It’s hard for me to believe that it has been nearly 2 years since the first time I ever read or heard anything about the Garth Ennis original “CROSSED”. Back in early 2008 when the comic was being passed off by publisher Avatar as the most depraved piece of illustrated fiction to ever taint the shelves of comic book stores everywhere I was equal parts skeptical and intrigued by the idea of the story. (Let alone that the man behind such personal favorites as “PREACHER” and “HELLBLAZER”) Any skepticism I may have harbored as to the validity of these claims was dashed though when I read the first issue of the series that contains a 2 page spread in which a couple is…ahem…how do I put this delicately…brutalized from “behind” in front of each other while their little girl is torn to pieces “DAY OF THE DEAD” style in the background. With those two pages Ennis and illustrator Jacen Burrows made a statement to readers, horror fans, and industry heads everywhere, a statement that went through loud and clear, and it was simple: f*ck you. But with such a bold statement always comes the eventual allegations and whining from the offended. (Or should I say ‘crossed’?) In this case it is the million dollar question of whether or not “CROSSED” is TOO much. Read on for the entire article.
Since issue #0 dropped on August 27th 2008 Garth Ennis (“PREACHER”, “HELLBLAZER”) has been accused of being a sadist, a ‘shock writer’, and some have even gone so far as to say that the “PREACHER” mastermind is nothing more than a ‘gore-porn’ writer. (Don’t let Roger Ebert read this, he might have an aneurism) I would guess that it would be fair to say that the man is a ‘shock writer’; after all didn’t he help birth a series in which a possessed preacher seeks out to find God with the help an alcoholic vampire and his ex? Ennis has ALWAYS been a writer who isn’t afraid to test the pulse of the status quo to make sure it is still breathing, and he sure as hell has never been afraid to give people a literary 2×4 upside the head. However, I will be the first to say that “CROSSED” IS too much. It IS more than any story needs to be allowed to show readers, it IS sadistic, it IS sadism 101, and it IS in bad taste. So why is it that it is a necessary evil?
In “CROSSED” victims of a mysterious virus are marked with a familiar cross shaped rash on their faces and a vicious taste for violence, mayhem, rape, and murder. The story is told in an almost “THE WALKING DEAD” style as it follows the exploits of a rag-tag group of survivors who are simply trying to find a place untouched by what seems to be a worldwide pandemic. The first “CROSSED” series ran for 10 issues and is now available in trade form, while the newest arc in the series “FAMILY VALUES” began this past Wednesday. Responsibilities of penning the new series have been handed over to David Lapham (“TERROR INC”, “DAREDEVIL VS PUNISHER”) and penciler Javier Barreno for the newest arc that follows a large country family who are forced to leave their horse ranch after being attacked by “THE CROSSED”.
So now that I have your attention let me explain to you why “CROSSED” is, as I stated previously, a “necessary evil”. Most people would be quick to compare the story of “CROSSED” to that of a zombie story in that it deals with people who are being infected with a virus that turns them into something inhuman. The only issue with that is that these humans are not dead. They are completely alive, and not only that but they are completely coherent. (Albeit under the influence of a horrible disease) “CROSSED” is described as a “story follows survivors dealing with a zombie-like plague that causes it victims to carry out their most evil thoughts and wishes, including murder, rape, mutilation, arson, etc.” Now notice the phrase “their most evil thoughts and wishes” and think back to that scene from issue one that I described earlier. This isn’t a story about flesh hungry undead monsters…this is the story of the depravity within us all.
For me it is easiest to think of “CROSSED” this way: Imagine that there was a virus that turned humans all over the world into the kind of predator that Charles Manson is, what Ed Gein was, Jeffrey Dahmer. There is nothing within the story that Garth Ennis has put forth that flesh and blood everyday people have not fantasized about, or worse, done to their fellow man. You might sit there and think yourself better than all this. Maybe you’re reading this article and saying to yourself “This guy is nuts! I’d never even dream of doing something like what’s in this book!” Well first of all thank you for noticing that I’m insane, I appreciate it, but second of all you are lying to yourself. I can theorize (more so promise you) that there has been one moment in your life that you have thought about doing something so vile, so hateful, so violent and depraved to another human being that it actually made you feel better about a situation. Maybe it is your ex, maybe it is your boss at work who denied you that raise, or maybe it is your parents. I can’t speak for anyone on that end, but I can assure you that at some point in your life you have thought about this and it was horrible. That in a nutshell is what this series is all about. Garth Ennis is not trying to just put on the biggest ‘gore-porn’ ever written-he is trying to convey to you a message about yourselves and about that horror of humanity itself.
Now I know that right now I may have lost some of you with this, but for those of you who have stuck around I appreciate the understanding. I’m not in any way shape or form trying to say that what is going on within these books is “okay”. In fact they are absolutely anything BUT okay. In fact every time I read an issue of “CROSSED” I am scared to death in a way that I rarely ever feel. I don’t want to see what I’m seeing. I don’t want to see children raped and torn to ribbons or a giant fat man named “Horse-Cock” running around beating people with a severed piece of animal genitalia. It is terrible and it is painful to read because it is something that no one should ever hope to see in their lifetime, and if you aren’t turned off by these things then there is something clinically wrong with you. I can honestly say to you that after reading the first arc of “CROSSED” I was completely desensitized beyond even what I thought was possible. (And I’ve seen every exploitation, sexploitation, drive-in, Troma piece of trash that has ever been thrown up into existence) There are boundaries within our minds that are put up in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy and that is why when we have these violent thoughts they make us feel better. It might be a horrible thing to have to admit about yourself, but everyone around you is “CROSSED” in some way, even you.
With the newest arc “FAMILY VALUES” the depravity is just as prevalent as it ever was when Ennis and Burrows were in control, but this time the rape and violence starts even before “THE CROSSED” show up. The idea of presenting a story where a father is repeatedly raping one of his young daughters while the rest of the family lowers their heads and pretends to ignore the problem proves my entire point. Before when we were following the survivors we were only worried about the monsters with the rashes on their faces, and because of this calling card it made it easy to differentiate between man and monster. Now though we are given a new group of survivors who are on the run from the monsters who have forced them from their homes, but with the terrible realization that there is a monster just as vicious within their own ranks.
In the end I think of “CROSSED” as an allegory for our own minds. The survivors play the role of our sanity while “THE CROSSED” are our most vile and evil fantasies, and in the end there is always a small struggle within us all between the two. We have seen the work of “THE CROSSED” all over the world and through every day of the existence of mankind. We have seen it in child murderers, we have seen it within our churches, we have seen it in our schools, and we have seen it within our own homes. So to all the naysayers, the finger pointers, the stick-up-their-arse critics who say that this is nothing more than fan service to an MTV generation that has lost any respect for morality and better judgment, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror and think long and hard about what I have just given to you with this article. Look nice and hard because I can guarantee to you with the same certainty that you won’t find a cross shaped rash on your face that you have a little bit of “THE CROSSED” in you, too. After all…we are only human.