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Revenge, Horror, and Censorship: Avatar Press’s Crossed

True to Avatar’s willingness to let their creative teams do whatever they want, Crossed fully explores the limits of an utmost hedonistic-rage-inspired apocalypse. It takes a long hard look at the worst of human qualities and magnifies them to such an extent as to completely shock and horrify. The point is that we needn’t be afraid of people turning into zombies and taking over the world: there already exist sociopathic humans who are far worse than zombies ever could be. The world of Crossed explores what it would be like if instead of being bitten and turned into zombies, humans got bitten and turned into the lovechild of Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy.

Where Crossed gets fascinating for me and moves away from just slasher-movie violence and torture porn explicit images is in David Lapham’s first run with the series, Family Values. What I want to talk about is a specific scene in Family Values: where the mother willingly crosses herself so that she can have the power and capability to enact her revenge on her husband for the horrible wrongs he committed against herself and her daughters. It is the only moment in the entire series where the ultimate evil is used to get revenge for some of the most atrocious acrossed_fvc2e2cts a person could ever commit. It feels reminiscent of rape-revenge exploitation films like I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and Last House On The Left (1972), where violence becomes a form of vigilante-style justice.

The point of rape-revenge exploitation stories are to give power back to the victim by letting them enact an instance of revenge that is just as horrifying and terrible as the pain inflicted on them in the first. An eye for an eye, except we cheer for the vigilante victim because their acts of violence are motivated out of a sense of justice. Carol J. Clover talks about these films, especially I Spit On Your Grave (1978) as possessing feminist qualities in that they have the woman stand up for themselves, rather than letting a system try and do this (a system which usually fails them). The girls in Family Values signify this: they are stuck in a position that they cannot easily escape from. They are victimized, brutalized, and largely powerless against it. Becoming crossed offers the one medium for the mother to become strong enough to finally take revenge for her family.

Common critiques levied against rape-revenge narratives are that by depicting the violence against the victim in such length and detail actually depowers them. But what these instances are doing are forcing the audience to align with and see the full extent of what these victims are put through: you can’t ignore it, you can’t pretend it’s not as terrible as it really is, and you can’t quickly forget about it. Arguably, this is being achieved in Crossed: Family Values. All the scenes of violence against the daughters combine to make us happy when the mother crosses herself. It’s a weird feeling, I know. It’s not even a comfortable feeling. But it’s effective.

Now, that scene from Family Values is the only instance of this that I can pinpoint in the Crossed series that works explicitly as rape-revenge exploitation. And while this scene is a fleeting moment, and the rest of Family Values reverts back to its gorey glory, that’s fine. The point is that the world and the system Crossed has created allows for this type of vigilante justice to be appropriately metted out. It evens the playing field in an incredibly terrifying way. (To quote Bender: “We’re boned.” All of us.) The violent exploitation elements of Crossed depict intense graphic violence to get under our skin and creep us out/disgust us/make us never want to trust another human being ever again, but to also show that these elements already exist and that’s the real fear.

Garth Ennis’s first crack at the dented in and disgusting can that is Crossed is a very well told story, that is both narratively well-constructed and intensely horrifying to read. Ennis takes what we think we know of apocalyptic stories, and ups the ante beyond any conceivable measure. In an age where we dare to be scared by something truly horrifying — when we have to resort to Saw and Hostel level of slasher gore to considered ourselves scared — Ennis gives us exactly what we are asking for. And a whole lot more. It’s violence exploitation, but it’s also using the apocalyptic-narrative that is so popular nowadays to heighten it’s terror: if you think the world simply ending is bad enough, you’re wrong. This is much, much worse. (Can we call this apocalypse-exploitation now?) Crossed very effectively shows us the worst possible facets of human beings: the sociopaths who feel no remorse, no restrictions, and do unthinkable things. And then fills the world with them. What’s scarier than that?


