First published within a single compilation volume back in August of 2013, the sixth instalment in the post-apocalyptic ‘Crossed’ series was entitled ‘Crossed Volume 6: Badlands’ and contained three separate stories : ‘The Fatal Englishman’ written by Garth Ennis with artwork by Raulo Caceres, ‘Livers’  written by David Lapham with artwork by Miguel A. Ruiz and ‘Conquers All’ written by Simon Spurrier with artwork by Raulo Caceres.  The compilation volume contained all ten of the original comics from the sixth series (Badlands issues 19 - 28).

DLS Synopsis:

The Fatal Englishman

From what they’d seen, they were very possibly the only military unit still operating in the UK.  Travelling across the bare and treacherous landscape they’d encountered various settlements.  However none they’d seen had anything close to the military background they did.

They were drawing close to their final destination when they spotted a lone adult with five young children with him about to make one bigass mistake that would undoubtedly mean then end for all of them.  Neither Harry, Paddy nor Jock could just sit there doing nothing whilst the children were ripped to shreds by a pack of marauding Crossed.  So they did what they do best.  They moved in and laid the advancing Crossed to waste.  Which is how they met Father Dennis Kingston.

It emerged that the good Father had been cast out with the children by his own parishioners.  Apparently the children had made too much noise whenever the Crossed were in the nearby vicinity.  That had been three days ago.  God alone knows how they’d survived since then.

But Harry knew they couldn’t take the Father and his charge with them.  They had their own mission.  They were heading to Porton Down in Wiltshire - the location for the Ministry of Defence’s Primary Biological and Chemical Warfare Centre.  Their plan was to find out what sort of nasty stuff was there and then set the whole lot off at once.  Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Livers

Amanda hadn’t been with Frank and his thirteen-year-old son Frankie for long.  Since meeting she’d stayed and travelled with them.  He was smart.  He had to be to have kept his son and him alive for the past two years.  They’d met when he helped her out of a tight spot.  He was a good man.  But she knew that her being with them filled their needs.  Although she couldn’t let him in.  She couldn’t allow herself to open up to anyone else again.  Not since Lorre.  She’d learned the hard way.

She was aware that she was crazy.  Well half-crazy at least.  Lorre had done that to her.  Messed her up like that.  She’d not only lost a hand to him – she’d also lost a big old chunk of her sanity too.  It made her sceptical.  Permanently suspicious.  And incredibly dangerous.

Which is why she dealt with Frank before moving on.  He couldn’t be trusted.  She felt she had no choice.  So now she was on her own again.  Travelling alone – trying to keep ahead of the Crossed.  Which is then how she met Danger Montana and his equally crazy friends - Sir Killweather and Kong.  They’d managed to get themselves a small safe haven, hidden away from the world.  They called it Base M.  It was where Danger Montana took her.  These people clearly had something going for them.  They weren’t just survivors.  They didn’t just hide away - they actually lived.  They were livers…

Conquers All

Before the Crossed ripped everyone’s lives apart, Serena Long had been an officer with the Los Angeles County Probation Department.  Day-in day-out she’d come into contact with the absolute scum of the earth.  That was how she met Mattias Vichnyak.

When he’d first come into her office she’d loathed him.  Despised his cockiness.  His smug bravado and obscene arrogance.  But there was also something else about Mattias.  His file told of a monster.  A thug who would go to despicable lengths to get what he wanted.  He was a violent sadist and an uncontrollable ketamine head.  But he was also strong, intelligent and charismatic.

Serena knew it was mostly the thrill of doing something that was so utterly wrong.  But nevertheless she let herself get swept along with it.  She’d allowed this thug into her life.  Into her bed.  And into her heart.  But it could never end well for them.  It was never going to amount to anything more than just sex.

