First published within a single compilation volume back in September of 2012, the fourth instalment in the post-apocalyptic ‘Crossed’ series was entitled ‘Crossed Volume 4: Badlands’ and contained two separate storylines : ‘Badlands’ written by Garth Ennis with artwork by Jacen Burrows and ‘Homo Superior’ written by Jamie Delano with artwork by Leandro Rizzo.  The compilation volume contained all nine of the original comics from the fourth series (Badlands issues 1 - 9).

DLS Synopsis:

Badlands

Ian Cowley had been with this particular group of survivors for some time now.  They spent their summers in the Highlands, up in the Glens where it stayed reasonably cool, then when the snow began to fall they’d come down to scavenge.  This was now their fourth trip south.

They’d all seen their fair share of the horrors that smothered the world they now lived upon.  They had their own ways of dealing with it.  Whatever it was – so far it had worked for them.  Amongst the group they had a survivor claiming to be Prince Harry.   But with his face all bandaged up like it was, you couldn’t tell if he really was him.  Nevertheless, Harry had a rifle.  That made him one of the most valuable assets in the group.

Ricky had been a paramedic before the Crossed turned the world to madness.  Having someone who knew their shit when it came to looking after your well-being was a definite bonus.  They also had John.  He was just the sort of guy you wanted around.  He’d worked on the rigs.  He was tough and straight-to-the-point.  He got things done.  That’s what you needed.

In Ian’s eyes the rest of them were pretty much just ‘hangers on’.  Mark wasn’t too bad but he came with his heavily pregnant younger sister Anya.  Having her with them was slowing the group down no end.

Deep down Ian knew he had to make another one of those tough selfish decisions sometime soon.  He’d done it enough times in the past.  It was how he’d survived.  If those with you were dragging you down, then cut your ties and get away.  Don’t let anyone slow you down.  Otherwise eventually it’ll just get you killed.

And now with the Crossed on their heels it was decision time once again…

Homo Superior

Greg Costello had been keeping low, keeping out of sight, and most importantly – keeping away from the Crossed – all by himself for some time now.  He’d been making his way across the land on his push bike.  However for the last couple of days he’d had his sights on another survivor.  She’d been making her way on a bike just like him.  She could clearly hold her own in this dog-eat-dog new world.  And when Greg finally catches up with her, he finds out just how much of a cold-hearted hardass she really is.

Meanwhile, twins Ashlynne and Ashley are also making their way across the land in the search of finding somewhere better to be.  Paddling down the swampy rivers in their two kayaks, so far the twins had managed to always stay alert and ahead of the Crossed.  But now their paths had crossed with Leon.

Leon had been holed up in his father’s redneck militia compound until now.  Although Leon didn’t entirely hold the same strong racial ideas as his father, he’d found living there had certain perks.  He’d gotten away with smoking his weed, listening to his tunes, cooking up his junk, and reading his comics.  That was a good enough existence for him.  But all that went rapidly pear-shaped when he let his father’s prized dog get slaughtered during a sudden Crossed attack on the compound.

After Leon received a vicious beating followed by a hefty dose of humiliation as punishment – he’d finally gotten the hell out of the militia compound for good.  Not only that but he’d left in style.  Now he was off in search of a preacher he’d heard over the radio.  A preacher who said he had a ship down in the islands and was going to put together a crew of ‘Homo Superiors’ then go look for a place to start over.  All folk had to do was get to him.  And that’s exactly what Leon planned to do…

DLS Review:
Series creator Garth Ennis returns to the Crossed blood-frenzy with the first offering in this two-story volume.  The premise is your usual Crossed setting.  A bunch of survivors just trying to stay ahead of the Crossed.  The backdrop is the bleak Scottish Highlands.  It’s all pretty textbook stuff.

From here Ennis throws in more incidental characters than you can shake a blood-encrusted stick at.  Indeed the main direction of the story, for a while at least, is damn hard to decipher.  Slowly but surely our protagonist (if you can possibly call him that) who’s been narrating the tale thus far, moves forward and starts running the show.

It’s a tale about survival (aren’t they all?) and doing what needs to be done.  Through this three-part (i.e. three comic) storyline we learn of the hard choices Ian’s had to make so far in order to survive.  Ennis shows the true nature of how cold-hearted you need to be in order to survive in the world of the Crossed.  The violence and gore is nowhere near as full-on as it had been in previous offerings – but the depressing grittiness is there in absolute abundance.

The second story (split into six comic book parts) is the longer and more substantial one.  Instead of concentrating on one particular storyline, writer Jamie Delano instead offers up three separate threads which gradually converge until the inevitable grit and grim of the ending swallows them whole.

Here the backdrop for the tale is the gator-infested swamp waters of South America.  With less Crossed around, Delano concentrates on the characters and their individual stories.  What’s clear from the outset is that absolutely none of them are your everyday sort of guys.  Steve was a hardass female bodyguard who’d done time in the forces.  She’s the hardest, coldest, and most devoid of any emotion out of the lot of them.  And fair do’s to Delano – he paints a pretty convincing picture of one messed up bitch with plenty of problems.

The storyline of Ashlynne and Ashley is a different matter altogether.  They’re two purposefully hot young eighteen-year-old identical twins who again have their own issues.  Their storyline mostly consists of random banter between the two sisters followed by skinny-dipping and then snuggling up for some well-earned sleep.

By far and away the most interesting and entertaining of the three converging storylines is that of Leon and his father’s redneck militia.  Here we get to see more of the nasty stuff we’ve come to expect from the ‘Crossed’ series.  Although there’s again a lot less of the Crossed about than we’ve become accustomed to, Delano makes up for this in a small way with the hard-boiled grittiness of Leon’s life in the militia compound.  And when the shit hits the fan and Leon gets the hell out of dodge – the whole story cranks up a good couple of gears.

I have to say that both of the stories that make up this fourth volume are a bit of a surprise.  Neither delivered the same onslaught of blood-crazed violence and sexual deviancy as any of the previous volumes have.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s still there – there’s just a lot less of it.  What you have instead are two stories that are much more focused on the characters and their plights rather than dealing with the trials and tribulations of the madness that’s going on around them.

But there are still plenty of moments that’ll get you wincing.  From babies being thrown from speeding car windows, to totem poles made of impaled fat kids from a nearby fat kid camp – it still maintains that unashamed no-holds-barred extreme horror approach.

All in all it’s definitely not the best volume from the ongoing series.  Garth Ennis’ offering is undoubtedly the more entertaining of the two.  The pacing’s tighter, the direction is more focused, and the grittiness is constantly chomping at your heels.  Jamie Delano’s story is less immediate and less tightly steered.  The scattergun approach to the converging storylines can feel clumsy and directionless at times.  But by Lucifer’s Beard has it got one bitter and twisted ending.

Nothing ground-breaking - but still well worth a read.

The compilation volume runs for a total of 240 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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