Ennis Discusses "Crossed: Badlands'" Plague Origin Story Arc

Legendary writer Garth Ennis returned to the most violent series he ever created when he kicked off the seven-part epic "The Thin Red Line" in "Crossed: Badlands" #50, with art by Christian Zanier. Created by Ennis in 2008, the Avatar Press published horror series follows the stories of survivors in a world plagued by a virus that turns any human it comes into contact with into violent, psychotic murderers with a cross-shaped scar burned into their faces. And now, after years of tales set in possibly the most violently disturbing post-apocalyptic environment ever depicted, its creator is finally revealing how this reality came to be.

Ennis, best-known for his runs on "Preacher," "The Boys" and "Punisher," spoke with CBR News about his return to "Crossed," discussing the reason for his decision to reveal the secret behind the plague, why he thinks it's time for a female creator to try their hand at a "Crossed" story and more.

CBR News: Garth, what's your new "Crossed: Badlands" story about?

Garth Ennis: "The Thin Red Line" tells the story of the original "Crossed" outbreak, specifically in North Yorkshire, England. We see things from a number of points of view: Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister, struggling to keep control of his nation as things deteriorate both locally and internationally; a mysterious, unnamed casualty who may just hold the key to the whole thing; Tom and Jackie, a pair of Royal Air Force aircrew who've just been given a mission they could have done without; and Harry, Paddy, Taff and Jock, the heroes of last year's "The Fatal Englishman" -- in their original role as Brown's close protection bodyguard detail.

Why did you decide to finally reveal the origins of the "Crossed" outbreak after keeping it shrouded in mystery for so many years?

I'd been thinking about it for a while. Things came together when I realized I wanted to do more with the team from "The Fatal Englishman," albeit in what, for them, is technically a flashback.

"Crossed" is well-known for its shocking violence, so what do you have in store for fans this time around? Do you ever feel friendly competition with other "Crossed" writers to one-up them?

I suppose I do feel the need to throw in a couple of what might be termed 'spectaculars' every arc, such as last year's unpleasantness at the Palace Pier in Brighton. A little of that will go a long way towards reminding the reader how high the stakes are -- thus freeing me up to focus on story and character from then on. That said, "The Thin Red Line" tends more towards epic widescreen action for its set pieces; this is back in the beginning, when everything was falling apart in quite sudden and dramatic fashion, rather than the more focused, small-scale viciousness you tend to get in "Crossed." You'll also see a lot left simply to description or implication, particularly in the case of our mystery man and his strange mental decay.

I don't feel much sense of competition from other writers. We're all so different to begin with, and trying to trump each other in terms of extreme imagery would just be banal.

Crossed is unique among your creations in that it's handled by many different writers across several series. How do you maintain quality control on something like this?

That's more William Christensen's department. I said from the start that I didn't want much of an editorial role, not wanting to get bogged down with continuity minutiae or questions of taste. I think that was the right decision; several writers have gone much further than I would have, and any notion of censorship on my part would have been quite hypocritical (considering some of the things I've written over the years).

Are there any writers or artists you'd love to see contribute to a "Crossed" series in the future?

Again, that's really William's thing, although if everything pans out as we hope, there could be some quite interesting developments in the next year or so. Broadly speaking, I'd be interested in seeing people tackle some quieter, more psychological material -- many writers seem to feel a need to go all out with "Crossed," presumably because they think extreme material is the story's defining aspect (I don't think it necessarily needs to be).

Equally, given the current talk about women in comics, I'd be intrigued to see what a woman writer might make of "Crossed" -- although there you run the risk of assuming that a woman will necessarily do something radically different than one of her male counterparts, when in the case of both genders, it really comes down to individuals.

"Crossed: Badlands" #51 is available now from Avatar Press; Issue #52 arrives April 30.

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