James O'Barr's Crow mythos is, of course, an extension of primal myths and the core unoriginal idea that "love never dies." But, it's become a potent one in the last few years, even surviving a disastrous second film built on the franchise. And why not? Such myths are ingrained in us and speak to us any time they are skillfully re-told. The Crow gives a writer ample room to create -- the bird is a supernatural messenger/guide that returns a soul from the dead to seek justice. The spirit is invulnerable only so long as it pursues those specifically responsible for the disquietude. This element, along with a strong theme of romance, allows our dead anti-hero to become vulnerable and elicit even more reader sympathy.
HarperPrism has launched a series based on The Crow (tm) with books by David Bischoff, Chet Williamson, and Poppy Z. Brite. The series may work better than most tie-ins simply because authors aren't confined by preconceived characters. If Bischoff and Williamson, both good writers, have served up novels of the quality of Brite's The Lazarus Heart, then it doesn't matter what you think of the trademark -- this is a vivid, passionate, entertaining dark fiction to be appreciated on its own merits.
Although less complex than her other novels, The Lazarus Heart, still has some interesting levels. It pokes at societal hypocrisy and offers some sociopolitical bite with a serial killer whose madness -- a paranoiac fear of the androgyne, the transgendered, the transsexual, and the homosexual, who he knows are Alien invaders spreading contagion -- is repellent, fascinating, and all too believable. The "good" guys here are gay/transgendered, artistic, slightly decadent denizens of that most decadent of U. S. cities, New Orleans. There's also a closeted gay cop who introduces an element of noir grit and tough guy angst to the mix.
It's tightly plotted, well-crafted and yes, it's romantic, melodramatic, visceral, violent, and sometimes over-the-top. We get buckets, heck, fountains of blood and body parts; true love (but no explicit sex,) self-sacrifice, a hurricane, a dodo, black lace and latex, interesting interior decoration, Edgar Allan Poe (c'mon who could resist tying The Raven to The Crow?), a hurricane named Michael, a pretty damned unhelpful crow, characters who read Clive Barker and Caitlin Kiernan, we even get Brite finally writing a female character -- well, okay, so the character USED to be a male. There's an insouciance to The Lazarus Heart that is delightful, yet it's poignant as well. As protagonist Jared Poe says, "Get a clue, babe. Haven't you looked in a mirror lately? We're all monsters."
Brite is not going to please everyone and she obviously doesn't give a crow's feather. Good for her. Her bird ain't wet, it's a winner.
Read an Excerpt
Down through that part of the evening that is neither night nor day, the big black bird comes, finally, to the old cemetery in the old city on the river. Such a long flight back from the places where the dead wait, marking time until they've forgotten what time is, until they've forgotten even themselves and nothing remains but these earthly stones and the moldering skeletons they signify, and even these win pass in time.
The crow descends through the low, thin clouds that have lingered behind an afternoon thunderstorm, fading blue sky traded for gray. A woman walking along Prytania Street hears the bird's grating cry looks up to see a violent smudge of ebony against the summer twilight, crosses herself, and walks a little faster past the crumbling walls of Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery.
Maneuvering between magnolia branches, brushing against stiff dark leaves like dripping dragon scales, the crow follows instinct and duty. With nothing that could be called thought, but with something more than the simplest bird impressions, the crow understands the immediate and undeniable task before her. She understands the terrible things that must be done before she can return to the clarity of her carrion life.
And so the crow finds the smallish mausoleum near the center of the cemetery. The pale gray marble is fresh and polished, not yet blasted by the delta sun and angry Gulf storms, a modest jewel tucked between its ancient, weathered neighbors. Around it are monuments placed over the course of more than a hundred and fifty sweltering years, fallen crosses and angels with broken wings, inscriptions worn smooth as silk. And then thisnewcomer, at once tasteful and decadent: a tomb that speaks of the wealth of its dead, but speaks also of their otherness.
The crow lights upon the vaulted roof, her talons gripping the slippery bronze acroterion above the sealed door. The acroterion is cast in the reclining form of a pretty young man, hands bound above his head, ankles bound as well, and a gag tied tightly across his mouth. His head is bowed, his eyes closed in perfect supplication. The crow shifts nervously, impatiently, from one ebony claw to the other. Standing on the bronze boy's shoulder the metal still years away from the streaking stigmata of verdigris, she caws once more: for herself, for the dim uncertainty she feels. Then she folds her wings, and the resurrection begins.
So much damage to a corpse after death, the slicing ministrations of pathologists and undertakers. Because, this man died violently there was an autopsy, organs removed, divined, dumped back into their cold cradle of meat and bone. The application of glue to seal eyelids and hold fingers together, lips sewn neatly shut, caustic chemicals painted on or pumped into this body sealed beneath the crow. All these things she must undo before the soul can be returned, and the bird carries the knowledge of these tasks in her skull, knows them now as she knows the sweet, greasy smell of roadkill on summer asphalt miles away, as she knows the simple routine of her life.
A silent flash of lightning far away, toward the swamps where the storm has retreated. The crow blinks her weary eyes and pecks once at the bronze sculpture. The sound echoes softly through the necropolis around her. There's a faint scratch where her sharp beak struck the burnished metal, and she pecks at the boy's shoulder again
It makes a sound she can feel through her feet, a sound that reverberates within the marble confines of the mausoleum, growing louder in the dark spaces along the walls, louder still inside the newest coffin on its granite pedestal, amplified instead of dulled by passage through stone and steel.
Selective, though, this magic She has come for one man, and one man only. The man who sleeps beside him will hear nothing, his ill-used, pieced-together body remaining in stasis, indifferent to what has begun. The crow's dagger beak strikes the acroterion a third and final time, and now there is movement inside the mausoleum, inside the newest coffin.
The thread that holds the dead man's thin lips dosed tugs itself free, drawn out through needlepoint incisions, and falls away The cyanoacrylate that holds his eyelids closed, that holds his fingers together across his chest, becomes brittle and then becomes no more than dust These things are simple though, and, the crow shudders, captured now in the dark and irreversible process she has started.
The long incisions in the abdomen reject their stitches also and begin to heal, flesh knitting as if in time-lapse photography. The crow cries out again, giving up parts of herself to the accelerating restoration of the body below, life chasing death. Even the bird's mind understands the wrongness in these actions, the violation of an order more primal and sacred than all the religions of mankind, but she is helpless to withdraw.
She huddles on the mausoleum roof and feels her life borrowed, the measured draining of her life for the working of these magics.
There are escape clauses built into the fabric of the universe, undeniable rules that have brought her here. The crow knows none of this, only that she should be moving, flying swiftly and high and far, far away from this soulless place where the memory of life lies pinned beneath heavy stone.
Stiff more stitches ravel, and the body bleeds not blood but an acrid hemorrhage of embalming fluid, milky spray from opened arteries. The heart is shocked rudely back to life, pumping alien liquid through desiccated veins, and this time the crow does not caw, she screams as the body beneath her expels four gallons of embalming fluid into its coffin. A pulsing stream from the carotid, from an incision in the upper arm and another in the groin, until the circulatory system is completely empty, purged, and the Lazarus heart pumps only formaldehyde-stinking air.