Garth Ennis is re-teaming with his "Chronicles of Wormwood" collaborator Jacen Burrows on Avatar's "Crossed," a post apocalyptic survival horror story without a zombie in sight. The series begins with a #0 issue in August, and proceeds to a monthly schedule with October's issue #1. CBR News spoke to Ennis and Burrows about the series Ennis has called "the most disturbing and fucked up thing" he has ever written.
In the post-apocalyptic setting of "Crossed," the planet has been ravaged by a worldwide infection that turns its victims into remorseless, homicidal maniacs. The infection is spread by bodily fluids, often by bite, and victims can be identified by a telltale cross-shaped rash across their faces. The infestation is similar to a zombie outbreak, but Ennis insists the similarities between the Crossed and the undead end there.
"The Crossed are simply people who've turned to evil, utterly dedicated to exploring every foul thought that's ever occurred to them," Garth Ennis told CBR News. "Murder, rape, carnage-- the more devastating and inventive it is, the better they like it. As such, they'll exploit every physical and mental resource at their disposal, heedless of any possible harm. So even a five-year-old girl's going to be dangerous, given that she doesn't care what happens to her while she's going all out to chew your eyelids off."
Jacen Burrows said "Crossed" is "straight horror" that pulls no punches. "It is a story about survival and what you would do to keep going when everything you know is gone and the world is overflowing with the worst elements of the humanity," the artist said.
In August's "Crossed" #0, we're introduced to Stan, Cindy, Thomas and Kelly, a motley crew who band together in the wake of the initial outbreak. "They're a pretty ordinary bunch, with few resources and little expertise, beyond what they've gained through hard experience," Ennis said. "No one's going to be suddenly announcing that they used to be a Navy Seal, or anything convenient of that nature."
Cindy, who is working as a diner waitress when the "Crossed" outbreak begins, is easily the most capable of the bunch. Said Ennis, "Cindy's obviously a tough cookie and a pretty capable, adaptable type-- though even that's a product of her outlook on life and determination to protect her son rather than any specific training or preparation."
"Crossed" #0 is in Ennis' words ten pages of "all-out carnage, horror piled upon horror to the point of sensory overload." October's Issue #1 is set a year after the initial Crossed outbreak, when the infection has taken hold of 99% of the planet's population. "The Crossed are in the ascendant, but things are a little quieter at first because there just aren't that many people left to kill," Ennis said. "Each issue will have a flashback sequence, where we'll see how our little band survived the first days of chaos and slaughter to get to the point where they are now."
The origins of the infection are going to be fairly nebulous for most of the story. "This is a story about a small band of survivors in a world gone to hell, not of heroic warriors and ingenious scientists cooking up some grand plan to restore the status quo," Ennis said. "You're too busy staying alive by the skin of your teeth to start experimenting or analyzing, so you've no time for anything beyond guesswork-- which is itself difficult, when you've only the vaguest sense of what the bigger picture might be."
Our heroes don't know the significance of the rash at the beginning of the story, but its resemblance to a crucifix is nothing if not cause for speculation. "You can probably imagine the kind of speculation it gives rise to amongst the survivors," Ennis remarked. "All the same, who cares if it's God's judgment or something born in a lab-- you've got to keep moving, you could be dead or worse any time in the next ten minutes."
Believe it or not, "Crossed" actually came to Ennis in a dream. The writer had been staying with some friends, and dreamed that their house was surrounded by zombies. "I was watching the action unfold from afar while being involved in it, in that weird way that dreams have where you can observe and participate at the same time," Ennis said. "Then I realized that the crowd outside weren't zombies at all, they were simply people who'd turned evil-- deeply, irrevocably evil-- and were looking forward to indulging all manner of foul intentions as soon as they got their hands on their intended victims. The looks on their faces said it all, a sense of cruel yet delighted anticipation." Ennis also cited Max Brooks' "World War Z" and Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as influences for the project.
Ennis has described "Crossed" as "the most fucked-up thing" he's ever written, and that's a saying a lot for a man who's known for pushing the envelope when it comes to ultraviolence. "Some of this stuff runs pretty close to or even past what I assumed were my own limits," Ennis confessed. "It's not butchery for the sake of it-- a typical issue of 'Crossed' will contain relatively few extreme images or incidents, perhaps only one or two (but they will be pretty far out there). What I'm attempting to do is temper the slaughter with a good deal of character development; I'm trying to show people hanging onto their humanity as well as their lives. Just barely and by their fingernails, of course."
When it comes to the book's disturbing content, Burrows said that Ennis was not exaggerating. "I don't want to give any of these 'oh shit' moments away but I will say that we aren't going for laughs here," Burrows warned.Â "This series is going to leave scars. But like all good horror, it is also going to make you think about what it means to be alive and what it costs to survive."
"Crossed" promises to be heavy on horror, and light on Ennis' traditional dark humor. "The world's a pretty grim place at the moment, and little is being done to alleviate matters," Ennis said. "We're able to tolerate war, genocide, and famine; we're happy to ignore devastation by earthquake, hurricane and tsunami. Body counts mean nothing. Our governments are full of scum who plainly don't care about the welfare of their people and are happy to let them founder. Seen in that light, the notion of humor in a story of global catastrophe just didn't sit very well with me.
"I went to see 'Iron Man' recently, which attempts to incorporate real world problems into a superhero story, and to me that simply rendered the guy-with-powers fantasy even more meaningless than usual," Ennis continued. "There is no one like this, nor will there ever be. The world cannot be knocked into the kind of shape we want. It actually helped crystallize some of the thoughts I've had about Crossed: there are no heroes, no one's coming to save you, you're on your own. Now: survive."
Burrows said he and Ennis have been looking for a project to work on together since "Chronicles of Wormwood" ended, and that the writer handpicked him for "Crossed." "This is a dream project for me," Burrows said.Â "It perfectly fits my aesthetic and narrative style."
When it comes to Burrows, Ennis had difficulty singling out any one aspect of the artist's work because "he's brilliant at everything." Ennis went on to say that Burrows' work "combines the storytelling genius of Steve Dillon with the amazing inventiveness of Frank Quitely; I trust him to carry the narrative while at the same time throw in some surprises and delights all his own. We share that odd semi-telepathy I've had with a few artists, most obviously Steve, where I see the pages and wonder if he wasn't somehow able to look through my eyes while he was drawing them. One of the very, very best artists in comics, I'm truly lucky to be working with him."
"Garth is naturally very efficient with his scripts," Burrows added.Â "He doesn't need a lot to tell you everything you need to know to get it right which I think is one of his biggest strengths.Â Even '303,' our first project, wasn't particularly dense in word count but I know that he trusts me to get what he's going for and to make smart storytelling decisions that fit."
"Crossed" #0 hits stands this August, and issues #1 through #9 will be published monthly starting in October
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