Garth Ennis, the writer behind the perennial favorites "Preacher" and "The Boys," returns to one of his most gruesome works this March in "Crossed: Badlands," a new biweekly ongoing series from Avatar Press. Joining Ennis is original series artist Jacen Burrows, an Avatar mainstay who most recently illustrated Alan Moore's Lovecraftian nightmare "Neonomicon." Together, they will revisit a world where a strange infection, marked by a cross-shaped rash on the face, turns ordinary people into bloodthirsty monsters acting out mankind's darkest, foulest instincts. After the first story arc, the series will feature rotating creative teams, with noted "Hellblazer" scribe Jamie Delano and "Crossed: Psychopath" and "Deadpool MAX" writer David Lapham already lined up to tell their gruesome tales. Comic Book Resources spoke with Ennis about the world he's created, its inspirations, and what to look for in "Crossed: Badlands."
After launching the first eight-issue "Crossed" miniseries in 2008 with artist Jacen Burrows, Ennis stepped away from this doomed world and handed the reigns to David Lapham, whose grim and hyperkinetic "Young Liars" had just wrapped up its run at DC/Vertigo. Lapham went on to write "Crossed: Family Values," "Crossed: Psychopath," and "Crossed 3D," and he will also be a writer on the new ongoing. Si Spurrier also wrote a "Crossed" tale in Ennis' absence with the web comic "Wish You Were Here." Asked about his time away from the series and his reasons for coming back now, Ennis said he needed to "give the story time to develop, to come to fruition. And it made sense that the ongoing book should be kicked off by the original team."
Ennis praised Burrows as a "great storyteller," which is what he's especially looking for in a story like "Crossed: Badlands." "Very good at faces and expressions, which is where I do a significant amount of storytelling anyway," Ennis said of the artist. "Good sense of character. Conscientious, professional, does his research. Takes interesting risks that almost always pay off."
"Crossed" lived as a series of miniseries in its previous incarnations, in part because the cast gets whittled down so quickly in each. With "Crossed: Badlands" structured as an ongoing, CBR News asked Ennis whether the new book would have a somewhat stable cast of characters, or whether readers will meet a new batch of survivors with each arc. "It's a different writer each time, so I'd imagine the latter," he said. "Which is not to say that a writer can't return later with the same characters."
Ennis said that the characters for his first arc "were flung together in the usual way, by simply meeting in the direst of circumstances and surviving." "But there's a hint from the lead character, Ian, about the way he's subtly encouraged the group to remain and work as one unit. Ian's not particularly formidable, but he's smart and good with people," Ennis added. " The others include a couple of clowns by the names of Rob and Alec, two much tougher characters called John and Ricky, a young brother and sister, Mark and the unfortunately pregnant Anya, and a bloke called Pat who Ian accurately describes as a useless prick. And, possibly most interesting of all, there's Harry." Ennis did not elaborate.
This group's flight from the Crossed takes them into the Scottish highlands, which would seem a good strategy due to the region's wide open lands far from major population centers. However, there are a number of factors that could work against them as well, with the terrain, the necessities of living there, and perhaps the survivors themselves all carrying the potential to either help or hinder survival. "The extreme cold works for them against the Crossed, but it does take time to do its work," Ellis noted. "And the Crossed aren't waiting around."
While "Crossed" has some affinity for tropes of the zombie genre -- the Crossed being humans infected with a disease that turns them into savage killers -- Ennis previously pointed out his series is not properly a zombie tale. "Technically they're not zombies, in the traditional sense of zombies as mindless undead, neither of which the Crossed are, really -- but people have a tendency to lump all these stories together," he said. "Something about the notion of the horde of ravenous subhumans coming at you with arms outstretched -- that's what sparks the association. '28 Days Later,' for instance, technically isn't a zombie story, but in another sense it's close enough.
"If you want to call it a zombie story, I'm not that worried," Ennis continued. "You can call it Fred so long as you buy it in large quantities."
While each "Crossed" series features the infected committing atrocities beyond most readers' imaginations, Ennis noted many of their crimes are unfortunately not unprecedented in real life. "That's exactly what 'Crossed' is: human evil as a virus. It's not so much what I'm drawn to do as what I can't ignore or forget about the dark side of human nature," Ennis said. " I can't read about Rwanda or Bosnia, or the type of thing that goes on inside prisons, or just the dangers that some women have to face every day on their walk home from work, and write it off as isolated aberration. Because for some reason, the isolated aberration just keeps on happening."
This, of course, manifests in each "Crossed" series as readers see the surviving, uninfected humans behaving in some ways every bit as deplorable as the Crossed, suggesting that the prime reason there can be no escape is that the evil is right there with them. "They're caught up in dreadful circumstances, and human nature being what it is, the odds are that one or two of them are going to be pretty dreadful themselves to begin with," Ennis said. "Sometimes it's the characters' struggle to remain as decent as they can that makes the story interesting."
"Crossed: Badlands" #1 by Ennis and Burrows is on sale March 14, 2012.