Art by Jacen Burrows
Ok then. We’re off into the horrific world of the Crossed and things are going to get a little dark as we tackle such meaty questions as: Should this stuff really be giving you nightmares? What do we mean when we talk about the nature of evil? And – come on – wouldn’t every book be improved with a little added zombie apocalypse? NOM NOM NOM!
I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it but it was something like: “Have you read Crossed? Oh god – it’s worst comic of all time. It’s horrible. It’s disgusting. It’s totally completely depraved and absolutely evil. ”
A little bit of context maybe: I mean – if Stuart had just said that all this same stuff and hadn’t mentioned Garth Ennis’ name then I wouldn’t have bothered. I mean – somesort of depraved torture porn comic that just wanted to see how extreme it could go? Yawn. Boring. Sorry – not interested. But Garth Ennis wrote it? Well – ok: now you have my attention.
A few standalone thoughts about Crossed seeing as I refuse to re-read it, and am not going to dwell on it either.
First time writer here – thanks for letting me take part in this – although I was added half way through the Sandman convo, I thought I’d sit that one out to get a feel for the kind of things you were talking about.
So, onto crossed…
I must admit I approached this with some trepidation. I’d heard about it, but being a bit sick of Zombie stories (I haven’t touched based with TWD since 106, and although I’m up to date with the show will follow it, but not religiously) – but when I heard Alan Moore was writing issue 100 + of crossed my ears perked up, particularly as he said it was a profoundly moral story – If the grand wizard himself said that then maybe there’s something in this comic after all.
When I was a kid there used to be a video shop near my house, and at the weekend I’d go and rent videos with my next door neighbour. I’d often go and see the covers to the horror videos – films like bad taste, fright night, nightmare on elm street and so on, and at night, being a somewhat imaginative child those covers would take flight in the dark. When a little later on I managed to watch Nightmare on Elm Street, the last in my street to do so, I remember just being, well not disappointed as such…. the fact was that the horror in the films was nowhere near as bad as I had imagined.
The same thing applies to crossed. I’d heard much about the horrific acts depicted, and they are pretty horrific, but they seemed more absurdly comedic than anything, thanks in part to Jacen Burrows’ artwork. Like Nightmare on elm street, the worst scenes, including the infamous family scene were like rubber monsters, or obvious wires. The horror is a fraud, played for dumb black humour. It’s a frankie boyle joke, a carnival of the grotesque. To co-opt Moore / Nietzche, it’s like looking into the abyss and laughing in it’s face, because the only other option is to be hypnotised with terror.
Writing this now, there was a news story about a viral sensation mocking ISIS by creating videos that parody their tactics. This is the same humour. Problem with humour is, like Frankie Boyle found out, not everyone gets the joke.
Don’t get me wrong, when I read those first chapters, I felt dirty, and certainly didn’t want to read on. But when I did, I found myself more and more agreeing with Moore. This isn’t a book about horror, or the evil’s that man does. it’s not just about the shallow veneer of civilisation, or the revelation of the Freudian unconscious drives, it’s about the opposite. It accepts their existence, but looks out at the horror of the world and says, “but we’re not like that!” Because if we were, there would be chaos. We simply would not be able to function as a species.
It posits the reverse of the sentiment we hear constantly – that without law, or order, or religion, or capitalism or some other external system to keep us in check then our lives would be hell on earth. The way I read the whole “crossed” motif is that Ennis is attributing the madness, in part, to those systems themselves.
Why do the crossed commit such vile acts? For pleasure. For entertainment. Ennis is presenting us with the lie given by Randian individualists. Civilisation, and society is a product of our ability to co-operate, our ability to relate and empathise with each other, our ability to control the basest parts of our drives for mutual benefit.
Agreed that Ennis lays this on a bit thick when he talks about the horrors committed by the crossed as being nothing that man hadn’t otherwise created, but I think within the context of the book, this is “a necessary evil” (by which I mean that crossed is in some way didactic, and that it could not be otherwise due to it’s content).
Is it torture porn? It’s excessive, definitely, but I don’t think of it as Torture porn. It has no hallmarks of trying to festishise torture, like in, say, James Bond, or Zero Dark Thirty, or 24. There’s no moody lighting, no extremes of black or white, no slow pans over the instruments. The torturers are not rich or powerful, or doing it to save the world. They don’t have almighty on their side. They are not just. There is no ticking time bomb.
In short, there are no excuses.