Also, the fact that Crossed exists is a nice testament to where horror comics have ended up, after their near-destruction from the Comics Code in the 50s that saw the complete censorship of the medium. Crossed not only denies any sort of censorship, but actively tops itself in its exploitation genre level of violence and torture-porn aspects. We don’t have to celebrate Crossed’s content, but we should celebrate the fact that Crossed is allowed to exist. Because sometimes there are certain stories that can only be told in certain ways. And Family Values is definitely one of those.


Crossed is such a fascinating series to me because it really tests the mettle of the writers assigned to the books. So far, Ennis and Lapham have shown an ability to use the concept well, but I have been less impressed with the other writers who have entered the fray. I like David Hine’s work in general, but I was sorely disappointed in his Crossed story. The darkness did not read true to me. It was people doing effed up stuff without a good enough motivation. Jamie Delano’s entry was better, but he also did not seem to have as good of a handle on the material as Ennis and Lapham.

Of the non-Ennis/Lapham writers, I think Si Spurrier probably used the concept the best in his two-parter. Even there, though, I think his IDEA was quite good, but it probably didn’t even need the two issues given to it.

I’ve enjoyed Ennis’ work on Crossed much more than Lapham’s, but I think that has to do with the way they approach the concept. Ennis has basically decent uncrossed characters who are fighting to keep from giving in and acting like the crossed. Lapham seems to tilt more towards characters who may not have plus faces, but don’t act much different than the crossed. I recognize Lapham’s craft, and I think he has a legitimate approach to the universe and its mechanics, but I don’t find myself wanting to revisit his books.

I think that’s why I prefer Spurrier’s work to Lapham’s. I’ve been reading the webcomic, Wish You Were Here, and it reminds me heavily of how Ennis began the series. The 2013 Badlands annual ties into Wish You Were Here, and it is probably my favorite individual story of the whole project.

I got to the feminist part and was like “wth is he talking about”? Then I checked who wrote it, and thought: “aah, my bad”. But pretty nice article anyway. Expected something more about censorship and the limits of extremity, and good taste, but not bad.

I recognize Lapham’s craft, and I think he has a legitimate approach to the universe and its mechanics, but I don’t find myself wanting to revisit his books.

I think that that’s a very fair take on Lapham’s Crossed stories. Well-written but hard to take. I mean, Psychopath alone is just chilling. Did you read Lapham’s 3-D Crossed book? That was probably the most hopeful of all of his Crossed stories.

I’ve recommended “Crossed” to people, but I have to (of course) be selective in who I recommend it to. I absolutely agree that it’s amazing what Ennis did with such horrifying content. With all the horrible things the Crossed do, it makes the humanity of the human characters all the more poignant. I haven’t checked out anything past the original storyline (I loved it, but I figured it wasn’t something I could really follow for a long time), but maybe I should check out some of the better stuff. I do love Lapham. “Stray Bullets” was genius of course, and I’ve even enjoyed his “Age of Apocalypse” series so far, despite its flaws.

Well, just like you have to be careful who to recommend Ennis’ Crossed to, I’d suggest the same but even MORE so with Lapham’s Crossed work. As the others have noted, Lapham’s approach is basically “How would the already evil people deal with something like this?” As you might imagine, it is pretty damn dark. Psycopath is probably the darkest of his Crossed works. He’s currently doing a sequel of sorts to Psychopath in the pages of Crossed: Badlands.

By the way, Ennis launched Crossed: Badlands, so you’ll likely enjoy that story.

Did you read Lapham’s 3-D Crossed book?

I did, but I remember nearly nothing from it, especially the ending. The 3D was distracting, I think. I’ll have to give it another go at some point. I need to reread Family Values too, since I remember the broad strokes, but not all of the details Kaitlin mentions.

I forgot Lapham did the story about the kid at the circus and the motorcycle gang too, didn’t he? I enjoyed that one well enough. That’s another story where the uncrossed were by and large not monsters themselves, IIRC.