Now she was holed-up in her office staring at the tracking device on her laptop screen whilst it showed Mattias drawing ever closer.  She knew he’d come back.  After all he was one tough sonofabitch.  And with all that hate in him, she knew even becoming Crossed wouldn’t keep him away…

DLS Review:
First up we have the return of the series creator – Garth Ennis – offering up another fine example of how to deliver entertaining brutality with just the slightest sprinkling of social commentary lurking behind it.  It’s a short four-part story which lays down a reasonably thought-provoking plot amidst the usual vicious carnage and blood-drenched gore.

Ennis throws in plenty of heroic behaviour and honourable intent on pretty much every other page.  And that’s not to mention the moral compass which swings all over the shop as soon as the real meat of the story is underway.  That said, the characters are still all reasonably believable – but ensnare you more through how they all wear their collective hearts on their sleeves rather than anything else.

Of course Ennis also has fun throwing in plenty of atrocities, sadism and the resulting human wreckage. Part two of his story starts off with a double-spread showing Brighton pier now completely covered from end-to-end in human skin.  Then you’ve got some infant slaughter and a Crossed woman with a wig-cum-necklace combo that’s fashioned from dismembered penises.  Yeah – you’ve got it all in there.  It’s classic Ennis…classic Crossed…and delivers a superbly downbeat ending to finish it off with.

Following on from Ennis’ story we’re treated to another big name in the world of extreme horror graphic novels – David Lapham.  Here we have a rather peculiar story involving a hardass half-crazy young woman (who has a stump for a right hand), who’s become a little unhinged after coming across that good old recurring character – Harold Lorre – from ‘Crossed Volume 3: Psychopath’ (2012).

Now I’ve got to admit that I’m an absolute sucker for interweaving stories and recurring characters that pop up every now and again.  It seems to bring the whole thing together as one.  Makes the stories feel like patches on a much bigger picture.  Lapham clearly knows this and uses it to his advantage on numerous occasions.

Interestingly Lapham’s gone for quite a strange plot – once again utilising the fertile ground of slightly unhinged characters and how they interact with each other to get by in this hellish new world.  Our principal protagonist is a damaged young woman named Amanda who stumbles across some equally odd characters who are holed-up in a secured base located in the depths of a closed off sewer.  The three new guys consist of a guy who calls himself Danger Montana (who thinks he’s the next Indiana Jones), then there’s the not-so-valiant knight in rather dulled armour who goes by the name of Sir Killweather, and finally you have Kong – a Tarzan meets King Kong sort of oddity.

Of course together they make for quite a successful unit.  But when you inject a woman into the equation – it causes rifts and a gradual imbalance that will ultimately (and inevitably) end in more than just tears.  However, what really makes the story work is the completely unpredictable constant twisting and shifting in the characters persona and the storyline as a whole.  It’s wacky and weird and in many ways – because of the situation these characters are thrust into – all the more believable for its outrageousness.  You’ll love it!

The final offering in the volume is by far and away the most graphic.  Writer Simon Spurrier utilises all of artist Raulo Caceres’ talents at depicting mind-numbing scenes of explosive violence and gore.  I kid you not – almost every other page in this story makes even the most extreme of Cannibal Corpse album covers look like Disney sketches in comparison.

The story itself is incredibly linear.  You’ve got a woman who’s hiding out in her office by herself, just waiting for her hard-as-they-come ex-lover (and sadistic thug) to come and get her.  Oh yeah – and he’s now Crossed.  Fair do’s - it’s got quite a clever little idea behind it.  A remembered pain focussing the inherent rage of becoming Crossed upon the sole perpetrator for that hurt.

Spurrier delivers the story well – playing out the story via a tight structure that has an almost poetic or lyrical quality to it.  There’s a definite coming-round-to-full-circle vibe going on with it.  And a deliberately staggered timeline that works particularly in its favour.

It would be tough to pick a favourite story from the three.  So I won’t!  But what I can say is that each one has its own strong qualities and unique merits.  Read one after the other they fit perfectly together, yet have their own independence and huge differences.  And it’s through this variation that the three stories work so well together.

Very probably one of the best ‘Crossed’ volumes thus far…

The compilation volume runs for a total of 256 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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