As I approached the counter at my local comic book shop with “Crossed: Badlands” #1 in my hand, the vendor felt compelled to issue a warning. This series is not for the faint of heart. Heck, you could argue that it’s not even meant for the well-adjusted among us. During his first run on “Crossed,” Garth Ennis delivered depths of violence, sadism and gore making “The Walking Dead” look like a Disney production; my comic shop owner wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into. The gleeful grin stuck on my face as he spoke to me not only informed him that I am already a fan of the previous series, but also seemed to frighten him a little. Okay, maybe a lot.
For those unfamiliar with Ennis’ work or any of the “Crossed” publications to date, the need for discretion cannot be stressed enough. Centering on a different take on the apocalyptic virus genre, “Crossed: Badlands” #1 is not populated with the living dead, moaning as they scuttle ever-closer; rather, “Crossed” is a world of unrestrained murderers, rapists, sadists, cannibals, perverts, torturers, necrophiliacs, paraphiliacs, zoosadists, vorarephiliacs… you get the idea. Even as a time-hardened horror aficionado, the initial run of Ennis’ “Crossed” caused me to put the book down in visceral, palpable disgust nearly once an issue. Yet Ennis’ compelling characterization kept me coming back for more.
Of course, the horror and disgust I mentioned in “Crossed” was not the work of Ennis alone, but was brought to life (and to swift, brutal death) by Jacen Burrows, who returns in “Crossed: Badlands” #1. Burrows’ pencils are unsettlingly detailed and the two pages of gore within this first issue proves once again he is quite at home with blood-curdling, disgusting violence (and I mean that in the best way possible). Digikore Studios handles the colors in the issue with a deft touch, making the scenes of survival overwhelmingly drab and lifeless, providing a tense contrast to the spurts and splashes of red hiding behind any given page. Although a new artist is primed to take over the book by the fourth issue, Burrows & Digikore have brought back the sense of foreboding that comprises the world of “Crossed.”
If there is a drawback to “Crossed: Badlands” #1, it’s that the issue feels written for fans of the first series, rather than intended for new readers. As a single issue it works but as a first issue it remains wanting, as anyone new to the series wouldn’t fully understand why these survivors are so terrified of the Crossed. One could also quibble with the stupidity of some of the dialogue between the survivors: while it adds a rare comedic touch to a horror book, it begs the question of how these men have been able to survive to this point. One aspect of the series captured here in the inaugural issue of “Badlands” is the individual characteristics of each of the Crossed themselves. Again, contrary to zombies, the Crossed are living people with their own relationships and idiosyncrasies and as “Crossed: Badlands” #1 shows the reader, those unique details are just one more tool Ennis employs to shock and horrify.
“Crossed: Badlands” #1 is a promising issue for what I hope is an excellent series. If you are new to the book I would urge two things upon you: trust that issue #1 is just the tip of the iceberg and… courage.