Written by Garth Ennis || Illustrated by Jacen Burrows || Avatar Press || 2008-2010, 9 issues
My initial interest in the recently completed 9-comic book series Crossed is pretty much a case of "don't judge a book by its cover" gone awry. I first saw Crossed at a comic book store in Los Angeles last summer, but didn't pick up the series (which was at issue #6 at the time) because they didn't have the first couple of issues. It looked like an interesting zombie comic. By the time I got home, I had forgotten the name, and didn't get around to trying to piece it together until November. Once successful (fanwikis are useful) I ordered the back issues online and from my local comic book store. Before I got each of my orders, I found out that Crossed was probably going to be different from most zombie comics (for one, it's not really a zombie comic in the same way a lot of people will say 28 Days Later is not a zombie movie)
It was probably not good that I got into Crossed after finishing the 10-volume Y: The Last Man graphic novel series. The apocalypse scenario in Y was that a sudden plague outbreak killed all males on the planet at once, except for one male human and his male monkey companion. It's a good, compelling series. Crossed, on the other hand, seems to be Garth Ennis thinking, "let's think of something worse than zombies or the worst case scenario for the world to end". The "crossed" are infected humans who do the worst things in their mind to inflict on and infect other humans. Most of it involves rape, which is one of the ways one can become infected. Men, women, children, the elderly, it doesn't matter (even if children are mostly shown being murdered rather than raped). It also involves mass murder, but that seems to be mostly in the background. Other infected blow up a nuclear facility. So the infected can think, even if it is mostly centered around hunting down or hurting humans. It is never revealed how the infection came to be, and the infected are called the "crossed" because of the scabby series of marks on their faces that form a cross.
The series follows a group of survivors from a diner as they try to make it out to the northwest, then Alaska (under the assumption that there will be fewer infected there, and if there are any, they will freeze soon enough - you know, the obligatory Max Brooks reference). The main characters are a guy and a single mother who assumes the leadership position because she knows how to defend herself (mostly due to being the survivor of an abusive marriage). There is little-to-no character development until late in the series, and the comic is mostly vignettes of fucked up situations the survivors get into while trying to stay away from the crossed. The group's numbers dwindle issue by issue until there are only five left by the final issue. The only character I found compelling was the underused Kitrick, a man who had to see his family murdered by the crossed while he was swimming at the beach.
If I don't sound enthusiastic, it's because other than the artwork by Jacen Burrows, which is what attracted me to the comic in the first place, there is nothing to be excited about in Crossed; unless you really like new, nihilistic endgame scenarios. Once the shock wears off, there is really nothing much to the series. It pretty much ends with the biggest zombie movie cliche line ever, which is "they're us and we're them", it's as if Garth Ennis wanted to remind people of the pain that was Diary of the Dead, or every badly written academic article on zombie movies. He tried to proceed the cliche with an explanation that the infected were the rapists, pedophiles, and terrorists of the world, but that was a gross disregard of his own work and the initial premise and setting of the story, especially when contrasted against Burrows' covers for the series, which depicted people being attacked by the infected in everyday situations (fast food joints, high school, police stations, airplanes). The series does not play well with what it seems to want to say, which is that all humans are capable of evil, regardless of whether they were good or bad people before this infection struck. It wavers on the subject quite often, but abandons it almost altogether late in the series, especially as the survivors become followed by one group of the crossed.
The collected volume of Crossed is supposed to come out in the next couple of months, if Avatar Press can stick to the deadline, which was another problem with this series coming out in a timely manner. The series will apparently continue under a new writer and artist soon.
- And I really need to learn not to stick with things after I learn how awful they are. The casual optimism of "oh, maybe it will get better" gets me nowhere everytime.
- There should also be a moratorium on using the line "they're us and we're them" and any variations thereof in all forms of writing on zombies and other formerly human creatures. Any sort of writer who uses it will get smacked with an automatic "F- -".
Update 03/14/10: Courtesy of a comment someone from Avatar Press left: the collected volume of Crossed should be in stores by April. My local comic book store is already taking pre-orders for the new series Crossed: Family Values, which I think is due in May.