Some books are just disturbing.
Sometimes I read a book and my first reaction is to recoil in shock and wonder how the author even managed to dream up, let alone articulate, such a horrific concept or idea. Other times my shock comes from the comfort that the author seems to have in exploring the blasphemous or typically offensive material that is comprising the core of his tale. Through many of these experiences I find a single constant; his name is Garth Ennis.
For me Garth was a revelation, when I stumbled across the very first issue of Preacher sitting on the shelves of a shop that I was working for while in University. My first reaction? I bought every copy, assuming the book would end up being banned. Its content was not only visually shocking, but the subject matter almost seemed to request censorship. The book never was banned, but I made out like a bandit when it shot up in price and became THE BOOK for back issue collectors a couple of years later. Lucky me.
Since Preacher, Garth has continued to find and explore dark, terrible visions in a way that I can state is firmly and uniquely his own. For many people his run on Punisher is the definitive story of Marvel's murderous mundane vigilante. What made it truly frightening is that he wasn't shying away from the truly terrible stories of everyday life; including child abuse and human slave trafficking. True there was always a dark mix of humor written into the books, but it was overshadowed by Garth's interpretation of a man who might well exist. Maybe that's part of what made it so gripping. The book wasn't rife with super-heroes or men in tights, and so it seemed plausible.
His newest release for the obvious evil that is rooted in his soul is a book published over at Avatar Comics by the name of Crossed. It follows in the footsteps of the recent rage of zombie comics, and then takes them to a darker place. And before you ask.....yes.....zombie comics can get darker. MUCH DARKER. In Crossed we are following a select group of human survivors as they try and survive in a landscape that is clearly turning against them. The 'crossed' aren't just your everyday zombies, content to eat brains and seek fresh meat. We don't yet know how it started, but what we do know is that it is an infection that can be transmitted through fluid exchange (saliva, blood or semen.) The infection seems to not only drive the infected mad, but also seems to bring forth the basest and most foul instincts of humankind.
It was easy the first couple of times I read through the eight issues that have been released thus far to forget that I was reading a tale about survivors and get caught up in the simple grotesque fascination I had with the horrors that Garth was unleashing in each issue. At first glance the book appears to be a tale about what we see as mankind's last survivors. With more thought though, I find that it strikes a deeper note. This books is about the survival of the concept of humanity, and it is the survivors of the plague who are proving to be poor stewards of that trust. In issue 3 we are introduced to a school teacher who has been killing people in order to provide food for starving children. While completely disgusted by the choices that she made, our group of survivors ultimately recognize that they cannot care for the children, and so choose to kill them rather than leaving them to try and survive on their own.
While an attempt is made to rationalize the choice, it is ultimately a choice to act inhumanely. The book continues to show us the slow, but steady, sacrifice of humanity that each person is going through in their efforts to survive the plague. Issue eight was the culmination of that failure, when the central character of the story (and the narrator) shoots a man in cold blood simply because he didn't like the man. It is in that moment that he recognizes his own mounting inhumanity and sets out to try and help the woman he has clearly become infatuated with to reclaim her own lost humanity.
The book has become a tale of the crossed (who, by the way, are showing dangerous signs of becoming more cunning and smart) who remain true to their own nature, vile though it is, and the humans, who you could argue are either failing in their humanity, or embracing the one savage truth of our species; self-preservation trumps all else.
The book is a terrificly, offensive read that leaves me so distracted by it's moral vacuum that I almost always forget to ask the bigger questions, like 'Where did the plague come from?' and 'Is it global?' and 'Will mankind survive?'
But the biggest questions of all are......
Are you reading it?
What do you think?