The world of comics (or graphic novels for those of you who are picky) is one that really has no boundaries. Horror has been a part of the medium almost as long as the medium itself has existed. Over half a century ago comics such as Tales From The Crypt and other EC titles helped introduce a whole new generation to the dark and grotesque. Of course, this would be put to an end when the Comics Code was put into place, effectively neutering the medium for some time. Decades later many of the big companies would start new imprints that focused on adult novels to bypass the Code, and since that time the Code itself has been turned into a forgotten relic of a time past.
It is easier than ever to find not only great graphic novels, but ones that focus on the horror genre in some ways. There is of course Robert Kirkman‘s zombie masterpiece The Walking Dead which arguably opened the door for other writers and artists to openly tackle the genre. There are also many other great titles from various publishers such as The Strange Talent Of Luther Strode (which we reviewed in a previous Splatter Panels here) as well as what is my favorite graphic novel series of all-time, Tim Seeley‘s love letter to the slasher subgenre, Hack/Slash. Thanks to the success of big budget Marvel and DC films, as well as the insane popularity of The Walking Dead TV show, comics or graphic novels are back in vogue, leading to a surge of many different comic shops opening up. And thanks to the popularity of tablet computers and smartphones you can now download and read your favorite comics anywhere, with easy access from online retailers or apps like Comixology. Basically, there has never been a better time in history of be a fan of horror-based graphic novels.
Garth Ennis is a rather prolific writer, having created the very popular series Preacher in addition to his work on the legendary Judge Dredd (the Sylvester Stallone 1995 mess of a movie notwithstanding). One of his more recent contributions to the genre was the post-apocalyptic thriller Crossed. Ennis intended for it to be a one-shot series consisting of an introductory issue, followed by nine more issues telling the story of a small group of survivors making their way across the country and avoiding the infected humans, known as “Crossed”. The work turned out to be so popular and the possibilities within the world that Ennis created seeming endless that different writers continued his work setting different stories set in the universe. To Ennis‘ credit he never took the easy paycheck and stayed true to his original vision, but he doesn’t seem to hold grudges against the others picking up his work. This review focuses on Crossed Volume One, which is a collected tome of Ennis original story that would spawn all of the offshoots.
The story will seem rather familiar to anyone who has read the Hater trilogy by David Moody (which includes Hater, Dog Blood and the finale Them Or Us) just with the violence and grotesqueness amped up to the next level. Essentially humanity has been hit with some sort of virus that drives them to become remorseless killers. They are dubbed “Crossed” due to the infection placing an almost burned in image of a cross on their faces. Unlike the aforementioned Hater series, the infected in Crossed are much more grotesque in their attacks. They are mostly naked, and will do anything and everything to their victims, including raping and a low level of cannibalism. The first issue begins in a small café, where one of the “Crossed” enters holding a severed spine, which he drops on the counter before attacking the cook. Within the café is our main protagonist Stan. Also there are Thomas and Kelly, who are also mainstays in the group of survivors. During a giant flash at the onset of the outbreak, Kelly loses her vision and so is generally led around by Thomas. Not soon after they are saved from impending doom by Cindy who becomes our second protagonist. She is accompanied by her son Patrick. Outside of these characters, there is a mostly rotating group of other survivors that come and go (in rather brutal ways for the most part). Along the way, they are pursued by a special group of the “Crossed” who seem to have more intelligence and are able to track them. This group is led by the main baddie of the piece, known only as Horse Cock. Why is he called that? Because he literally carries around a severed horse penis that he uses to beat his victims with. Along the way many survivors fall victim to both the “Crossed” and the infection, but none more important than that of Patrick. His death results in his own mother having to kill him with a shotgun blast to the head. This results in her becoming detached until Stan realizes the only thing that is separating the survivors from the “Crossed” is their ability to feel remorse for their actions. He convinces Cindy to go back and give a proper burial to her son. This leads them off on their own, leaving Thomas and Kelly on a separate path, with the group of “Crossed” following closely.
Crossed was met with a very mixed reaction upon its debut. Many people praised its bluntness and ability to not shy away from anything, while others found it to be the work of someone appealing to adolescent teen boys living in their parents basement. I find it to lie more in the middle. There are certain parts that can play out differently depending on your view of things. Most people may find the whole Horse Cock thing to be juvenile, and while it partially is, it also serves to show how feral the infected have become. There is a particularly jarring scene where Stan and Cindy make the harsh decision to execute a group of children, simply because no one left has the means to care for them, making them a liability. It’s a scene which even on the printed page is difficult to endure, and it changes not only the whole landscape of the story, but also how the other characters view both characters.
However, based on some of the reviews and information I read on the book before diving in, there is considerably less violence and gore than most people make out to be. It may be that the scenes that are in the book are so severe that people have added more in retrospect, but I cannot comment for sure on this.
The art style is rather plain for the most part, with great coloring. This does lead to the rather bleak sense of realism that the book is going for, and it works. They could very easily have gone for a more cartoony style but artist Jacen Burrows seemed to know that it would lessen the impact of the extreme violence included. The coloring by Juanmar also lends a sense of realism, once again adding to the overall effect.
Past this first volume, writer Garth Ennis moved on from the world of Crossed but other writers seemed to see the potential of the world he had created and the decision was made to create more stories in this universe torn apart by the actions of the infected. I have yet to see any of these works, but if they are anywhere close to being as strong a work as this first volume, then it’s easy to see why publisher Avatar Press made the decision to continue. As of this writing, it appears that Garth Ennis, despite claiming he had no further desire to work in the Crossed universe, is planning to make a short-lived return.
There are far worse comics out there, from varying levels of publishers, so checking out Crossed is definitely something I would recommend. I would also strongly suggest starting with this particular work, if for nothing else but to see the origins of the work.
Crossed should be available from all fine locations that sell graphic novels, and is also available in digital format on Comixology.