CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE
Crossed, originally created by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows, is a divisive comic. For purist zombie fans, it breaks too many of the rules, what with the titular monsters being able to run, talk, rape and reason (up to a point). For the squeamish and the politically over-sensitive, the relentless focus on the aforementioned rape, dismemberment and murder is exploitative: a cheap, schlock-horror trick which insults its audience's intelligence.
However, even with Ennis, and the scribes who followed him into the world of the Crossed, pushing the violence up to eleven, it is hard to deny the power of the series - in Ennis' first run, the tight focus on group dynamics and the ruthless survivalist mentality portrayed was chilling and devastatingly effective. Lapham's run was brutal and sadistic, with more overt potential for interpretation as misogynyst fantasy, but it played cleverly with the notion of the survivor-as-hero. As yet, I've yet to read the latest Ennis run, in the ongoing Crossed: Badlands, but one thing is clear - the Crossed are here to stay.
Perhaps my favourite non-Ennis incarnation of the Crossed is the free webcomic written by Si Spurrier, and illustrated by Javier Barreno and Gary Erskine: Crossed: Wish You Were Here. Spurrier has set his story in the Orkney islands, telling the tale of a small group of survivors stuck in an island fortress, how they reached this sanctuary, and how they defend it. Spurrier manages to capture the boredom, the frustration and the creeping horror of life surrounded by the Crossed, and by keeping his band of survivors stationary, he manages to deliver a real depth of character in both our narrator, Shaky (short for Shakespeare) and the accompanying cast. What's more, as this story is being delivered, Freakangels-style, once a week on the internet, Spurrier can afford to take his time with the narrative - there is no sense that the story is hurtling towards a violent climax any time soon.
Furthermore, Barreno's layouts are absolutely perfect for reading on a computer screen. rather than reproduce the comics-page format, he and Spurrier have developed a letterbox-style orientation and panel flow that really works. The fine detail in the violence (check the lovingly depicted dolphin abuse on page 3 of the first chapter) is artfully depicted by Barreno and fleshed out by the consummate talent of Erskine, and the washed-out tones of the landscape and characters contrast with some nice red krovvy, courtesy of colourist Juanmar. The result is a very satisfying, often hilarious, and curiously meditative take on the Crossed 'verse; perhaps the most accessible outing in that landscape since Ennis created the series.
Read the webcomic every Thursday, but also be sure to check out the first trade paperback collection, available in all good comic shops now. It will be interesting to see how the innovative panel layouts translate to book form, but even if they are more naturally suited to the web, the whole creative team should be applauded for their ability to tailor this product for its intended audience and marketplace. Crossed: Wish You Were Here is fast becoming an unmissable touchstone of quality in the webcomics world.