First of all, I’ll very openly admit a problem with this blog post. I’ve not read the entire Crossed series, or any of the Crossed: Family Values. So, this may prove problematic with what I’m going to be discussing, but I have a firm grasp on the body of Garth Ennis’s work, and have read most of the initial series.
Every now and again I have the pleasure of discussing comics with a colleague of mine, a PhD student in a different department on my campus, and inevitably our discussions always come back to the work of Garth Ennis. Now, perhaps this is because we are both big fans of his work, or perhaps it is because when it comes to the work of Garth Ennis, there is always a lot to say. Even more so to this point, we both agree that many people “get him wrong” when discussing his work. It is always a delightful joy when I see people “get it,” one of which that comes to mind is how The Boys was nominated for a GLAAD award. Reading that particular series with a less than critical eye, this may come to a huge surprise, but again, they get it. Ennis is easily misinterpreted, and that is why reading his comics is damn fun.
Perhaps this post is the result of reading the blog Bleeding Cool, but they have been doing a great job at keeping me up to date in regard to comic writing. This is something I need to be more active in, since I consider this to be my area of focus. Regardless of reason, this first post on my oft-forgotten blog can be blamed on the fact that Bleeding Cool is forcing me to pay attention, and that they have, in a sense, stepped up the game of comic writing. So, to strive even further off topic from the title of this post, I’d like to quote Jesse Thorn, “the remarkable has always had some advantages over say, the dependable, but internet communication changes the equation dramatically, [source]” and hope I can embody that mantra with the continued efforts of this blog.
I became aware of a post about Crossed at The Comic Journal, a site that I probably should be reading, but again, I’ve been very lazy lately and need to step up my game. So, this post is more of a critique of a critique and less about the actual comic.
I urge you to read this review for yourself, as I feel it is important, but in my opinion, not terribly exceptional in regards to discussion of this comic. So, I will copy and paste my comment from the website, and hopefully expand on some thoughts that I have in mind about the series. Possibly I will actually edit my work also this time….
Much of comics writing, in an academic context (which arguably The Comics Journal fits loosely into, with their “smarter-than-the-average-bear” purpose and professional atmosphere) is Alan Moore/Frank Miller worship, or overly abundant “Comics are art!” So, it is a delight to see that The Comics Journal exists, and that they are writing on such a bountiful medium in a multitude of ways. I haven’t read any other posts by the author, maybe I just picked a clunker to complain about.
Is Crossed a post-apocalyptic comic? Well, of course it is. But hinging one’s writing on this singular element about the series represents a painfully simplistic review and understanding of this comic, regurgitating the same discussion of post-apocalyptic narratives that have been written for time immemorial. What it means to be human, hope, love, pushing the lines of morality, etc. Yes, we get it, and have gotten this for decades. But, again, speaking to the work of Ennis, “Of course it is,” is only part of the picture.
I am reminded of when I read Preacher as a teenager, and in the letters section, there was something that always stuck with me. A younger reader had sent Ennis a letter asking about his use of alcohol in the series. Since he was maybe 15 or so years old, he had never had any booze, and was wondering if Ennis could help explain the appeal of alcohol, and its importance to the narrative. Ennis replied with, and I’m paraphrasing, but this is essentially a quote, as it has stayed in my head for a long time, “Drinking is a very zen thing. You are missing everything and nothing at all.” The obvious in the work is the nothing at all, I think. A few more shots of whisky are necessary in order to comprehend it (metaphorically speaking of course….(or is it…)).
Something that stops this critique in question from being simply generic to problematic is this statement, “unlike in so much of his work, they are put to good use and serve a purpose beyond mere gross-out, ‘man, that’s fucked up,’ shock value.” This quote alone shows a general misunderstanding of Ennis’s canon of writing, and therefore makes my eye twitch at the review itself. If you are reading the work of Ennis, and you think this is the single comic he’s written in which his humor and violence serves a greater purpose, then you are very mistaken. It is so incredibly distracting to see this line in the work of someone who is supposedly working in a more professional context of comic critique. Now, admittedly that last sentence is very harsh, but I believe it is true. Overall, Ennis is one of the biggest name in contemporary comics who has possibly the least amount of academic/scholarly writing about him. (Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but I’ve never seen a presentation on the guy at any conference I’ve attended…Perhaps I just dared myself to do it right there).
