We’ve already extolled the virtues of influential Irish writer Garth Ennis’ CROSSED stories (click here and here for more). Having made the eminently sensible decision to turn the title into an ongoing series (subtitled BADLANDS), Avatar Press compounded their good sense by inviting iconic horror author Jamie Delano to follow Ennis and write the second arc. Despite an impressive body of comics work, and an impending novel, British-born Delano is still best known for penning most of the first forty issues of Vertigo’s HELLBLAZER title, chronicling the exploits of John Constantine, a former bit-player in the SWAMP THING universe, created by writer, magician and all-round genius Alan Moore. Delano’s run, which fused supernatural horror with biting social commentary, utilising the class and cultural battlefield of Thatcher’s Britain as a backdrop, still resonates today, some twenty five years later. And the writer has lost none of his bite, as evidenced by HOMO SUPERIOR, his six-issue CROSSED arc, skilful rendered by talented Argentinean artist Leandro Rizzo.
HOMO SUPERIOR tells the story of an eclectic group of survivors of the horrific Crossed pandemic, whose lives intersect as they struggle to evade the infected and do whatever is required to stay alive. Their number includes a young meth cook who poisoned the rest of his white supremacist clan with a batch of the drug laced with the Crossed virus; a man who abandoned his family at the first sign of trouble, and has been running ever since; quite possibly psychotic teenage twin sisters; and a female ex-US Military Intelligence officer with a pathological interest in torture and degrading sex. The common denominator, of course, is that they’re all Very Bad People, which is what has enabled them to survive for so long. It’s also what makes them incapable of interacting with their fellow human beings in any meaningful, inclusive or sociable way.
For anyone conversant with the CROSSED universe (or extreme horror in general), the trappings of HOMO SUPERIOR are relatively familiar. Cannibalism, violent, sadistic murder, sexual assault, insanity, betrayal, bestiality, torture... they’re all present and accounted for. It’s like a Jack Ketchum novel come to grotesque life. Neither Delano nor his characters evidence so much as a sliver of sentimentality, leading to a reading and viewing experience that’s overwhelmingly desolate. There’s a freewheeling flavour to the narrative, a sense of unrestrained chaos; it’s impossible to predict what such unpredictable personalities, in such an unpredictable situation, will do. As such, characters frequently die or are infected off-screen, or simply drift out of the story, some to be heard from again, some not. This apparent lack of cohesion is in fact carefully controlled, reinforcing the sense of a world dangerously out of control.
The art, by newcomer Rizzo, is as bold and uncompromising as we’ve come to expect from CROSSED alumni. Whereas the draughtsmanship isn’t quite up to the standards of past masters like Jacen Burrows and Spaniard Raulo Cáceres, his characters are consistent and distinctive, his layouts clean and clear, and he takes an unflinchingly head-on approach to the disturbing violence and sexual deviancy that proliferates. As we’ve previously stated, CROSSED is not for the fainthearted, and HOMO SUPERIOR continues the tradition, with more stomach-churning moments per page than any other horror property on the market.
As with the first arc, penned by CROSSED creator and architect Garth Ennis, the real horror doesn’t come from the ultra-violence and the voraciously unrestrained sexual antics of the infected. It comes from the casual betrayals and everyday inhumanity of the survivors. The title, HOMO SUPERIOR, riffs on everything from Nietzsche’sÜbermensch to Marvel’s mutant X-Men, perceived by some in the fictional universe to be the next step of humanity’s evolution. The survivors of Delano’s story are anything but – they are psychopaths who, just like their real life boardroom counterparts, thrive in CROSSED’s brutal new world order. They think only about themselves, about the gratification of their immediate desires and securing their long-term survival. As such they will use and abuse one another in any way they see fit. That their increasingly desperate and deranged attempts are doomed to failure is scant comfort; when the world ends the cockroaches and the psychopaths are all that will be left.
CROSSED isn’t for everyone. It’s graphic horror at its most graphic, but it’s anchored by an engaging story, strong characterisation and some mesmerising (if undeniably alarming) artwork. Just don’t expect it to restore your faith in human nature.