Crossed +100 #1–6
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Gabriel Andrade
Colours by Digikore Studios
Letters by Jaymes Reed
Crossed created by Garth Ennis
Published by Avatar Press
The mark of a truly great writer is the ability to create work in any genre, even a genre you don’t necessarily enjoy, and surpass the expectations and limitations while demonstrating their skill and craft to open your eyes to a good story. Alan Moore does that here. Working in a zombie-like setting, he creates a new dialect for a post-destruction Earth, examines the nature of the concept and then pulls the rug from your feet while misdirecting you with his talent. It’s a phenomenal achievement.
Crossed is a concept created by Garth Ennis – a pandemic that turns the infected into homicidal psychopaths indulging in murder, cannibalism, rape, torture, who are marked by a rash on their faces in the shape of a cross (Ennis can’t escape his religion-baiting tendencies) but retain the same level of intelligence; transmission is via bodily fluids and is extremely quick, meaning that the world was overwhelmed within weeks. The execution of this idea in the first comic book was so horrific (I read the first issue and my stomach churned at a particularly noxious double-page spread at the end) that I have never read another issue, despite being a fan of Ennis. However, the thought of Moore turning his attentions to this world was too much to resist.
This story is set 100 years since the infection started; there are fewer infected around because they tend to eat their babies and have no care for survival, and humanity is beginning to re-emerge. The book focuses on Future Taylor, a young woman who is the archivist for the settlement of Chooga (formerly Chattanooga). She is with a team investigating local areas for information about the world (books, videos, maps) that will help the survivors continue to thrive, but also to understand what happened (although Future has a predilection for ‘wishful fiction’, i.e. sci-fi stories). During their journey, they come across a family of infected, something Future hasn’t seen before because it’s so rare. She also finds what looks like a small shrine to an uninfected man, which is incredibly strange. She also finds another one in a large (and familiar to us) mansion in Memphis, where they lose a member of their crew to the infection. They return to Chooga to discuss the outcomes with their community, which leads to the crew being sent out to the settlement of Murfreesboro for information and help. She learns from the Murfreesboro archivist that the photo in the shrine is that of a serial killer, and she finds video of what looks like infected being experimented on. It’s only when she’s on another expedition does she learn the full truth …
This is a fascinating book to read primarily because of the language – instead of people in the future using the same words and grammar, Moore has created a believable evolution of English that uses words from today in different but identifiable ways (I believe he similarly created a different language for the first chapter of his novel, Voice of the Fire). So ‘hearting’ is ‘liking’, ‘sexing’ is ‘fucking’, ‘fuck’ is a general emphasiser, ‘movie’ is ‘amazing’, ‘skulling’ is ‘thinking’ or ‘knowing’, ‘opsying’ is ‘watching’ or ‘seeing’, ‘fooded’ is ‘ate’ or ‘fed’, ‘churchface’ is ‘sad’ – linguistically, this book is a delight. The creation of another dialect is impressive, but writing dialogue that is clearly different but that we can also understand at the same time is the mark of a great writer.
The aspect that realises the depth to which Moore has created this world is the detail in the new society, with regards to religion and women and how the community functions. This also takes into account Moore’s influences of stories set in societies recovering from a global disaster – Future Taylor reads various ‘wishful fictions’, such as Walter Miller’s A Canticle For Leibowitz, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and mentions for Tolkien and Heinlein – and presumably other influences I’m not sufficiently well read to recognise. This is a work-for-hire job, six issues of genre comic books, set within those constraints and still including the horror and violence associated with the many preceding books in the Crossed world, but which manages to be something more than that.
The real kicker is something that can’t be discussed in a review – and I feel bad for mentioning the existence of it for fear of ruining the reading experience – and that’s the way Moore turns the course of the book in a different direction from what you think you’ve been reading. I can still recall that feeling of reversal, the sensation as my stomach dropped as I began to realise the ramifications of the clues Moore had left for us and what it would mean for the story, the need to read more quickly because I couldn’t wait to find out if the suspicions were true. It was an incredible sensation, something you come across rarely, and perhaps more impressive that it was in a horror comic book that wasn’t even Moore’s own creation.
I’ve been rhapsodising about the writing because I’m a Moore fan, but I should mention the art – Andrade does sterling work here, creating a thoroughly believable portrayal of civilisation after disaster and trying to cling on to existence, as well as the horrific scenes (I always feel sorry for artists, having to take the descriptions of repulsive acts and transform them into visible reality, and I worry for their sanity). He also manages the tough job of working from a Moore script, notorious for the detail and density of information, while creating beautiful panels in the middle of carnage or pits full of skeletons, showing humanity at extremes in the middle of a tightly plotted script and giving depth to the fully realised characters that Moore has created.
If this review seems overly fulsome in its tone, it’s because I wasn’t expecting to be so blindsided by the experience, coming in with low expectations of the genre and having them revealed as shallow on my part. I hope you enjoy some of the same experience when you read this book.