I loved the post-apocalyptic Crossed when it first began, but somewhere during the second story arc I started to lose interest. This week, I got caught up on “Family Values” and “Psychopath” to see if the nightmare-inducing series was still consistently interesting with a different writer/artist team.
I love a good apocalypse story. It doesn’t have to be the most original, or the most logical, or the most realistic; just give me a fun story about a ragtag group trying to make it after the fall of civilization and I’m happy. This twisted desire is what originally drew me to Crossed, the ultra-violent original series from Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows and published by Avatar Press. At first, it didn’t appear too different from the run-of-the-mill zombie tales running rampant throughout all forms of entertainment, but the Crossed are different. More disturbing. More grotesque. More violent. And yet… more human. Despite being one of the goriest comics I’ve ever read, I was fascinated by this book from the start.
The first 10 issues of Crossed introduced a world in which a plague has destroyed society quickly and destructively. Those affected, called “crossed” because of the marks the disease leaves on their faces, are still technically human, but act without fear, morality, emotions, pain, or inhibitions of any kind. They are driven to torture and kill any regular humans they find, converting more crossed in the process. No disturbing act was off limits for Ennis to describe and Burrows to create. Adults, children, and animals were torn apart, ripped limb from limb, abused, eaten, and destroyed in ways that would give most readers nightmares. Usually, I’m not into those disturbing images, but Crossed never felt like gore for the sake of gore in its early days, and I was fascinated by the nightmare world that Ennis and Burrows created.
After the initial storyline ended, a second arc called “Family Values” started in 2010, this time written by David Lapham and drawn by Javier Barreno. The fact that Garth Ennis didn’t feel like he had any more Crossed tales to tell should have been a red flag, but “Family Values” started strong. Once again taking place during the outset of the plague, “Family Values” introduced a seemingly all-American farming family, complete with nearly a dozen kids ranging in age from babies to adults. Shortly before the Crossed arrive, 18-year-old Adeline confronts her father about his abuse to her sister–and suffers the same fate. She’s then forced to go with him as they flee the Crossed and their farm, and her transformation as she watches her loved ones get tortured and infected as she moves from place to place and deals with her twisted family situation was interesting… for a while.
I stopped reading right in the middle of the “Family Values” arc, and when I tried to jump back in recently, I wasn’t nearly as drawn to the characters as I had been. It wasn’t the fact that I had taken a leave of absence from reading, though; I just didn’t care what happened to Addy or any of the survivors she was so desperately trying to save. I also felt that the story ended extremely abruptly, and wasn’t a very satisfying resolution after all that Adeline had been through.
Still, I plunged headfirst into the next arc, “Psychopath”, also by Lapham and Barreno. This story went back into the “ragtag group of survivors” dynamic from the original series, with four characters picking up a fifth in the first issue. Lorre seems harmless enough; he’s near death when they find him, promises to help them reach a group of scientists who were working on a cure for the Crossed plague, and has useful survival skills. But as the name of the arc implies, Lorre is extremely disturbed and immediately starts plotting the downfall of his fellow survivors.
Remember how I said that Crossed wasn’t gore for gore’s sake? Well, with “Psychopath”, I don’t feel that way anymore.
Yes, Lorre is, quite possibly, even more disgusting than the plagued, and while reading the last few issues, I found myself wondering why I should care. Why should I care about a psychopath turning on his fellow human beings when so few of them were left? Why should I care about his sick backstory or demented reasoning or whether or not he actually succeeds? I don’t know why I should, but I know that I do not.
While Crossed was once suspenseful, clever, and interesting, it now feels like it’s trying too hard in too many ways. It’s trying too hard to live up to Ennis’ violence, and trying too hard to incorporate themes that have been explored more successfully in other post-apocalyptic tales (included Robert Kirkman’s far superior The Walking Dead).
There’s only one more issue of “Psychopath”, and even though I’m still curious to see how the story ends, I’m also glad to see such an unlikeable character go. I was ready to cross Crossed off my list… until I heard that a new series from Ennis and Burrows is starting next month. Okay, fine, I’m back in! I just hope the new story washes the bad taste of “Psychopath” out of my mouth.