The Crow: Skinning the Wolves #2 continues James O’Barr‘s return to his best known work. He and Jim Terry share writing duties, while Terry handles the art based on O’Barr’s breakdowns. Here’s the official description from IDW:
Part 2: “Agressions Ascend.” The long night gives way to fire and blood as the Crow sets his chess board for a final game against The Commandant
It’s awkward to criticize O’Barr’s work on the character he created, especially when my primary criticism is that the version of the crow seen in Skinning the Wolves is different from the one we’re used to. Perhaps O’Barr never intended for the Crow to always look the same, with bleached white skin and black marks around the eyes. But the fact remains that that is the Crow we’ve come to know, and without these identifying elements, the avenging figure of StW might be any vengeful zombie, back from the dead. Sure, he has a talking crow following him around, egging him on, but the bird doesn’t come across as important.
There’s a possibility that StW is intended as an origin, with the spirit of the Crow being initially born out of the tragedy of the Holocaust and destined to take up his iconic look in the final issue, but there’s no indication that the story is heading in that direction thus far.
A greater problem than the lack of familiarity is the storytelling itself. It feels as though a rough outline was turned in, but never fleshed out. There’s an attempt to give both the Crow and the Commandant more depth, but they still come off as generic. The Commandant does this thing where he forces his victims to play him in a game of chess. If they win, they get to live. It’s a decent gimmick, but his motivation is never explained. (And don’t try to argue that, as a Nazi, he doesn’t need a reason to be evil and twisted. Even if that were true in real life, it wouldn’t be true in good storytelling.) For the most part, we get the Crow slaughtering Nazis. It’s amusing, but wears thin after awhile.
In addition to serving as co-writers, O’Barr and Jim Terry work together on art as well. Their art efforts are the more successful. Terry’s work brings to mind the unapologetic horror comics of the 1950’s. The book definitely captures the desperate atmosphere of the concentration camp, and the gore, though overdone at times, is for the most part delicious. (In one excellent scene, the Crow leaps down on two soldiers from a guard tower. Seen from above, the tower’s former occupant is visible on the floor, a knife in his throat.) Some of the characters do suffer from a certain vacancy of expression (which may be intentional) and the book’s flow sputters in places, but these problems aren’t detrimental.
The Crow: Skinning the Wolves has a number of problems. Depending on what O’Barr and Terry do in the final issue, most of them could be solved, in which case the story will function quite a bit better when it’s collected in trade format. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fix the individual issues as we read them now.