This is Garth Ennis’ take on the survival horror genre and it is a real tour de force. All over the world people are degenerating into brutal, sadistic, psychopaths and turning on their fellow human beings. Each of them is marked with a cross-like scar (hence the title) on their faces, possibly as a judgement from God or perhaps as an echo back to the mediaeval sign for plague. These aren’t shambling mindless zombies. They are intelligent, sneaky, tactical and co-operative. They can talk, use tools, guns, vehicles and tanks! This really is the stuff of nightmares.
Initially when I browsed through this what struck me was the art. The graphic depictions of violence, death, dismemberment and sexual nastiness. It looks like torture-porn in comic book form and it was easy to dismiss this as simply a gratuitous excuse for Mr Ennis to push his envelope as far as possible. But it isn’t. You need that intense visceral shock to set the scene and break you out of that zombie cliché mindset.
Like all good fiction of this genre it is about what the survivors do and what they learn about themselves. How much of their humanity are they willing to sacrifice just to stay alive? How much would you? As the story progresses it is less and less about the shock and awe atrocities of the crossed and more about us and how we behave. The crossed are simply ourselves without any inhibitions and that is truly frightening.
Whilst the art is sickening in places it is expertly drawn by Jacen Burrows who worked with Mr Ennis to great effect on 303. He has an incredible gift for colour and lighting. The opening issues are a real treat in this respect. As the story progresses the pallet becomes dull and subdued however. This could be to reflect the survivors’ despair and isolation or a realistic portrayal of the wilderness setting but there is an incredible midnight snow scene that really leaps out at you.
It is well written and there is usual moral message found in this genre that we are worse than them. In this tale we are them so there can be no doubt on this score. There are some great shocks, surprises and reveals and Mr Ennis really keeps you on your toes. The story is part contemporary and part flashback but there is no indication of the switch between the two. Just count the number of survivors and the more there are the further back in time you are so you can easily follow along.
Whilst it does not have the depth that his magnum opus Preacher did this is easily his best stand alone work. It is 10 issues (not the usual 6) and that really makes a difference to the pacing and breadth of this story and you really don’t want it to end. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Crossed Volume 2: Family Values – David Lapham