Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Jacen Burrows
As readers, we revile and revere apocalypse. We desire revelation, if not in the religious sense, then on some personal, comedic, tragic, spiritual, or intellectual level, but when it’s laid bare, we flinch.
The prelude to the new apocalyptic horror-comic Crossed has gone beyond the flinch, and instead leaves an empty pit in the stomach and a catch in the throat – in 16 pages. We don’t know how things start, and if the young narrator can be trusted, we never will, but something has gone very, very wrong in the world. It’s a disease reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and it’s spreading at an unbelievable rate, but where Boyle’s infected were driven by maniacal, uncontrollable rage, Ennis’s have a terrifying and icy-cold knowledge of their actions and their ultimate results. They simply don’t care and take pleasure in the havoc they wreak. The looks in the eyes of the infected drive this home – the man in the diner, the people in the airplane cockpit, the man in the burning car – Burrows captures the horror in their eyes and even, in one case, where the eyes have been torn out, blood streaming down his laughing face.
The issue starts with an infected man walking, with a knowing grin and absolute nonchalance, into a full diner clutching a dripping set of vertebrae topped with sopping, bloody flesh. His face is scarred with the beginnings of a raw, red cross: the mark of the infected. Mistaken for a man in costume, he’s asked to leave, but he keeps smiling and a face is torn asunder. The characters flee in desperation and are introduced to the world on fire. Bodies burn and laugh; wounds are raped; necks twist and buckle through glass and steel.
Ennis is known for his dark humour, but it’s not here. He’s garnered laughs from dismemberment, castration, torture, and an ocean of bullets, but in Crossed the violence is visceral and bleak. Blood pours, bodies are mangled, and there’s even a nuclear explosion. It’s one atrocity after another, and the reader is left blind-sided. We’re left wanting – wanting cause, wanting effect, wanting revelation.
I’m not convinced we’re going to get it in this mini-series except in its most horrifying sense. The teaser art for Crossed reminded me of the visions Cormac McCarthy spun in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road, another book where the readers search for hope and some semblance of meaning in the face of true horror but are left only with what they started – a desperate need to survive.
Avatar Press attracts some of the biggest names in comics because it allows them to push boundaries. With Crossed, it looks like Ennis and Burrows aren’t pushing, or even bulldozing, they’re slicing, with the precision of a surgeon, the flesh, muscle, bone, and blood. They’re butchering with finesse, and there’s a strong smell of meat and offal in the air, both repulsive and captivating. We keep watching, of course, despite the shivers and the feelings in our guts, because that’s what good horror does, and Crossed is bloody good horror.