Don't Be Cross

Crossed: Badlands #91

Writer: Max Bemis
Artists: German Erramouspe
Colors: Digikore Studios
Letters: Jaymes Reed
Publisher: Avatar

Crossed and I have a history. It started and I loved it, and there have been hills and valleys along the way but at the end of the day it remains a daring and often crassly fun series of comics that I don't typically keep up with. I discovered this recent [2 issue] story arc after hearing about it on the 11 O'clock Comics podcast. The story is written by Say Anything singer/songwriter Max Bemis of the enjoyably peculiar story, Oh Killstrike, as well as Evil Empire and Polarity. Art duties are performed by German Erramouspe who has more than proven he's got the chops for horror with titles such as of Night of the Living Dead, Disenchanted, Dark Gods, and God is Dead.

For those of you who don't know, Crossed is a world where a plague broke out that stripped everyone down to their base pleasures, instincts, and desires. This typically results in rape, grotesque violence, and bad language. Oh, and all of those inflicted with this virus have scarring across their nose and between their eyes, forming a cross. This story revolves around four comic book shop employees and the comic artist/writer, Leigha, who they "rescued". Leigha was at the shop doing a signing when the virus hit. The folks who worked at the shop kicked everyone out and ran to the back room with Leigha to hole themselves up. Weeks have passed and the virus is still raging outside. Inside however, the men are alright, but Leigha is in a living hell. Still locked in the back room, she is forced to relieve the men's sexual frustrations at every request, wearing nothing but a large t shirt. As time goes on, the "gentleman" find themselves bored with Leigha as well as with the comic stories they surround themselves with. They know none of these comics will ever see their conclusion which bums them out. With a comic writer/artist in residence, the crew has Leigha draw a new serial for them to enjoy in exchange for new, humane privileges and thus the superhero, Anti-Crossed, is born. The men all love it, but what they don't realize is that what they consider to be fun may be giving Leigha her righteous, well deserved chance at retaliation.

Max Bemis has a unique writing style that delicately walks the line between story within a story scenarios and meta fiction, resulting in a story that has just the right amount of brevity to keep people from feeling overly uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong, the unaffected gentleman inside the comic shop are just as monstrous as all of the folks with the virus outside, and what they do to Leigha is despicable, but Bemis clearly realizes that an overabundance of trauma and distress can ruin a story, and adjusts accordingly. Not only that but he also includes a level of satire as we get acquainted with a very sterotyped group of comic fans. A large part of this story is showing the reader that even if someone doesn't necessarily have a cross scar across their face, this situation can still drive them to be monsters. However, that shift isn't too extreme, as we see the shop employees before this apocalypse and they were miserable haters then. Leigha's arc is what this story is all about, and despite all that has happened to her she still has a tremendous amount of strength and cunning. The book takes two tones, that of the real world and that of Leigha's comic which features a foul mouthed version of Superman, essentially, that fights the perverted Crossed. In both the main story and this comic within the comic, there is a ton of harshness and devices to think about, all of which is handled masterfully.

German Erramouspe illustrates a style that is raw and showcases the sinister nature of the Crossed well. However, he doesn't overemphasize the gore in a way that will turn people off more than needed. With a set of antagonists that are soley evil, someone could really amp up the violence and gore, however, Erramouspe chose to draw the vile acts of the Crossed as tastefully as possible so that we wouldn't lose important story beats. When we finally get to see the comic which Leigha has produced, it is filtered through a much more colorful light and a much more lose shape, perfectly working with the story within a story motif. The character model for the Anti-Crossed is exactly that. Instead of missing skin on his face he is missing skin all over his body, with the exception of the area between his eyes and nose. There's a clear understanding between the writer and the artist that this story is to have a level of uncomfortable satire woven into a story of despair and escapism. What that understanding means for the reader is a great product with art perfect for the story it portrays.

As I mentioned earlier, Crossed: Badlands #91 is the first part of a two part story. Between Leigha's horrible situation and something that occurs at the end of the issue, the second half of this tale is determined to be filled with action, redemption, a few surprises, and possibly a few scars. Bemis and Erramouspe are an incredible team for a tough series that insert a small touch of social commentary and uncomfortable questions/truths into an apocalyptic world. Issue 91 costs $3.99 and #92 will be released on January 27th.

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