The torturers are just lunatics. We see them in a harsh, absurdist light. We poke fun at them: The weirdos. The terrifying weirdos.
We are not supposed to identify them in any way, or look up to them as role models. We’re supposed to fear and ridicule and be disgusted by them.
The inclusion of the sex murderer did seem clunky at first, but I think Ennis was trying to compare this guy with the crossed. In the end, even this sick twisted individual taking pleasure in sick twisted acts, isn’t like the crossed. His murderous drives were the perversion of his sexuality and his lack of place in society, manifestating as a symbolic act to try and reconcile these aspects of his psychology, not, just, simply to achieve gratification. Furthermore, in the disintegration of society, he “comes out” to his gang, because he has trouble living with the shame – he displays guilt, which is a nuanced take on this kind of subject. Ennis seems to be saying that not even sex murderers are wholly evil.
Maybe Ennis is also asking us what evil is.
Are the crossed really, truly evil? They seem to be in control of their actions in so much as they can navigate the world – they’re not deranged – they merely seem to have no filter. But in this respect, it’s odd that the drives for acceptance, for love and for belonging are not ones that are expressed as you might think would be the case for someone with no ability to repress their subconcious. If they are evil, then evil is the deliberate, and most importantly the enjoyment in causing the suffering of others.
That definition could also apply to the murderer, but the difference as I see it is that the murderer kills to sublimate the social frustration of their own repressed sexuality – a symbolic psychological act. Pleasure in this case is the orgasm sublimated and the by product of the kill, rather than the prime motive (although it could become an incentive for more).
The Crossed on the other hand, kill purely for the sake of pleasure – and furthermore their pleasure is unconsenting sadism. To the crossed, in order to derive full pleasure from the sadistic act, the recipient has to be unwilling – which is why they will always take an uncrossed in preference to the crossed.
Has anyone read Black Gas? Warren Ellis had the same idea in a 6 part serial he did for Avatar which came out shortly before Crossed. It would be interesting to do a comparison.
“Jeremy puts it quite well about fetishising suffering although his examples of James Bond and 24 confused me”Yeah, I guess that was a bit confusing. I was thinking along the lines of the scene in Casino royale where he’s in an interegation chair, and the homoerotic undertones with an oiled up bond, slick lighting and battle of wills between him and le chiffre. The bad guy of course having at Bond’s man hood (which seems like an odd / inefficient / non traditional form of torture).
And 24 where the viewer is supposed to sympathise with the good guy breaking all the rules and resorting to torture to stop a ticking bomb… That kind of torture porn.
Moreover, the reason I find it such a remarkable story has nothing to do with how horrible it is, but rather the opposite, how the cast struggle to hold onto some of their values in such utterly futile, hopeless circumstances. Why do people stubbornly keep going when they have nothing left to live for in the face of utter despair?
The story was clearly inspired in part by Cormac McCarthy’s excellent novel, The Road, but even that story has the loving bond between the father and the son to keep things bearable amidst the horrors whereas even that’s denied to the cast of this story as the boy becomes a Crossed. That for me is the point when the story goes from being a good read to something special.
And yet the cast, (and the soliders shutting down the nuclear plants) keep struggling on, trying to do the right thing, taking care of one another (even though they’re barely friends), protecting a blind vulnerable girl and adopting a dog despite the risks of doing so. I’m reminded of that Vonnegut line, when someone asked him the meaning of life, he answered ‘We’re here to get each other through this thing, whatever it is’ I found the ending, when the two of them are finally making a connection as the dog strolls loyally alongside them to be one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in fiction. If anyone else felt that, then I’d strongly recommend the film ‘Last Night’ about how people in a Canadian city spend their last night before the apocalypse which tackles similar themes from a different angle.
By the way, there have been plenty of other crossed comics since, by a variety nondescript artists and writers including Ennis and, currently Alan Moore, (crossed +100, set in 2108). They’re a mixed bunch but none are as thoughtful or intense as the original. Ennis’ stories are mostly about the Crossed virus in the uk and the original outbreak. Probably the best one Si Spurrier’s ‘Crossed : wish you were here’ (about some survivors on a scottish island) which you can find here as a free webcomic
This is my first write-up for the Forum – I’d already read Crossed years ago and wasn’t that impressed, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to revisit and possibly re-evaluate it. However, my opinion on it remains pretty much the same – having already been engrossed by The Walking Dead, Crossed seemed to feel a little too similar, albeit even more grotesque. I know that The Walking Dead features zombies and Crossed features totally immoral, id-driven humans-turned-monsters, but aside from that difference, the hook is pretty much the same – the survivors must keep moving, keep surviving, maybe try to retain their humanity in the process. There were a lot of moments in Crossed where I felt deja vu. I loved Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, which balanced a gripping plot with great characters and outrageous humour, and I was prepared for Crossed to deliver a far darker experience, potentially the final word in disturbing, fucked-up horror, possibly even The Walking Dead – The Hardcore Version.
