‘Crossed: Volume 4: Badlands’ follows three previous collections of the ‘Crossed’ comics dating back to 2008. This is an ultra-violent, post-apocalyptic story set on Earth in the present day. Civilisation has been destroyed by the ‘Crossed’ virus, so-called because infection causes a large red cross to appear on your face. Infected individuals lose all inhibitions and will kill, maim or rape anyone that crosses their path. The virus is spread through bodily fluids and is highly infectious. Within days of the original outbreak, the contagion had spread worldwide, leaving isolated bands of survivors trying to stay out of the way of the marauding gangs of the Crossed.
This volume in the ‘Crossed’ series contains two unconnected survivor stories, written and drawn by different creative teams. The first storyline, ‘Badlands’, is by the co-creators of the ‘Crossed’ series, writer Garth Ennis and artist Jacen Burrows. The second storyline, ‘Homo Superior’, comes from Jamie Delano’s script with artwork by Leandro Rizzo.
‘Badlands’, which takes up the first three chapters of the book, follows a small band of survivors in the Scottish Highlands as they try to evade a pursuing group of Crossed. One of their number, Anya, is pregnant. As she gets closer to term, she begins to slow them down and the Crossed start to catch up with them. Eventually, they are forced to consider what’s most important to them. Should they stick together for the sake of Anya and her unborn baby or should they maximise their chances of escaping from their pursuers by abandoning Anya to a horrible fate?
This is an interesting story with excellent artwork and a broadly sympathetic set of characters. However Ian, the leader of the human group, is so coldly rational that it rapidly becomes difficult to empathise with him. This raises a rather obvious question: if that level of inhumanity is what it takes to survive in this new world order, is survival worth bothering with or reading about?
‘Homo Superior’, which occupies the final six chapters of the book, follows three different groups of people as they try to survive in the Everglades in Florida. Everyman Greg meets up and then travels with Steve, a fit and self-assured woman who turns out to be a psychotic ex-soldier with a penchant for torture. Nearby, gay bookworm Leon is the misfit in a heavily fortified compound full of racist survivalists. Elsewhere, Ashlynne and Ashley are teen-age twin sisters who have had to abandon their comfortable city centre upbringing and are all at sea in the wilds of the Florida outback. As the Crossed continue to close in, these three groups are thrown together. Can they work with each other to escape a horrific fate?
I’m afraid I had real problems with this second story arc. None of the characters are very sympathetic and some of them, notably Steve, are deeply damaged. This makes it difficult to care too much what happens to any of them. The artwork is of excellent quality but is repeatedly misogynistic, with the twins, Ashlynne and Ashley, seeming to exist solely so that they can get their kit off at every available opportunity, whilst many of the minor female characters are only ever shown being violently abused.
I am sure that there will be people who love ‘Crossed: Volume Four’. I’m not one of them. I have no problem with the depiction of sex or violence in a graphic novel, although it helps if it’s there for a good reason rather than simply to titillate the reader, as happens too frequently in the second story here. What I do have a problem with is stories that ultimately have no point. Both of the stories presented here ask the reader to empathise with and cheerlead for the human protagonists as they try to stay out of the clutches of the Crossed. Judged on that basis, both stories end in failure, first because the heroes aren’t sympathetic and second because they all end up either dead or infected with the Crossed virus. I came away from reading the graphic novel feeling that I’d wasted my time as there was not a single positive thing to take away from either story.
It is noticeable that the three chapters of the first story are each given titles. I looked these up and found that they are quotes from three different novels by Cormac McCarthy, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning post-apocalyptic novel ‘The Road’. Having reviewed ‘The Road’ for SFCrowsnest quite recently, the comparison is, for me, very telling. ‘The Road’ is a bleak, sometimes horrific, tale but it has human redemption at its heart and I found reading it a moving and uplifting experience. ‘Crossed: Volume Four’ is just bleak and horrific.