Crossed (#0-9), Crossed: Badlands (#1-3) – Garth Ennis

5 out of 5

…And while Garth Ennis finally shifted fully into babbly, preachy, old man with The Boys, he apparently held a reserve of the great sadness he brought to his Punisher MAX run to use on his initial Crossed run, digging deep, deep into the dregs of humanity.  What makes this so effective – and what the other Crossed writers, to me, don’t quite seem to get – is that while Garth obviously has his gross-out factors in there, and he’s paired with an artist fully capable of depicting such atrocities – Jacen Burrows – the point of Crossed under Ennis is never the violence or the depravity, or even our (or the character’s) “shock” over such things, but rather what people do to try to remain human when the entire world – the entire fucking world – is inhuman.  It’s a theme Garth has mined before but it’s blown up to sprawling levels here, and he doesn’t try to cut the sting with philosophizing, a la Boys, or even any kind of ‘love / brotherhood saves the day’ romanticism which has crept into Preacher, or some of his war books.  It’s wonderful to see someone willing to go so dark.

So you can say Crossed is a zombie book, and that’s definitely the general pitch – an explosion happens, and suddenly people are showing up with cross-shaped scars on their faces.  The flip is that they’re not out to eat our flesh, or at least not only do that, but as Ennis pitches it, it’s more like whatever barriers that prevent us from just acting completely animalistic have been removed, so The Crossed – men, women, children – fuck, kill, fight, eat, tear, rip, swear, blaspheme – every bad thing you can think of.  Mostly to non-Crossed, but sometimes to each other as well.  And because they’re not just completely mindless, they maintain some pack sensibilities, and enough intelligence to track or trick their ‘prey.’  Is it passed through blood?  Yes.  And Garth pokes at our need to understand, with survivors coming up with theories on what caused it, or how to fix it, but it doesn’t matter.  Who cares what the cause is, and there will be no fix.  Do you want to survive?  And what decisions are worth your survival?

‘Crossed’ sticks with a core cast of characters from the start of the outbreak and dwindles their ranks before leaving us with an open ending and a lot of feelings to sit on.  The narrative works well because we’re tied to one person from this bunch, snippets of his thoughts percolating through, but otherwise we’re left alone to experience others actions the same way he does, and his questions about his own behaviors echo where our brains would likely go during such times, if we’re calm enough to ask ourselves ‘why.’  While this series alone would be enough to ponder, Ennis takes the threads and pushes it down an even bleaker road with ‘Badlands,’ following a different pack with quite a less heroic leader, but a likeable man all the same.  If our narrator from ‘Crossed’ is any one of us as a follower, ‘Badlands’ is any one of us who doesn’t want to follow, but isn’t alpha enough to take charge, either.  Our narrator gains people’s ear by being logical, and those of us with similar traits find ourselves in similar cruxes of wondering if we’re being honest or manipulative with those who listen.  Now toss the end of civilization into things and a child being born.

Ennis’s ‘Crossed’ is absolutely something to experience.  It is very graphic, but Burrows and Ennis seemed to be on the same page in terms of how to enact this violence to proper effect – your eyes lingering across blood-strewn landscape, half in wonderment of the detail, half in horror of just how wrong these images are.  It’s not glorified, just shown.  It’s a very strange balance.  It is haunting, it is moving, it is, perhaps the darkest thing I have ever read that isn’t just a depressive “I hate everything tome.”  Thought went into going this deep.  Garth knows his fans will snatch this up just for his name and Jacen’s bloody drawings, but he and Burrows are still breve man for committing this stuff to paper.

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