Page 45 Review by Stephen
Whatever your preconceptions of CROSSED, this is, I promise you, as clever as you'd expect from Alan Moore. I unequivocally understand if the subject matter is too repugnant for many of you to risk opening the cover but Moore has not only thought these hundred years through, he's laced this six issues with cunning clues to an increasingly worrying mystery which only reveals its true horror right at the end. Also, you need not have read a single sentence of this series to launch straight in now.
One hundred years have passed since The Surprise.
And it was quite a surprise, let me tell you. You'd be quite surprised if you found yourself in Nottingham city centre and it was suddenly writhing in howling, bellowing, jabbering hoards of half-clad cretins, urinating in doorways and leering lasciviously at anyone who passed by.
Outside of a Saturday night, anyway.
Yet that's what has happened in CROSSED, kicked off by Garth Ennis a dozen or so volumes ago: a worldwide pandemic of sexually insatiable savages in which no one - no matter how old or young or how closely related - was safe. "This is what the worst of humanity looks like uninhibited by law" is what Garth seemed to say; and you look at some geographical regimes and cannot help but agree.
I enjoyed the first book, if "enjoyed" is the right word. I was actually vicariously terrified, peering through my fingers as I tentatively turned the pages - which isn't easy using only your elbows. I initially promoted the series thus:
"Whatever your most terrifying nightmare, this is infinitely worse."
After that, I'm afraid it lost me. The genuine, stomach-churning tension which made me invest emotionally in each individual or shudder at their complete callousness and disregard for their fellow fugitive was replaced by such grotesquery that it repelled me with its not-necessary nastiness and so from what was occurring. Jonathan assured me that its spin-off series CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE by Si Spurrier was a huge return to form but I hadn't been sufficiently intrigued until the words "Alan" and "Moore" lured me back, and look: he's brought a rather fine artist with him.
The textures on this detritus-strewn landscape are as rich as its detail: there's so much to look at surrounding the more obvious focal points of the plot: the libraries, churches and the rusted stream train carrying this cast of archivists across a thinly populated wilderness where you can almost hear the silence.
There is, surprisingly, even beauty to behold in the form of brightly coloured butterflies and parakeets taking flight above the debris. Buddleias have rampaged across the ruins - a buddleia can take route in even the smallest concrete crevice, I warn you - and a rusted iron steamer has it charms.
The Crossed are so called because of the cross of red blisters which erupts across their faces upon infection like some pustular St George's flag. The disease which turns its victims into such single-mindedly savage and sexually insatiable beasts that they are barely cognizant any longer is as contagious as the worst we know of that isn't airborne, the transformation is almost instantaneous. It first broke out on July 27th 2008 when the world's population had reached 700 thousand million. Within a decade the uninfected human population was down to 2 million with 100 million infected on the loose.
But this trend has since reversed itself, largely because The Crossed eat their own children before they're old enough to breed. Also, they're mindless.
With far fewer nests it's become relatively (relatively) safe to venture from the heavily fortified stockades to see what can be gleaned from what's left of the relics of their past - video recordings, non-fiction, manuals, journals - in order to better understand both what happened and what used to be considered their culture. Although even the most intrepid rarely stray far from their armoured bus and everyone goes armed with a shotgun.
Just as well, because one such expedition of archivists is startled to be set upon by a second nest of nudists in two days, covered in blood and faeces, the men as priapic as ever. Then there's a third attack inside a Memphis mansion (broken signs will make you smile throughout with a recognition no longer shared by the archivists) and the narrator, Future Taylor, begins to suspect something's up. But what truly confounds her are the shrines she starts finding with lit candles, one with a framed portrait of a man with a goatee that isn't quite a photograph but close. On the back are broken bits of sentences, some of which you may well puzzle out long before Future does. But The Crossed have no religion - they're not organised enough for it - so what's up?
This is far more culturally orientated than before, Moore extrapolating from the Ennis scenario and musing on what might have happened one hundred years on. For a start, the ozone layer has repaired itself. Well, all our smoke-billowing industries have shut down. So it's not all bad. It's still pretty bad and I very much appreciated the safety of my study and my steady supply of Sauvignon Blanc.
In particular Moore is considering what may have happened to language and its slang in a world where there are isolated packs of human beings rather than an instantly accessible global information hub. There are neologisms aplenty, many of which made me smile, but rather too many too soon. Language should enrich a story, not obfuscate it, and I wince typing this for Alan Moore is one thousand times the writer that I will ever be but the number rendered the narrative just a little too opaque until I finally adjusted three chapters in.
I liked that the teenagers had adopted a stylised version of The Crossed's red disfigurements as a tribal fashion statement like punks' Mohicans or goths' heavy eyeliner.
But what I loved above all was the plot itself - the mystery whose clues lie in corners you'll never suspect at first, hidden as they are in plain sight.
What I must, however, do before closing is remind you that this is top-shelf material with scenes so horrific that FROM HELL looks like fun.