COMIC REVIEW: Crossed – Volume 1

Zombie Apocalypse? No…not zombies. Zombies are stupid & slow, zombies would be easy. The Crossed have every ounce of guile, cunning, wit and sneakiness of man coupled with all of mankind’s hatred, bile, perversion, rage and spitefulness. This won’t be easy…

Writer: Garth Ennis

Artist: Jacen Burrows
Colourists: Juanmar, Greg Waller

Collects: Crossed #0-9

The Crossed universe has become something of a juggernaut,  almost half a dozen series have now been set therein, but it all started here. This trade from Avatar collects the original 10 issues from the team of Ennis & Burrows, set in a world where a mysterious event has spawned “The Crossed”. These are seemingly normal people infected with some sort of virus, or similar ailment, which has two main effects. Firstly their faces break out into hideous rash/scarring/festering boils in the shape of a cross (hence the name), that’s actually the good news though as at least that makes it easier to see who will be experiencing the latter symptom. The Crossed are the absolute pit of humanity, they are sadistic hedonism personified…if it brings them pleasure then they’ll do it. Rape, murder, torture, gluttony and the very worst acts inbetween. Given the choice between fighting zombies and The Crossed, you’d pick zombies every day of the week.

Our central character is Stan, he’s a bit of a nobody and our everyman who we follow from the moment when sat in his favourite diner, the world goes to hell. He’s gathered up by Cindy, who is frighteningly competent and is doggedly doing whatever is necessary to protect her son Patrick. Along the way they gain and lose other members of the group, sometimes due to The Crossed and sometimes due to their own stupidity. Throughout they’re heading to Alaska, where they hope to find respite from what America has become.

Crossed is something that I’d seen in the solicitations but had never tried, gore really isn’t my thing. But when the opportunity came up to review it for Geek Syndicate I couldn’t resist for exactly that reason. This wasn’t my sort of book at all, and whilst I’m a fan of some of Ennis’s work and enjoyed Burrows’s work in Absolution and 303 I was expecting this to be a challenge. Was it? Yes and no. Graphically (in both senses) it’s as extreme a comic as I’ve ever read, this is the only time I’ve consciously had to hide a comic from my 5yr old son, and there’s certainly some stomach-turning pages. But perhaps it’s the recent zombie zeitgeist but I clicked with the story straight away and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The universe is harsh, when people do stupid things they’re punished and because of the extremity of the book they really get punished. I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room, The Walking Dead, for a moment. The big difference that struck me between these two series is that the way in which all of the characters degenerate within Crossed felt far more realistic. Maybe I’ve got a low opinion of humanity but the way the central characters in The Walking Dead continue to act to a moral code from “before” and seem immune to the harrowing effects of deep psychological trauma feels far less human than what we get in Crossed. By the end of these 10 issues Stan and Cindy are horribly broken people, capable of acts which are barely discernible from The Crossed.

The book’s not without its faults. The timeline felt a little off to me, the collapse of society happening a little too quickly, and some of the moments lacked emotional punch. I think the latter may be because the book effectively immunises the reader by building up their tolerance to the disgusting, such that when something emotionally horrifying happens I found myself unaffected. There’s also a certain lack of clarity in some of the scenes which had me flipping back a few pages. The main instance of this was when Stan and Cindy take a course of action having found some schoolkids, I had to infer what had happened rather than it being on the page. Now that could well be my failing as a reader rather than of the writer.

I’m deliberately avoiding the temptation to recite my favourite parts of the story, as that somewhat ruins the point, but I do tip my hat to a subtle reference to Sodom and Gomorrah which Ennis slips in.

What I didn’t expect, but knowing Ennis probably should have, was the twisted humour throughout the book. It has a very British feel, from the reference to the mythical soggy biscuit game to quoting Bugsy Malone, but somehow whilst the book is gruesome it maintains a sort of lightness which is hard to really describe.

I continue to enjoy Burrows’s art, although there’s one or two spots where it doesn’t quite feel as polished as it could, I wonder if this is because of the colouring, which is quite simplistic. The detail which goes into some of the scenes featuring the acts of The Crossed is stunning (in both ways), I wonder who I should send my therapy bills to?

GS Rating: 4/5

GS Reviewer: Dave W

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