Friday, April 23, 2010

Chronic Review: Crossed Family Values # 1

Crossed: Family Values # 1
Avatar Comics

Script: David Lapham
Pencils: Javier Barreno
22 brutal pages for $3.99

It's possible to consider Crossed: Family Values and come to the conclusion that this is the easiest turn-key property in the world to take over. You grab a couple of stock victims, add copious amounts of infected Crossed, then serve with rape and murder. Easy, right?

Incorrect. If that's all you got out of Garth Ennis' volume one of Crossed, you missed a bunch of stuff, actually. What you most sorely missed was the blurring between these infected "monsters" and Joe from the block. They really aren't that different, given the right environment. That's the scary truth of series one.

If you want to do a Crossed book correctly, it isn't enough to shock. You must shock, of course, but there has to be something deeper to cling to. Eventually any stimulus loses its potency if you go to the well too often, even depravity. The other potential pitfall for a book like Crossed is that if you don't layer it with something humane or elevated, you start to endorse or celebrate the filth inside. It's supposed to make you want to throw up, folks.

My point is that David Lapham had a more difficult tight wire to walk than you might imagine. Water it down, and your core audience wants to know where the anal rape with a wire brush went. Succumb to base shock value only, and you're writing an advert for torture porn. Neither really works.

I'm very pleased but not surprised to inform you that Lapham took the torch from Ennis without a hitch and done us all proud. This is filthy, aggressive, difficult to get through in spots horror book with a worthy theme. In the first volume, Garth Ennis showed us the depths of human evil and told us a story about what it takes to survive it. In Crossed: Family Values, David Lapham appears to be showing us the costs of defying that evil.

It isn't easy to do, of course. Edmund Burke taught us that all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Then Stanley Milgram taught us that nothing is exactly what good men do in the face of evil. Of his original 40 test subjects, only one refused to hand out dangerous/lethal electrical shocks to their memory test partner. Scary, huh?

There are the Crossed in this issue, to be sure, coming in waves and as disgusting as ever. But the real evil in this six issue mini appears to be the father of the Pratt family. He's been doling out all flavors of abuse to his family for years, and just as those sins appear to be coming home to roost...the Crossed show up.

Pratt's daughter Addy is the gateway character. We're getting to know her and the Pratt family better than we did Stan and the rest of the gang from volume one. One of the departures Lapham is making from Ennis is more emotional investment in the characters, which should pay off handsomely when the inevitable and the unthinkable does happen to these people. This is not a hodge-podge collection of strangers, either. We're now dealing with a church-going family of horse ranchers from sleepy North Carolina.

Addy has an awful choice to make. It's difficult enough to break out of traditional roles and challenge an abusive father. The family is now in a position where this regular monster is about the only thing standing between them and a horde of Crossed monsters. Do you choose the devil you know? Can you take the stand when you "need" your abuser?

These are difficult subjects to broach, and I suspect Lapham will continue to handle them with courage and intelligence. I considered Crossed volume one to be one of the most important books of 2009 because of its unflinching look into human nature. Family Values may be even more important, and a worthy successor to the original.

Please do not misunderstand me. This is not a Lifetime movie of the week. Crossed has been, and still remains that most brutal horror book I've ever picked up. I have a high tolerance for gore and all things taboo. This book gets to me. Once infected, the Crossed become distilled evil, and their entire existence becomes fully dedicated to hurting those around them. Any contact with blood, saliva, or any other bodily juices gets you into the club right quick. After that, it isn't enough to kill and dismember, although trust me, they'll get to that. First, they're going to try and make you feel as much psychological pain as possible.

Crossed is unique, high caliber horror. If you're a fan of that genre, Family Values is an absolute must read. Dave Lapham is proving to be a perfect fit for the concept, and the only place I can complain at all is on price point, as usual.

- Ryan

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