I have a present for all of you horror fans. His name is Garth Ennis, and if you have never heard of him, thank me, after you have spent your Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza money on his newest book, CROSSED, or any of the shelve filling collection of comic books he has written. It is simple- if you are a horror fan, it is a good chance you enjoy looking at disturbing imagery. Ennis is the master of scripting scenes with disturbing imagery in them.
Ennis is known, by your average comic fans, for two things- his interpretation of Frank Castle, THE PUNISHER and for his Vertigo series, PREACHER. Though THE PUNISHER has been around for 34 years, Ennis’s work on the book, in the past ten years, is considered the definitive PUNISHER text. With PREACHER, Ennis was able to bring his interpretation of the bible to life, including a version of God that was so satisfied with himself that he spent all of his time masturbating to the sight the universe he created. So why do I recommended CROSSED before all of his other books? Because it is the perfect jumping on point for horror fans.
Ennis has written books dealing with pilots in World War II (WAR IS HELL: ENEMY ACE), he has shown how corrupt and perverse superheroes would be in the real world (THE BOYS) and he has even re-imagined some of the horror comic icons, including John Constantine (HELLBLAZER). CROSSED is Ennis’ first straight up horror book, dealing with a post apocalyptic world, where those who are infected with a super virus slaughter any of the survivors they can find.
We know little about how the actual infection has spread, or how it was unleashed in the first place. What we learn in the first issue is that the survivors have not had a chance to actually analyze what is going on in this post apocalyptic world. They are too busy running from place to place, looking for a safe haven, to stop and think about what has happened to the world. This may seem like a cop out to those who need a reason for the chaos occurring in this book, but I feel that a lack of a thorough explanation makes this story more realistic. Just like in the film ‘Quarantine’ , all we have to work with is conjecture. There is no official explanation for what is going on.
Our main character is a cynical woman named Cindy, who is trying to keep her child, Patrick alive. Cindy’s military training is what is keeping her and her fellow survivors alive. She is an unsympathetic character, completely utilitarian, who knows what needs to be done in order to survive. Cindy’s motto is “Quick and smart or done and dead.”
Those who are infected by the virus are called ‘The Crossed’, because once they have succumbed to the virus, a blistering rash, in the shape of a cross covers their faces. The Crossed are not just mindless zombies, ready to feast on flesh, they are chaotic savages eager to mutilate, rape and kill, and not always in that particular order. To make matters even worse, there is a method to their madness. In issue two, one of the survivors, Randall, is taken down by a shot that one of the Crossed has fired. Though the wound is not fatal, Randall seems to be getting sicker by the moment. Throughout the issue, we are wondering in what sick way the Crossed might have infected him, by using a bullet.
The explanation is not for the squeamish. One of the uninfected, using binoculars, watches a group of the Crossed, from afar. Four of them are standing around in a circle, completely naked, each with a wide smile on their faces. The unnamed uninfected survivor says that they are playing the ‘biscuit game‘. For those of you not in the know, here is a description of said biscuit game:
“Dubious rumor about what big sports guys do before a game. They stand around in a circle and… you know. Over a biscuit. Except when the Brits say biscuit they mean cookie, but you get the idea. Last one to uh, arrive, has to eat the cookie.”
You see, this is the deeply disturbing territory that Garth Ennis considers his playground. In the case of the Crossed, they are not masturbating over a cookie, they are masturbating into a bucket filled with bullets. This way, each of their shots has the potential to turn an uninfected victim into one of them. Within a day, the man they shot, Randall, becomes one of the Crossed and attacks the rest of the survivors.
As you can tell, a Garth Ennis story is not for the faint of heart. He has the uncanny ability to take what you would consider the most offensive act, and then come up with something even more heinous. In one of the reviews I read of CROSSED, the reviewer mentioned how he had never read a comic before, where he was more eager to turn the page, to get away from what he had just seen. CROSSED is filled with moments just like that. This makes a lot of sense, considering that, according to Ennis, the idea came to him in a dream, where zombies attacked a group of survivors in a boarded up building, but the zombies happened to be fully aware and completely malicious.
Artist Jacen Burrows seems to be the go to guy at Avatar press. His artwork is featured in many of the main Avatar books, and because of this, it seems very generic. Though his characters might seem bland, and easy to confuse with each other, he is able to illustrate all of the nastiness that Ennis scripted. The realistic way in which he depicts the gore makes each panel more disturbing that the one preceding.
If you are looking for something bleak and disturbing to contrast with the shining hypocrisy of the holiday season, CROSSED just might be the gift for you.