Garth Ennis did more than create one of the best comics I read last year with the first volume of “Crossed,” he created a franchise. In a move that I haven’t seen since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch gave “The Authority” over to the creative community over a decade ago, Ennis is letting other creators tackle the concept of ordinary people struggling to survive in a world plagued by the title characters. First at bat is writer David Lapham, best known for his “Stray Bullets” series and a host of other Vertigo projects, and artist Javier Barreno, who is new to me. Though Lapham hits upon a great idea to explore in the “Crossed” universe, his narrative soon runs out of steam and we’re left with nothing more than a horror-infused game of cat-and-mouse.
The Pratts are a devoutly religious family living the good life on their ranch in the mountains. Under patriarch Joe, theirs is a picture-perfect lifestyle of the kind that Norman Rockwell would envy. Naturally that’s not the case as oldest daughter Adaline confronts her father about his molestation of the younger girls in the family shortly after the story begins. She doesn’t get to finish the argument with her shotgun as the Crossed descend upon the ranch and the family has to fight its way to safety. Led by Joe, of course. He leads them to a secluded valley in Montana where they start to rebuild their lives. Though he may be a hero and a leader of men, Adaline hasn’t forgotten what kind of man her father truly is, and that he may be even more of a danger to them than the Crossed.
When the one man who can save you also rapes kids, how far are you willing to follow him to survive? This premise may be too much for some to handle, but it still follows logically from the original series. Where Ennis’ “Crossed” asked how much of our humanity is necessary in order to live in this new world, Lapham’s asks what qualifies as a “necessary evil” in the same situation. It’s a disturbing concept to be sure, but it effectively hits upon one of the core tenets of horror -- that the scariest thing isn’t the Crossed themselves, but the things that we’re capable of doing to each other.
For the first three issues collected here, Lapham mines that vein effectively as Adaline first tries to rationalize her dad’s behavior, then realizes that the man needs to be put down. The problem with this is that the resolution to this particular subplot comes much sooner than you’d expect and the cast is left to deal with its fallout for the next four issues. As a result, the series premise soon becomes irrelevant and we’re left with a cut-rate version of the original series as Adaline leads what’s left of her family on a search for safe haven. It’s not that the chase itself is uninteresting, but there’s no real ideology behind it. Instead of being about what we’re capable of doing to each other, being violated by the big scary monster(s) is now the new order of the day.
It’s also worth mentioning that at his Comic-Con panel, Ennis stated that Lapham pushed the envelope in ways that even he wasn’t prepared to go. That’s because there’s a disturbing sexual undercurrent to it, courtesy of the premise, that works its way into a lot of the key scenes. I’m not going to go into detail regarding them, but many made my skin crawl at their depraved creativity. Not many comics can do that, so that’s an achievement right there. Unfortunately there are plenty of other scenes that show artist Javier Barreno to be a clear step down from previous artist Jacen Burrows (who provides covers here). Barreno seems to have been chosen for reasons of stylistic consistency with Burrows, and while that works for a little while, the more things go on you realize that he doesn’t have the latter’s skill at conveying emotion and even has problems displaying realistic character poses and expressions.
This won’t be Lapham’s last take on the Crossed. He’s currently writing the new mini-series “Psychopath,” which is supposed to show what happens when a serial killer who is just as bad as the title creatures winds up surviving the initial onslaught and falling in with some regular humans. At the very least, it sounds like a concept that can’t be abandoned until the end, and he’s working with an artist who I know can do good work in Raulo Caceres (see also “Crecy,” and “Gravel” vol. 1), so I’m definitely interested. Though I wouldn’t say that this volume of “Crossed” is skippable or without merit, it’s still the kind of project where you read and go, “This wasn’t bad, but I liked the first volume better.”