I have a hard time recommending Garth Ennis to anyone I know personally. It reflects something about ones character to say that you read and seem to enjoy stories written by a man that is so very clearly demented, a man that has sick, sick thoughts he deemed fit to commit to paper and unleash upon the consumer culture.
I’m not extensive on Ennis’s back catalogue. I’ve read the whole Preacher series and part one of The Boys. Ennis’s characters can often be too brash, too much machismo swagger for my tastes, the dialogue can be a little idealized and familiar, and the sex and violence often moves beyond comically gratuitous and into the realm of downright grating. But all in all, the stories are fun and he knows how to keep a reader hooked.
Crossed lacks Ennis’s balance of humor and darkness, his normal attitude of “The world’s fucked, we might as well crack a few jokes along the way to apocalypse.” The humor in Crossed comes in fits and spurts, nowhere near the centerpiece of the characters personalities. Crossed sees Ennis at a level of darkness that’s unsettling, which is say a lot for him.
In his version of a zombie apocalypse tale, a disease is spreading across the human race where peoples lack of self preservation clicks off and their every wanton desire, their every twisted fantasy, their every murderous thought becomes their driving force. These people are known as the Crossed, namely for the lesions that appear across their face in a cross pattern. The difference with Ennis’s vision of a zombie tale is that there is no happy ending in sight, no fighting back, no rescue, only avoidance of the threat. The only battle is the characters ability to maintain their humanity.
Crossed is Ennis’s meditation on humanity, on what makes us human, what happens when we lose it, and how brittle the latticework holding it up appears to be. It’s a new side of Ennis I haven’t seen before: A more mature, and subsequently darker side, growing out of the voice of demented carnival barker and into one of Cormac McCarthy gone completely psychotic.
In a way, I respect Ennis more after reading this. I was this close to writing him off as a shock master, a little too quick to reach for the rape and murder as a plot changing device. With Crossed, those ingredients are there (in sickening supply) but they are there in a way that shines a light on the evil that humans are capable of and how close we are to committing those kinds of evils, given the right circumstances.