“They were all the awful aspects of humanity magnified a hundred-thousandfold, but they were nothing more. Where did they come from? Us.”
Not everyone likes Garth Ennis, but he might be my favourite comic book writer. And I seem to be going on somewhat of an Ennis run as of late. People lump him in with Mark Millar, which is a little unfair. His work has a lot to recommend, the writing is usually fantastic and he always has an interesting concept. But he’s know for his more extreme tendencies. I’ve read Preacher and the even more extreme The Boys, and I’d heard that Crossed was his most violent, most disgusting, most Ennis-y if you will. And I thought I was desensitised to his usual shocking tactics. But Crossed almost proved me wrong. Almost.
It’s a post-apocalyptic story, which I guess are a dime-a-dozen. And with The Walking Dead still being a behemoth in world of comics and television, you’ve got to do something special to stand out in this saturated genre. The first thing Ennis and Burrows do to stand out from the crowd is to make the enemies of the series, The Crossed, pretty original. There’s an outbreak spread by bites and bodily fluids, but this isn’t your usual zombie virus. If you’re unlucky enough to be infected, you’ll sprout a gross-looking scar on your face in the shape of a cross and begin acting out your most evil thoughts. Murder, rape, torture, cannibalism – nothing is off the menu. If you can imagine it, and you feel slightly guilty after imagining it, it probably happens in this comic. And unlike zombies, these guys keep a level of intelligence post-infection that means they use guns, weapons, and can organise a strategic attack. I read someone online compare them to the Reavers from Firefly, and yeah, that seems pretty close.
The other thing that makes it stand out is just how bleak it is. I know a hell of a lot of dystopian fiction will promise this, but Crossed takes the cake. Unlike The Walking Dead, there’s no hope. That comic got bleak at times, but there was always a sliver of hope. Here, there’s nothing. The world is never coming back in any form. There are no badass, larger-than-life characters to save the day. It’s all grounded and it makes for a very grim time. Also, this comic is lacking the usual Ennis black humour, which is a shame. Preacher and the The Boys had a lot of violence that was played for laughs, or for pure shock value. Either way, you chuckled and didn’t take it too seriously. But here, it’s real, the pain and the suffering is focused on. Originally, I was pretty nervous about reading this. I thought it would be a pretty exploitative and disgusting comic. But I came away from it pleasantly surprised. Yes the violence is shocking (an understatement) but there’s a message in there about our own humanity. I do miss the comedy though, but Ennis clearly has that message to get across and he makes it well. At it’s core, it’s the usual “humans were the bad guys all along” story, but taken to 11.
The story as a whole is great, and the message is bleakly powerful. But it sort of feels like the focus was too much on this instead of making three dimensional characters. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are all distinct and fun. And the leading characters get some great development. But the comic begins with so many characters that all get killed so quickly, it’s difficult to connect and tricky to feel like we really know them. Also the scenes of action and violence aren’t the whole comic, the majority is just the characters walking and talking. Which is fine if, like me, you adore Ennis’s dialogue. But if for some reason you bought it for the violence and disturbing imagery, there’s a chance you’ll be let down by the lack of it. Though it is there and it is horrifying, it’s just not the focus. And ol’ Garth sometimes likes to get on his soapbox and tell you what’s wrong with the world. So like all his comics, a lot will depend on how much you agree with his politics.
Overall, this is a tricky one to recommend to most. I really enjoyed it, but I perhaps only know one other person in my life who would. It’s too niche, it’s Ennis to the Nth degree. But the art is great (and well done to Burrows for drawing some of this crazy shit) and the writing is top tier, so it’s a shame the rest of it will be so off-putting to general comic book readers. If you like horror and gore, you’ll probably love it, but remember the heart of it is the dialogue and the message behind it. It’s guilty fun to see some gore, but it’s pointless without a message behind it. Luckily, Crossed has both.
Reviewed by Jack