Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: Crossed

Crossed is a graphic novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, where a mysterious plague causes its victims to pursue their foulest desires - like rape, murder and cannibalism (and not necessarily in that order). Carriers of the virus are known as The Crossed due to a cross-like rash that appears on their faces. The story follows a group of survivors on the way to Alaska, where they hope they'll be relatively safe.
Crossed is written by Garth Ennis, who you may be familiar with from Preacher, The Punisher and The Boys. Many of Ennis' usual themes show up here, mostly bodily mutilation and sexual depravity, occasionally tempered with dark humor. We also see moments of male friendship and criticism of religion, which is par for the course with Ennis. Crossed is certainly not his best work, but probably his darkest and most unrestrained. The artist, Jacen Burrows, I admit I'm less familiar with. He has worked on various series for Avatar Press, perhaps most notably Alan Moore's The Courtyard. Burrows' style can be compared to another of Ennis' frequent collaborators, Steve Dillon. It is clear, competent storytelling, but not very dynamic. Burrows draws meticulous backgrounds, though.
The premise is not unlike a zombie movie, in that the virus turns people to remorseless, homicidal maniacs, and is spread via bodily fluids, often bites. The zombie genre, unlike most horror, is not about the fear of the unknown. Vampires, demons and aliens are dark fantasies that scare us with strange, unfamiliar things. Zombie horror, on the other hand, are about the fear of the familiar. The fear of someone close to you suddenly turning against you; the fear of inevitable death. But the genius twist here is that The Crossed are not undead, they are not simply monsters. Making them merely sadistic, demented humans takes the story one step closer to home. Thus, Ennis expertly takes the zombie genre one step further by removing the reader's safety net.
The level of gore and sexual depravity shown in this series makes it hard to recommend to everyone. For example, the main bad guy carries around a severed horse penis, which he uses as a baton to smack people in the face with. If merely reading that last sentence made you uncomfortable - good, it should. It's not all in good taste, but it is very effective, unflinchingly visceral, deeply disturbing horror without a safety net. If you want a taste, you can read the prologue (11 pages) for free here.

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