Crossed definitely delivers on the unimaginably horrible violence factor, even though the sicko in me was surprised that it wasn’t that bad– but the shocks don’t linger in the mind, maybe because it omly works for me on a freak-show level. There is some genuine WTF imagery to be experienced, but it’s the kind of nastiness that’s close to Human Centipede 2territory – basically, heavily sexualised, barrier-bursting BLEURGH-ness. Given Ennis’ previous penchant for a gross-out image (usually in a wickedly funny context), the gore here sometimes felt like nothing more than an attempt to outdo the competition (and himself) – simply a case of ‘just how fucked-up can I make this?’ – which was quite jaw-dropping in Preacher and the early volumes of The Boys (which I grew pretty tired of after a while) but feels a little forced here. This stuff is horrible, but strangely remote – it has little emotional impact beyond the shock of what’s literally happening, maybe because the early wave of violence is all happening to people we know little about – now obviously that shouldn’t make it any less shocking to witness, but I think Ennis’ decision to go all-out and hurl us immediately into the chaos, whilst making for an instantly arresting opening, is too-much, too-soon for me. Kirkman went for the slow-burn, Ennis has gone for the grab-you-and-shake-you-up approach. Neither approach is intrinsically better than the other, but I know which one I prefer in this instance. There aren’t many interesting characters in Crossed, just plenty of functional ones– you know, the stoic one, the deluded one, the arsehole, the kid – it just felt a bit stock and by-the-numbers, and after The Walking Dead, the whole survival of the emotionally deadest is a bit old-hat. Maybe I’m just sick of epidemic stories.
Also, like The Walking Dead occasionally it also suffers from functional, lacking-in-flair A-B-C dialogue, but in the former I can forgive it because for better or worse it does propel the no-nonsense intensity of the story along, whereas in Crossed it feels aimless. Of course, these are meant to be real people like you and me, and that could be the reason for not having any larger-than-life characters to journey with, while the lack of plot obviously mirrors the lack of direction and hope for the characters, I suppose. It does make it a struggle to remain intrigued though, this whole dead-eyed approach. There are some moments which do go further into the dark than you expected it would go – yes, the kid turns evil– but who is this kid, really? Once you get over the horrible filth he’s saying to his mum and the bit right after when he gets his head blown off, I couldn’t really care less. He was just there in the background throughout, and now he’s being used as a shock effect. There’s no arc or draw to the characters – no gradual fall from grace, no tension between right and wrong, they’re pretty much dead inside from the off with a functional dash of regret after the latest abominable act of violence just so we can differentiate the good guys from the bad guys.
I think that if you are less fatigued by this kind of sub-genre, you know, the everything is fucked one, and if you’re prone to recoil from very nasty imagery, then Crossed will have a lasting impact, but I felt this had been done before, and better, if not nastier. Good artwork, mind you. 🙂
Wow. I’m surprised / impressed! There was me thinking that it was just going to be emails going: “What the hell is this god-damn awful comic you’re making us all read?!” (Who knows? Maybe that’s still to come?)
Just some quick stuff I wanted to comment on:
There seems to be a lot of you who didn’t really seem to be that affected by Crossed (“I’d heard much about the horrific acts depicted, and they are pretty horrific, but they seemed more absurdly comedic than anything” “Also, I’m not sure I believe anyone could have nightmares about this book, you must have left pretty sheltered lives!” “Crossed is one of the best things I’ve ever read but I didn’t find it any more horrific than, say, Battle Royale, Barefoot Gen, history books about the Eastern front in WW2” etc) and yeah – well – I mean that’s a whole thing in and of itself right? I mean – obviously we all know that different people will react in different ways to the same thing: but speaking as someone who’s still scared to go back and revisit the book (I feel like I have to steel myself up to read it: like running a marathon through hell or something) I’ll admit that I’m kinda surprised.
