    • Grange, Top Dollar's right hand man in the movie. (In the comic he's known as "Shelby the Giant," and Eric makes him eat his own fingers.)
    • Too many to count in the comic, most notably T-Bird (who, as mentioned above, got a Race Lift in the movie).
  • Slasher Smile: At least one artwork from the comic has Eric with a truly creepy Joker-like grin.
  • So Happy Together: Every scene of Eric and Shelly that doesn't involve them dying.
  • Street Urchin: Sherri/Sarah.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Not just Eric's disposal of several of Shelly's killers. In the film, everyone in Top Dollar's gang puts at least a full magazine of machine gun fire into Eric when he confronts them.
  • Unfinished Business: In both senses of the phrase.
  • Vengeful Ghost: The franchise is mostly about this with Love Makes You Evil. In all incarnations, a couple of lovers are killed by a gang, an organization or even by Dirty Cops. The male is revived as "The Crow", seeking a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against EVERYONE in the group that killed him and his lover, not just limited to the killers, but also the highest ranks who managed that event. In this case though, it's "vengeful zombie".
  • Whodunnit to Me?
  • Would Hurt a Child: Kali (a metal-clad hitwoman) doesn't just kill children, she takes a perverse delight in doing so, and even becomes aroused just by the thought of killing.
  • Wretched Hive: Detroit, where the story takes place.

    Tropes resulting from the franchise 
  • Flashback Cut: This film technique obviously existed long before the original 1994 film, but became noticeably more common in thriller and horror movies since. Flashbacks to scenes from happier times when life was peachy and Lenore was yet to be lost must be accompanied with a "WHOOSH" sound effect. Most of them last no longer than about half a minute, and show brighter richer colours than exist elsewhere in the film.
  • Gothic Punk: The Crow was a big influence on the Goth subculture in a lot of ways.
    • Just remember what The Lady of the Manners always says: Friends do not let friends dress like The Crow.
      • She also says, though, that if you really want to, you should go right ahead, to hell with what anybody says, provided you put effort into it.
    • Parodied in the South Park episode in which Satan throws a huge costume party on Halloween. His only rule is that nobody can come in if they're dressed as "The Crow." Satan claims that tons of guys do this every Halloween just to attract girls. "It's totally lame." (Pretty funny already, but guess what Satan's original costume for the party was going to be?)
    • Heck, Evanescence even sampled the closing line ("People die, but real love is forever,") from the first The Crow movie in the Grief Song "Even in Death".