Posted by: Joe McCulloch on October 10, 2008
Crossed #1 (of 9)
I wish I was 12 again so I could beg my beloved great aunt to buy me this comic solely on the basis of its cover. She’d go “oooh, that’s a scary one,” and purchase the hell out of it, because that’s just how we rolled in that wing of my semi-immediate family. One of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics she bought me was the start of the Michael Zulli run, where Splinter is puking up mystic rock totems and having a psychic war with Shredder while the Turtles — snarling, indistinguishable monsters all — literally rip Foot ninjas to pieces left and right. Sure beat Saturday morning.
But I am older now, and I have my own money to spend however I see fit. Careful, mature considerations go into my every purchase, subtle tumblings of value that led me, perhaps inevitably, to a different economic decision, befitting an adult of my age and social position:
It looks like a boy being thrown out the door at first, but then you can open the comic and see all the things happening on the rest of the airplane! Note the young child being hanged from an oxygen mask cord way in the back; it’s the little details that win my variant cover dollars, provided nobody’s doing anything silly like charging extra money. I’ll settle for the axe under those circumstances.
Anyway, this is the start of the new Garth Ennis/Jacen Burrows series from Avatar, in case the covers weren’t clear enough on that. One thing might be tricky, though – despite that issue #1 marking, the true beginning of the story actually showed up in a shorter and less expensive issue #0 from a while back, as is Avatar’s current practice.
That actually led to a decent little visual trick: the colorist for issue #0 — depicting the start of a mysterious, zombie-like onslaught of smirking living people with cross-shaped scars on their faces, relieved of any sense of morality or restraint — was Avatar mainstay Greg Waller, who depicted everything in his characteristically shiny manner, with the gore in particular taking on a too-bold H.G. Lewis sort of Grand Guignol texture. In contrast, issue #1 is colored by ‘Juanmar,’ who (which?) takes a much dimmer approach, rendering all the world as in perpetual sundown and all the blood as mucky and browner; even the flashback bits are faded, like issue #0 and Waller got to be the shock of the new, and all the rest of color could do was respond.
I don’t know if that was planned, but it’s there, you know?
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot else of interest going on in this comic. I do think Burrows is good for the material; he has this uninhibited passion for the grotesque that he matches with a cartoon-clinical visual approach in a manner that borders on droll. It’s fitting for a comic about lots of people going nuts in a world that still sort of has the facade of ours, and Ennis tosses in a recurring motif of people staring at things from a distance for that extra touch of detachment.
It also means, however, that the comic isn’t much for immediate shocks; a bit with a scary woman popping up on one side of a fence is about as dispassionate as I can imagine (granted, Ennis doesn’t help by having the character spout some dialogue before going “WAAAAHH!!“). Burrows also lacks distinction in his character designs – the main characters are fine, but the various grinning hordes have a way of looking less like people with similar facial expressions than people with similar faces, if you catch my drift.
Still, what’s really indistinct right now is Ennis’ plot, which is almost entirely a by-the-numbers survival horror-styled zombie(ish) thing, relayed to us via many narrative captions by an observant good-man-hanging-on sort of writer character. It’s middling setup stuff (there’s no medical services! life is hard! unafflicted survivors must band together, personality clashes be damned!) spiked only by the writer’s total disdain for frilly mysticism and nerd naiveté; when a huffing fantasy gamer pops up (“Dungeons and Dragons, do you even know what you’re talking about? It was Magic the —“) the page all but drips with contempt, and the story goes on to show what awful things happen to such losers and all the doomed fucks that rely on his bullshit in a hard, dark world.
It’s a particularly nasty gore scene that takes that one, a double-page spread given Burrows’ full, chilled attention. I notice that the book takes some pains to avoid depicting genitals or sexual penetration, this in spite of panels like that of an infected woman being squished under a truck’s tires, guts spilling out as she screams “JESUS I’M FUCKIN COMIN” from a mouth pouring blood. Funny that you can see the invisible threshold beyond which the book would maybe have to go in a plastic bag or get racked way beyond where my great aunt would have ever bought it for me, external signals meaning everything.
EH right now, though all the cross images (and, er, the title) suggests that Ennis may be gearing up for another look at the old religion; I don’t know if that’ll be any more intriguing, but it’ll at least add another element on top of literalizing the bottomless hunger within that’s plain from most any surface look at the zombie subgenre, to say nothing of the foibles of packed-in survivors.