First published within a single compilation volume back in December of 2013, the seventh instalment in the post-apocalyptic ‘Crossed’ series was entitled ‘Crossed Volume 7: Badlands’ and contains two separate stories : ‘Quisling’ written by Christos Gage with artwork by Christian Zanier, and ‘Breakdown’  written by David Lapham with artwork by Miguel A. Ruiz.  The compilation volume contains all eight of the original comics from the seventh series (Badlands issues 29 – 36
).

Quisling

Oliver Dauphinais had studied to be an anthropologist but ended up a science teacher.  He was also a survivor.  He’d gotten by this far by using his intelligence.  By observing.  But learning what he could about the enemy…the crossed.

The other survivors he was with knew they’d never have made it out of Applewood without him.  Back then he’d seen a man stumble out of a crashed car, with blood on his face after hitting the steering wheel.  The blood smear just happened to be in the same pattern as the rash the crossed had.  But it disguised him to their rampant, blood-crazed eyes.  However the moment he wiped it off – they saw him for what he really was.  An uninfected.  His life didn’t last long after that.  Oliver noticed all of this.  He used his new found knowledge to their favour.  He got them out of Applewood and safe again.  For the time being at least.

Now it was time to move on again.  They’d thought about following the Rocky Mountains north to Wyoming.  After all, it was the US’s least populated state.  And a fair amount of those that had previously inhabited Wyoming were Mormons.  Their teachings had told them to stockpile food and supplies.  Just what Oliver and his fellow survivors needed.

But there was something else that worried him.  He’d seen a crossed acting differently.  One who seemed to show signs of control.  One who stood taller than the others.  An alpha male.  And because of this he was a hell of a lot more dangerous.  Oliver named him “Smokey” purely based on his firefighters outfit.  Whether before the outbreak it had been his job, Oliver had no idea.  Nevertheless the dominating, axe-wielding figure worried him immensely.

Oliver decided he would keep an eye on him.  Should he be faced with no alternative Oliver knew he’d do whatever it took to survive.  No matter how loathsome.  No matter how cowardly.  He knew he’d become a traitor.  A quisling…

An abso-fucking-lutely textbook ‘Crossed’ story.  Story writer Christos Gage has encapsulated everything we love about the Crossed stories and bundled them into one tight, action-rich and gore-drenched tale.  Okay, so there’s not exactly any standout, entirely original element in it.  We’ve got the hordes of the Crossed doing their thing in all the usual gruesome ways.  We’ve also got one standout, big-ass motherfucker of a Crossed who’s showing worrying signs of being able to control his urges to some degree.  The ramifications of this are immense (and we’re shown exactly why).  They allow him to plot.  To plan.  To cause greater pain and misery.

The story starts off in typical Crossed fashion.  We’ve got a group of survivors hiding out in an abandoned building – cowering in the gloom and bickering about everything.  We’re quickly introduced to each one of them.  Oliver (our antihero) is the one the tale focusses upon.  There’s a small town police officer named Alan who initially takes on the leading role.  There’s also a whorish hanger-on named Tina who’s more interested in saving face than surviving.  Other than those, the rest pretty much just pale into the background.

However, where the strength in this first story really lies is with the levels of unrelenting (and I really fucking mean unrelenting) violence and no-holds-barred gore.  As soon as the scene is set (a matter of a couple of pages or so) and the characters have been introduced (a handful more pages) then the story just lets loose with a tsunami of adrenaline-pumping violence and blood-drenched mayhem.

Artist Christian Zanier does the story proud.  Page after page, we’re treated to maddening scenes of (often quite imaginative) violence, torture, rape and atrocious amounts of gore.  Limbs and various body parts are hacked off left right and centre.  Organs fly everywhere as the colossal figure of “Smokey” swings his mighty fireman’s axe into the throngs of the bodies (whether crossed or uninfected it doesn’t really matter).

This is undoubtedly one of the strongest offerings to date.  There’s so much deviant sexual depravity on show, so much savage butchery, so much mind-boggling violence.  I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again – it’s completely unrelenting.

