Vicious, Unrelenting, and Savage: David Ward on Crossed



Written by Garth Ennis/Illustrated by Jacen Burrows

Avatar Press, Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Individual Issues #0-#9

I first started this review with ruminations on the philological origins of revelation and apocalypse. I figure there’s enough written on this subject to keep most people amused for years. Instead, I will stick to the cult of brevity in order to reflect the stark and brutal nature of the world of Crossed.

Crossed, in brief, is the scariest, most demented thing I have ever read in mainstream comics. It’s vicious, unrelenting, and savage.

I reviewed issue 0 some time ago and it’s taken Avatar Press, whose publication schedule can only be described as patchy, schizophrenic, and outright bizarre, well over a year to complete the series. In some ways, this annoyed me, as I had to go back to previous issues more than once to recall exactly what happened and when. In others, however, I think I needed the breaks.

As I said: vicious, unrelenting, savage.

The comic is about a world that’s gone to Hell. A disease of some sort has broken out, and its sufferers lose that fundamental part of their humanity that causes the rest of us to say “No.” They murder; they rape; they skin; they mutilate; they torture. They’re without conscience and without remorse. The most deplorable acts are their amusements, and it is truly painful to flip the page.They’re also scarred with raw red flesh in the shape of crosses upon their faces. The book’s protagonists, a small group of survivors from all walks of American life, are seeking to retain their humanity, and their lives, in the face of the obscene. It’s not easy. They’re struggling to stay alive, stay human, but as one of them observes, that’s not always the same thing.

On one occasion, one person asks another: “What was I supposed to do . . .”

“Not this.”

This book isn’t for everyone. It will scare you, and it will disgust you. Luckily, you can determine for yourself early on whether or not this is something you want to read. There is a two-page spread in issue 1 that made my throat clench. Is this because of Ennis’s vision or Burrows’s art? Likely both. It’s sick, and it’s repulsive. I almost didn’t buy issue 2, but given the respect I have for Garth Ennis, by and large, I decided to give it a go. I’m very glad I did. While the rest of the series has its fair share of horrors and brutality, nothing tops that spread. At least in terms of visual horror.

I know a few people who decided not to pursue the rest of the series after that issue. They took a very sensical approach: this is not something I want to read. I’ve done this before myself – with books, films, and TV shows. If it’s something that will upset its reader, why torture them? Still, I persevered, even though this is a book without hope, which is a very difficult thing for people to grasp, especially in apocalyptic fiction.

My only major complaint with the series is the infusion, on one or two occasions, of Garth Ennis’s black humour. I love the man’s other comics for this reason (I still think The Boys is the best thing on the market right now), but it’s out of place here. Crossed is horror, plain and simple. Some horror uses comedy to lighten the affair and downplay the brutality, but humour doesn’t work in this context. It cheapens the effect.

If horror is your flavour, then please pick this comic up. I’ve not read or experienced something so primal and horrific as Crossed since I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy (a major influence for the book, by the way, along with World War Z by Max Brooks). I offer warnings, but the payoff is worth it.

There are even moments of beauty in the absence of hope.

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