Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crossed Badlands: American Quitters

Oh Mr. Ennis, what a twisted and beautiful world you have conceived with Crossed. It's nothing if not deviantly horrific, wonderfully grotesque, and inconsistently poignant. A breath of fetid air in a landscape dominated by uninspired zombie horror and derivative Hellboy knock-offs and megapublishers pushing "unconventional superhero" lust on the comic hungry public. Crossed, such an amalgamation of the zombie idea, intermingled with a healthy dose of the Crazies, a landscape of doomed souls that make the Sawyers in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 seem functional and humane, with all the whims of Rob Zombie's Firefly family but none of their subtleties. A supervirus that degrades a persons humanity to such a base level where pain feels good, bleeding out is no longer a sure death, and attacks are coordinated and often clever rather than the sheepish and generally avoidable assault of a typical Romero inspired zombie. Not kid stuff for sure.

The strength of the arc in Crossed is more often than not determined solely by the writer. Ennis churns out consistently readable fare, but it's Ennis so that kind of goes without saying. David Lapham is an obvious talent, as well, but his stories are often the most deviant in the series: the "Psychopath" arc, for instance, will likely make you feel like showering after reading. For my money, I prefer the talents of Si Spurrier who penned the "Wish You Were Here" Crossed mini-series and many others. In the case of "American Quitters", the most recently wrapped arc in Crossed Badlands, Spurrier is at the helm and proves himself a powerhouse of clever writing. Cheeky, profane, insightful, funny... these three issues I think establish him as one of just a few truly unique horror writers in comics today.

Basically a buddy road movie of a tale, "American Quitters" follows biker Erroll and hippie Frank (who rides a sweeeeet Vespa) as they make their way through the American southwest to San Diego's coast. It's pretty amazing how full the story is considering it's only a three issue arc, but Spurrier seems to be adept at this level of storytelling, making it breezy and heavy simultaneously. He creates two antiheroes that are hard to like, but easy to root for, in a landscape as natural seeming as any post-apocalyptic America that's been portrayed before. What I think I found most unique in this particular tale, was the third person narrative that Spurrier has injected, giving the story an almost legendary quality. The bard, if you will, telling of the tragic last days of two of the least villainous "heroes" I've come across in the world of Crossed.

As good as Spurrier's writing is... and yeah, if I wasn't clear enough already: It's freaking good... Just as good is the art of Raphael Ortiz. No stranger to Avatar Press titles like Crossed and Dan the Unharmable, Ortiz's work is undeniably gorgeous to look at. It's appropriately gritty, and here Ortiz perfectly manages to convey what a grindhouse comic SHOULD look like. His detail and coloring is up there with Ryp, Robertson, and Darrow and he draws some breathtaking splash pages here with every little detail and nuance and all the gore imaginable included. These are drawings that you could scrutinize endlessly, and the wrap covers to each issue? Unbelievable really. Some of the best I've seen since I started flipping through this bi-monthly title.

Fans of horror not reading Crossed have some catching up to do. Already compiled in 6 trade paperbacks and issue 40 coming up next there is a lot of back story out there to familiarize oneself with here. Obviously if you fall into the camp of horror aficionado, you are doing yourself a disservice by not reading at least this brilliant arc (which consists of issues 37-39). Especially when comics these days all want to take the safe road and spin off something related to the Walking Dead (a title that I can now safely call underwhelming) or other zombie tropes. This series is a punch in the guts of doing things safe. If you can't handle the gore, or the notion of reading about deviants (both the crossed variety and the survivor variety) doing what deviants would do in an unchecked world on the brink of complete devastation then don't. but also don't be so quick to write it off as horror for the sake of upsetting the reader. Many of these stories, "American Quitters" included, are insightful and border profound, with observations of current politics, social hierarchies, and the modern pecking order in critique. If you're not up for the challenge, don't come crying to me.

1 comment:

drutubechannel said...

Even standing in the comic book store and "trying" to glimpse at the 4th book was near impossible, to glimpse that is...for as twisted as the stories and art is, I get drawn into that stuff. Needless to say I nearly read the whole book front to back. Probably should go and get #5 or something. Great review though. The pictures here don't do the books justice. Really have to see some of this shit in consecutive order.