And Preacher co-creator Garth Ennis has written some other stuff that I've enjoyed... though "enjoyed" might be a poor way to put it. Let's say "been gripped by." Or better yet, "been unable to look away from," like the scene of some horrific crime you just can't help but gawp at. I refer to his initial run on Punisher, of course, and nominally to Hitman too, which was published concurrently with Preacher, in the best years of Garth Ennis' career.
But it's been a decade since these three series ended, and most everything of Ennis' I've read in the intervening period has either soured me or simply sickened me. Here's looking at you, Chronicles of Wormwood... and War Story... oh, and The Boys. Particularly that latter; a more disgusting book than The Boys I do not know, nor would I want to. Then again I could only stand to read the first six issues. Maybe it gets better?
In any case, if there was even a miniscule part of me that still believed Garth Ennis was a halfway decent writer, then Crossed has killed it dead. Killed it dead and fucked it in the eye-socket with the severed horse's organ this first volume's antagonist - Horsecock, none other - carries around in lieu of a more socially acceptable weapon. Because Garth Ennis is at the helm. And that's what Garth Ennis does, these days.
Amongst the other highlights: the murder of a man because he's being a bit annoying; panel after panel of excruciatingly graphic depictions of randy zombies raping men, women and children alike; and most appalling of all, the calculated execution of an entire class of primary school kids, supposedly to save them from the horrors of surviving a Crossed apocalypse. I mean, fair enough: it's not pretty. But maybe it's prettier than a bullet in the brain, fired at close-range by someone who's supposed to be taking care of you.
But then, the alternative's not nearly as shocking, is it? And that's what Garth Ennis has made his name trading in: disgust and discomfort. The repugnant and the perverse. Indeed, there's really not a lot else to the first collection of Crossed. It's The Walking Dead with stumpfucking and - in stark contrast with the ensemble Robert Kirkman has gathered together with such tender loving care for his transmedia success story - a cast of characters even the most affectionate individual would have a hard time giving a crap about. I mean, Ennis clearly doesn't, and I've forgotten all their names already. Even the Wikipedia page could care less what this motley lot are called.
Meanwhile the world of Crossed is as ugly as the survivors who run willy-nilly around it, though it bears saying that it's rendered exceptionally well. Indeed, Jacen Burrows, whose pencils I've come across before - paired with the words and the worlds of far better writers than Ennis, including Alan Moore and Warren Ellis - is easily the best thing about this book. Ably supported by Juanmar, whose muted colour palette is only interrupted when blood follows, as invariably it does, Burrows' clinically clean lines leave little to the imagination, which is perfectly in step with Ennis' very direct script. You could describe them as dispassionate, perhaps, but then they'd have to be in service of scenes such as these.
To think a four time Eisner Award-winning author has fallen to this. It's enough to make one wonder whether Hitman and Punisher and Preacher were just happy accidents.
I don't doubt Crossed will have its fans, including people who sincerely believe Survival of the Dead represents the peak of George A. Romero's career of achievements, and those folks who love SAW VI above all other SAWs, say. The easily pleased, in other words, and that's putting it politely: a measure of restraint that may never again appear in the same sentence as the words Garth and Ennis.
In any event, if they want Crossed, then by the dead, they can have it. It's mean and it's nasty and it has no heart. It's cruel and unusual, and singularly spiteful to boot. Crossed is practically cancerous, so it might come as something of a surprise to you that I have every intention of reading the next volume. Maybe it's morbid curiosity, but I should say there's nothing inherently wrong with the premise behind this series in and of itself, and given Garth Ennis' absence, Family Values - written by Stray Bullets creator David Lapham - might just be alright. It certainly couldn't be any worse than this nauseating drivel.