I think an obvious part of the “crossed” that is not mentioned in this analysis is that of pleasure. The crossed aren’t just simply aware of their brutalization of people, they take pleasure in it. This moves away from the realm of a Hobbesian perspective (though, I can understand it’s usage, considering the narrative motifs…) and possibly shifts to a Freudian analysis, in terms of pure Id. Pleasure is important in this context – just look at the crossed, they are always smiling. Big shit-eating grins, sometimes literally eating shit. This also connects to the use of rape within the series. When one sees the panels of rape within the series, it is beyond an expression of power. Rape, in a literary context, is often used as an expression of power rather than an act of pleasure (as it is often described in psychological terms as well), which is why in this context, where the usage is reversed from its traditional usage, it is all the more terrifying, as the crossed are displayed as being beyond the politics of social power. The crossed are beyond anything that we can grasp with our human minds. Yeah, they look, but what is a body? Everything they do is beyond a definition of humanity, not simply in a post-apocalyptic sense, but in a pants-shitting-horror realization that everything we hold as Truth is very suddenly gone, never to return.
Which brings me to another point. Horror. How can you write about Crossed and only use this word to describe it once. Horror is often about forcing the reader to acknowledge the fragility of their own body, and of their own lives. Crossed uses its horrifically extreme violence to bring the reader closer into the narrative, forcing the reader to identify with the survivors, if only in the sense that they are soft and easily mutilated. The violence separates us from the crossed in this sense, and again, it is about pleasure. The powerful act of ripping a body apart is there to force the reader into the role of victim, and the fact that the crossed take pleasure in this action is there to keep us terrified and turning pages. In a very meta, but very real sense, the reader of this comic is the victim. The person in the panel can quickly die, but we are forced to sit and interpret this violence, to admire the detail, to comprehend its brutality and terror. This is an idea that Avatar seems to be continuing to develop with the Crossed universe (just typing out those two words should make you shudder) , Crossed 3D. From what limited previews I’ve seen, the art has a lot of first-person perspective, giving the reader a more physical attachment to the violence as the visual nature of the medium is making them look at themselves getting brutalized.
Just look at the cover to the first issue. You are the victim, you are the one about to get your genitals sliced away and eaten. You will be dragged into the fire screaming, if they leave you able to scream.
It also appears as if the comic will create a textualization of the reader (which is something I’m working on in my thesis) in the sense that they will also become the crossed, as suggested by the image of the 3D glasses. This promises to have enormous potential for terror as you play the part of both victim and victimizer. It is truly unnerving and fucked up that Avatar is making you play the role of these psychopaths. The idea alone makes this yet unpublished work one of the most dangerous comics that i can think of. (Images thanks to the above linked post).
And yet the danger of this comic is ignored at The Comics Journal, and the danger is what makes this comic so fucking interesting.
Another element that is missing in the review is the discussion of religion. They are “the crossed,” and bear the mark of a crucifix. Not discussing the allegory of religious social brutality is criminal when discussing this series, particularly when it is a recurring thematic device in the work of Ennis. We see the crossed in our daily lives, picketing funerals of soldiers, brandishing posters of bloody fetuses to warn us about the dangers of abortion, forcing these thoughts on their children and using them as weapons of religious ideology. Ennis never lets you forget this fact – the crossed are real, they are all around us, and we let it happen.
In terms of writing about Crossed, someone else hits it dead on the head. Though the post is shorter, lacks any sort of “Hobbesian” references, and is discussing the related series Crossed: Family Values, Ryan of the Chronic Insomniac blog gets it right, though I would love to see them develop their ideas more fully (not that my own writing is perfect, of course). If you don’t question yourself in a moral sense while reading this book, then you aren’t doing it right.