>The Crow: Are There Crimes That Cannot be Forgiven?

Posted: 18/02/2010 in book review, comics, eschatology


This blog is dedicated to my cousin, Christine Apa-Gonzaga

Pardon the short departure from plans in my last blog, but I now return to my reviews of The Crow. In my last blog, I talked about the character of the Crow himself, but now I’d like to deal with the major theme. The book asks whether there are crimes that can be forgiven. Implicit in that question is a certain view of justice that leaves a taste a disappointment. I will deal with both in this blog.

Two Contrasting Views of Justice

The Crow is a revenge tragedy. In a revenge tragedy, there is a view of justice that is best called retributive justice. In retributive justice, the emphasis is on the perpetrators. Those who commit crimes or injustice must be brought to account and be punished for their wickedness. This may also be done in order to prevent them from doing more crimes, but the main purpose is that they have committed some crime and they must now pay. The scales must be balanced. Typically, the perpetrators are brought to account by an avenger who acts on the victim’s behalf, but in the Crow the victim himself rises again to overpower his enemies.

Retributive justice, whether in comic books or not, contrasts with restorative justice. Restorative justice, as far as I understand it, is part Christian theology, as expounded by Jurgen Moltmann’s In the End-The Beginning: The Life of Hope. Restorative justice does not place an emphasis on the perpetrators, but rather on victims. Justice, in this case, is not concerned about balancing scales of wrongs, but rather restoring what was lost to evil. So if a person is terribly traumatized by having a loved one taken from them, restorative justice seeks to bring that loved one back or at least heal the trauma of the victim. If a relationship between two people is broken, restorative justice seeks to repair the relationship not punish who was the wrongdoer. Moltmann takes this even further as he believes that all people are victims, including those who perpetrate evil*. The wicked man who abuses his spouse was first abused as a child.

Reprobates and Tragedy in the Crow

Is there any room for forgiveness in the Crow? Not really. The Crow is merciless and wrathful, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. Already, it is clear that J. O’barr thinks that there are things that cannot be forgiven –and one can hardly fault him for his feelings. The character of Fun Boy embodies this theme.

None of the characters the Crow kills are repentant, but Fun Boy is nearly the antithesis of repentance. The ugly criminals the Crow kills all have rotten souls, but none of them have any since of self-examination to acknowledge it. Fun Boy is different. Fun boy is fully aware of his state. He is not sorry for the crimes he has done. He knows that he is monster deserving of death. Yet at no point does he ask for or presume mercy. When the Crow kills him his dying request is not “forgive me” but only “kill that bastard slow.” (He refers to T-bird, the next person the Crow intends to kill). Fun Boy’s dying request is not forgiveness, but only more hatred, of which he is fully aware of.

Not only is there no forgiveness in the Crow, but there is not even the preceding penitence either.

After the killing of Fun Boyd, the story quickly moves into its final movement of tragedy. The Crow spends one night in his loft. He burns all of his memoirs of Shelly and then shouts out the window, “Shelly I’m coming home.” He confronts his final murderer, T-bird. The Crow’s last fight scene is long, insane, and bloody. He kills not only T-bird, but everyone who works for T-bird. T-bird dies in a panic, and the final time we see him is when the Crow veers over with holding a hammer.

After the last killing, the Crow returns to grave. The final pages of the comic are still, serene, scenes of a snow covered graveyard. The Crow is dead. He rests again with Shelly. This is the tragedy of the Crow. The avenger completes his task, and then just dies.

Happy Vengence?

I can now only speak for myself, and not what the story attempts to communicate. Is there such a thing as happy vengeance? I am not sure. In the story of the Crow, every evil doer is killed. But the hero leaves the dark world to its darkness. With justice done, he returns to his grave. The ending is sad, as it leaves the reader wanting. It is not enough to know that all the murderers will no longer murder. We all want to see the happy couple alive again and the Crow free from his mourning. Anger and wrath sprinkled with kindness leave a disappointed taste in the mouth not matter how one serves up the revenge platter. This feeling of let-down seems to go beyond the novel itself: J. O’barr admitted that writing the Crow did not prove the emotional catharsis he hoped it would become.

No one can stand in judgment of the Crow or J. O’barr for the feelings they have, least of all me. Anyone who has lost someone they love has a right to feel angry and to want the murders brought to account. Yet I cannot help but think that the let-down feeling at the end of the Crow is part of the failure of retributive justice. The grief at losing a love one to murderers is to fold: the desire for that person to be back in your life, and for the death to be avenged. It seems to me, that the first is the stronger emotion. The desire to overcome our own grief is what turns into anger and wrath directed at those wicked people who hurt us. But vengeance does not remove sadness and grief from the heart of the victim. It only adds more dead bodies.

I cannot help but see the restorative justice of the Christian Gospel as the only hope for the victims of evil, both living and the dead. The Gospel tells us that God-the-Son became a victim of horrendous evil at the crucifixion. It tells us that God the Father is well acquainted with the feelings of grief and injustice. The answer is that of a Resurrection from the dead and overcoming of evil with restorative justice. Christians look forward to a glorious future in which every victim of murder, every dead prisoner from the gulags, every refugee who was gunned down by soldiers, and every martyr who was fed to lions will one die rise again in resurrected bodies and meet their savior who suffered as they dead. Death and injustice are not avenged. Death and injustice are reversed. The feelings of anger, wrath, and trauma will likewise be defeated in the all-encompassing victory of God. There will be no need for vengeance in the new heaven’s and new earth.

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind. –Isaiah 65:17

In that place, the Crow dances joyously with his untarnished bride, and the atrocity of their deaths never comes to their minds.

Thanks for reading.

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*I can never forget that Moltmann was a German soldier in WWII and knew fully the kind of evil that infected his whole society.

  1. Daniel says:

    >There's a lot of wisdom in there Joel. Thanks for writing it out. I especially liked the statement about how it's not vengeance, but reversal, which we truly desire.

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