I mean – on one level its seems like you guys (and it does seem to be guys so far which is interesting – are there no women who want to comment? Or are they all staying away? I mean – speaking from doing Comic Forums in different places The Walking Dead enjoys a fanbase across all genders: and I wonder if the same would apply to Crossed? Or is it a much more type of “male-horror”? Does such a thing exist?) are mainly just talking about the images – but for me the nightmare comes across with the way that story works. The stuff with the salt at the start is so horrible not only because of that double-page spread (shudder): but because it’s preempted by the hope that this stuff is going to work and by the story awareness that the bad guys always have a weakness of somesort – right? (Especially vampires – man: garlic, crosses, holy water, sunlight etc – how do those guys even get out of the house?) and so when the salt fails to stop them and we get the consequences (with his wife screaming at him what a fucking idiot he is? I mean – like I said – I haven’t re-read it yet): yeah – I mean: that’s one of the most bone-chilling things I’ve ever read / ever seen.
And yeah – hopefully not to be too much of a dick about it: but also – I think that’s how it’s supposed to work? Like: you’re supposed to read Crossed and be disturbed and horrified and maybe even have nightmares. I mean: it’s a horror comic. Like: do you guys see a comedy and then boast afterwards: “Yeah – I can’t believe you thought that was funny – I never laughed once! It was great!” I mean: scary things should be scary no? Of course maybe this is the different people work in different ways thing – the majority of horror movies have very little affect on me: you know – lots of silence followed by a loud sound just doesn’t do anything for me at all. And horror comics – well yeah – what other horror are even out there? I mean there’s Alan Moore’s Neonomicon which is – yeah: it’s alright (The Courtyard is better but yeah): but – that didn’t really leave me anywhere near as shaken as Crossed did. Crossed left me feeling bereft – like someone has turned a light off inside me. And if you didn’t feel that – then – well: I don’t know: I guess I feel like you missed the main point of it maybe? More heart less brain or whatever.
I think a lot of that is down to expectations though – if you go into it expecting nightmares – nothing can really match your imagination in that regard. It’s possibly experience, too. When you see stuff on the news everyday that is similar or worse than depicted in Crossed then you’ve become immune to it in some degree, and a comic will never match some of the images we’re confronted with every day.
Maybe also this is down to Garth Ennis’ writing too. Someone said earlier that there are no characters who you can relate or get attached too. One of the great things in the TV version of the walking dead (and I’m thinking of the complexities of the Grove from Season 4 in particular), even more so the tell tale video game is that you really grew to like the characters so that when the inevitable happened, it really came as a punch to the gut. By not having characters you can invest in their deaths have no meaning, there’s no emotional impact – they are literally dehumanised. Even the death of the main characters son, and the way the mother just blows her son away – the scene has no resonance, despite the book leading up to that point.
You can tell I’m having trouble telling the characters apart as I can’t even remember their names….
It’s interesting to compare the events of The Grove to crossed. For those of you who haven’t seen it, spoilers abound…
In the Grove, two of the survivors have taken in two children – pre-teen sisters, one of whom has become convinced that the Zombies are not a threat, and don’t really mean to hurt you. She feels deeply when the zombies are killed by her survivor comrades. Whilst one of the survivors is away, one of ths sisters kills her little sister – an innocent – in order to prove her point. When the two remaining adult survivors realise that there is no way they can keep this girl alive, having to struggle against zombies, and how much of a liability she is, they realise the only choice they have is to kill her. The sheer hopelessness of the situation, the sense of how much of a sin it is, and also how unavoidable it is is effectively communicated by the acting and plot – and when it happens, although it’s not seen in the show, it really hits home. Comparing this to the same type of scene in Crossed, the execution of the children in their beds seems unnecessary, and although it’s referenced later, it seems like something which hasn’t impacted on the executioners. How can you relate to people that show no traces of humanity?
If there’s anything I took away from crossed, it was a kind of detached, hollowness.
Even the scene with salt guy and wife being raped rang hollow, with the wife berating her husband – it just seemed…. odd.
I think it’s poor form to suggest you have more ‘heart’ than someone else just because they didn’t respond to a work of fiction in the same way as you. For what it’s worth, I was more affected by most of the things I mentioned such as Barefoot Gen because they were about things that happened to REAL people, (and even Battle Royale references a lot of stuff that happened in fascist Japan during WW2) which in my opinion makes them infinitely more horrifying than what happens to a bunch of fictional constructs in a fantasy situation, regardless of how well written it is. But to each their own.
“Poor form”? Uh oh. I don’t want to be poor forming. I’m aiming for rich form (is that a thing? Because if not that should totally be a thing).