Of course amongst all of the mayhem there’s also the story of Oliver Dauphinais and his tremendous cowardice.  The guy sells out the whole of humanity just to save his own fat ass.  We’re treated to a minor character arc here.  Nothing to write home about – and to be fair – the storyline doesn’t really need much of one.  But it’s there and it nevertheless works quite well.

For me this is the absolute crème de la crème of what the Crossed graphic novels are capable of.

Breakdown

Amanda had been living in a hole in the ground alongside two equally insane individuals.  One had claimed to be a noble knight by the name of Sir Killweather (although more recently he had revealed himself to be the duplicitous Dr Candy).  There other was Dr Kong – the subject of an anthropological experiment to observe the human condition in confined spaces.  As I said – both equally as insane as she was.

They called themselves “livers”.  That is, while others chose to hide, run and cower, they chose to live.  They dined on human flesh.  A delicacy that was far easier to obtain than that of a wild animal.  For a start, it didn’t usually involve drawing the attention of the Crossed.

However, things take a turn for the worse whilst out on a food hunt when Amanda finds a tribe of ‘religion-inspired crossed’ led by an infected Pope closing in.  Hiding away in cellar crawlspace, she cowers in the gloom as the crossed slaughter the cornered inhabitant’s mere metres away from her hiding place.

It brings back haunting memories of a time she wishes she could erase from her memory.  His named had been Harold Lorre.  He was the reason why she only had one hand.  A psychotic killer who took great pleasure in the suffering of others.  In some ways she knew he was worse than the Crossed.

But that had been a long time ago.  Lorre was gone now.  At least he should have been.  But his memory still haunted Amanda’s every move.  For her, there was no solace in her insanity.  Lorre’s memory was like a constant weight on her shoulders.  She found it hard to come out of her hiding place.  Out from her private hell.  And when she finally does, her fear just makes things worse.

However, following the accidental kill of a fellow survivor she meets up with the dead man’s three companions.  All Amanda wants is to keep them alive.  Keep them safe.  And that means tough choices.  Ones which she finds will often lead to murder.  Something she doesn’t want to do, but Lorre’s persuasive voice always takes her there nevertheless…

David Lapham returns to the Crossed series with his follow-on story to ‘Livers’ from ‘Crossed: Volume 6: Badlands’ (2013), along with the psychotic serial killer Harold Lorre, who originally appeared in Lapham’s ‘Crossed Volume 3: Psychopath’ (2012).  Indeed, Lapham’s one of the only writer’s for the Crossed series using recurring stories and characters.  And it definitely works in the series’ favour – offering up a continuality that shows a longer progression to the epidemic and the impact it has on the psyche of those who have continued to survive.

Insanity is the key ingredient in this chaotic tale of downward spiralling deceit.  Poor old Amanda is already pretty damn messed up at the start of the tale.  The impact of accidentally killing an uninfected survivor, and then the subsequent repercussions of her continued deceit and cover-up, lead to a near complete loss of sanity.

Compared with Christos Gage’s offering, this second story in the volume is far less action-rich or indeed anywhere near as gory.  Instead we’re treated to a creeping horror, with Amanda’s plummeting insanity creating a chill factor in the reader rather than submerging them in relentless splatter.

Lapham’s roving religious sect, headed up by a psychotic crossed pope figure, adds an imaginative new element.  Here we see a small group of crossed who are managing to purposefully abstain from any sexual acts.  Although not explored for all its potential, this new development adds some much needed variation to the Crossed.  Furthermore, Miguel Ruiz’s depictions of this fucked-up religious tribe make for some breathtakingly disturbing artwork.

Ultimately it’s a very different type of Crossed story than Christos Gage’s offering.  Pacing is considerably (and purposefully) slower, with more time lent to showing the emotional turmoil suffered by our lead character.  Nevertheless, Lapham’s offering is dark and bleak and hellishly twisted in its open-chested depiction of crumbling sanity in an already scarily fucked-up world.

The compilation volume runs for a total of 192 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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