I wonder if Kaitlin is reading other comic book horror. It seems like there’s a lot out there, or at least there was a flare recently, Caligula, Neonomicon, Stitched, Ferals. I’ve finally gotten on board with Locke & Key, but the level of gore doesn’t really compare between it and Crossed.

Hey Joshschr,

I have been reading a little bit of what’s out there, but a lot of it has been kind of a let down to be honest. I am still really enjoying DH’s Creepy/Eerie because I really love campy, B-style horror. I picked up Colder when it first came out, but was extremely disappointed (the storytelling was so convenient and didn’t really have anything to it). Locke & Key’s next on my list, same with Revival, but I gotta admit, titles like Ferals didn’t have any real pull for me (and I am a big horror fan). Crossed was just so radically different from everything else that was out there so I couldn’t help but get weirdly hooked.

I would agree with Brian. I’m more willing to recommend Ennis’s run with Crossed than I am with David Lapham’s take on it all. Lapham’s stuff is much more insane and unsettling because the heroes aren’t heroic, at all. That being said, Lapham’s work does punch a harder hit if you want gore and to be unbelievably upset with the world.

I found out about Crossed thanks to Barreno. I used to live in Argentina, so I knew about some of his works before this one. When I saw his name on the cover, I knew I had to get this series. Man, it is soooo f… up that I love it! We need more comics like this one…or maybe not. I don’t want the Big Ones milking this type of stories. They will just kill the idea.

Actually, Ennis did something really interesting in his second Crossed series, the one set in Scotland. He had his band of human survivors do something every bit as evil and horrific as the Crossed- they hamstrung a guy who had stolen food, and left him for the Crossed to play with to buy time for them to escape. There was no commentary or character introspection to point out obviously to the reader that the protagonists they were rooting for had just done something very evil.

If Ennis has a theme, it’s that evil is a very human trait.

Yeah, he played with that a little in the first arc when the seemingly nicest guy in their traveling group ended up being an unrepentant serial killer. The way that he is completely confused and terrified that everyone else is mad at him about it once his past is revealed is maybe the moment that sticks with me the most from that series. Though it’s definitely got some competition.

I literally just shuddered in my seat while typing that.

I’ve read a few of the Crossed series, and what interests me the most about them is how they make this pastiche out of other comic book trends. I think one of the reasons that Lapham and Ennis are so successful in their runs on the title is that it calls for a style of writing that they’re both pretty familiar with. They’re both good writing characters with ambiguous morality going up against characters who are basically sociopaths, and they’re both pretty well versed in scenes of shocking violence and gore (in Ennis’ case, for example, you have the Preacher series, Punisher, The Boys). And you could look at that the other way around, that Crossed gets its style because its two big writers are associated with this general tone. It’s borrowing from The Walking Dead, obviously, but it also has similarities with the rest of the Avatar horror line. And I think there’s a bit of Marvel Zombies in there too. The fun (or at least a particular kind of “fun”) of the MZ series was seeing regular heroes turned into violent, murderous sociopaths, and the similarities to Crossed is then pretty obvious. The difference with Crossed, I think, is that instead of idols becoming sociopaths, it’s regular people, and, as reasonably regular people ourselves, we can connect to that in a different way. The other thing that Cross really has going for it that makes it stand out is its anthology nature. It’s nice to read a story that goes on for its natural lifespan, then draws to a close.

Incidentally, my favorite Crossed story was Family Values. I’ll agree that Lapham’s stuff is generally a lot more icky (icky being the technical term), but it did well in contrasting the Crossed’s evil with Addy’s father’s evil, and still create a strong, compelling character in Addy herself. Off the top of my head, she’s one of the better female protagonists in comics I can think of as late.

Quick word on Colder: I like the concept (or at least the “shared world of the insane” part) and I love the art. The execution–eh.

[…] Revenge, Horror and Censorship: Avatar Press’s “Crossed” […]

A civilized article on the topic published MONTHS before. Some people just need to stir up trouble to get web hits. Well done, whoeredi.

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