Maybe I should try and explain myself a little better (in fact – maybe next time maybe I should read over what I wrote before I click “send”? But then – hey – where’s the fun in that?): I guess the thing that I’m trying to get at – the point that I’m gesturing towards is about what affects us and why: Tam – you made the very good point that it makes more sense to be emotionally affected by the things that are real rather than the things that are fictional: and – well yeah: what can anyone say that? That just seems so obviously true and right and correct. I mean – there’s not even a way to put it anymore obviously than by saying the stuff that happens to real people is real and the stuff that happens to fake people is fake and obviously real is realer than fake and we should be more concerned and more emotionally invested in the real stuff (if anyone else wants to write this up in a way that makes more sense and doesn’t sound so obvious/dumb then – ha! – that would be a big help…).
Only – well: I’m not sure that I feel the same way.
What I mean by this is not to say that if there was a choice between saving a real person or saving a fictional person that I would save the fictional person. No – real life matters more than fiction. And it would be better to live in a world where all the real people were happy than a world where all the fictional people were happy (obviously obviously). Nah – what I’m getting at – is what affects me personally and how I respond to stuff and what makes me – well – feel things and if I had to sum it up then yeah – it’s stories and how the stories I hear are constructed. I mean – just to get the other disclaimers out the way: if I hear two identical stories about something bad happening to someone and I’m told that one is real and one is fake – then the one that’s real will make me feel worse (“That really happened to someone? Oh god – now I feel terrible.”) BUT – if the story that is real is not even a story but just a bland announcement of the facts and the fake story is an expertly constructed piece of fiction that plays with my feelings in a devious way then – well yeah: that’s why reading Crossed has more of an effect on me than watching news (but then I don’t really watch the news that much: which might have something to do with it – but that’s like a whole other story).
And this is what I was getting at I guess with my ill-advised “more heart less brain or whatever” comment (and hey not to give too much of my psyche away or anything but if it was a choice I’d probably opt for more brain over less heart: but maybe that’s just me?): that even tho the news is real and Crossed is just colours on paper – the fiction affects me more. Because it’s constructed in such a way as to produce certain effects.
Like: a few folk have mentioned that “mother” panel where the kid turns around and you realise he’s gone crossed (is that how to phrase it? “gone crossed”?): and yeah – ok – just by itself it’s not all that much – but in terms of everything that has proceeded it: all that Cindy has been through, all that all of them have been through: and what her son means to her (not to mention the whole swearing thing): I mean – that’s a really really big moment. And to hear (what sounds like) people shrug it off and go: well – you know – it could have been worse or to say: well – try watching the news sometime. Well: I would say (in the politest possible terms obviously – rich form and all the rest) – that it feels like (to me) that a point has been missed or even (to go further) that you’re not reading the story properly. Because a story is not individual moments (because otherwise – yeah: a kid cursing: well – who cares right?) but with everything up until that point (with all the context) – well: it’s harrowing. And you should be harrowed. No?
Of course: you may all reply to just say: yeah – we know all it – it just didn’t do it for us. In which case – well: ok. To each their own. 🙂
I finally had a re-read last night. It wasn’t anywhere near as awful and horrific it was the first time round (but then I guess you can’t re-create that first ever sense of shock): but yeah – it’s still a really great comic. Much more hopeful than I remembered (going back to bury the kid: and the last few pages of them walking off into the mountains): but yeah – I agree with what Mazin said all the way back up top: that whole “we are all the Crossed” speech could have used just a little bit of toning down – but then I guess you can’t have everything huh?
Barbican Comic Forum
Okay, I avoided Crossed earlier because Joel gave me his opinion on it and I didn’t think I was in the mood for something that horrible. Fortunately/Unfortunately I borrowed it just before he announced it would be discussed so I have just finished reading it (and the previous posts).
The discussion of how much something effects you is interesting. I think seeing something for the first time has a strong effect. When I first saw Secrets and Lies (recommended) I cried buckets, but not the second time. When I first read the fight scene between Durkon and Malack in the pyramid in Order of the stick, the same. Now I’ve just bought and read the book, I’m not so effected. And outside influences can also change your response. When I read Shirley Jacksons The Haunting of Hill House (highly recommended subtle horror) I WOULD have spent the whole evening quietly freaking out, but a minor problem on my personal life distracted me. If I had been perfectly happy and content I would have been far more terrified. Also anything/everything about lovecraftian horrors from beyond the abyss, especially squid-faced horrors REALLY irritates me so any such horror will go unappreciated by me.