Why I Skull That Crossed 100 Is So Sexing Brown
♦ If you found the title hard to read then Jack Graves suggests you don’t pick up Crossed 100 by hit comics writer Alan Moore.
Jack Graves is the author of After the Angels, currently 5 stars on Amazon and has “echoes here of Neil Gaiman and China Miéville” says one reviewer. You can get it here… as an ebook and here in paperback.
A QUICK PRIMER on Crossed 100, and the Crossed series in general: Imagine the zombies from 28 Days Later, but they rape people and also speak in edgy ‘90s Todd Macfarlane dialogue. And sometimes sing songs from Bugsy Malone. Yeah.
Avatar would like to sell Crossed 100 as a more intellectual take on the Crossed franchise, basically because the Crossed franchise itself mostly survives on a fan base of torture-porn addicts, and there seems to be a limit to how much money you can screw out of torture-porn addicts with limitless cover variants. Enter noted comics ‘intellectual’ Alan Moore, the man who bravely walked away from DC comics and their ‘unethical business practices’ to work for a company who produce an endless stream of misogynistic and misanthropic torture-porn shite.
Crossed 100 is set 100 years after the release of the Crossed virus, and follows a few survivors, now picking through the ruins of civilisation, while avoiding the few remaining Crossed – or as they call them now ‘churchfaces.’ More on that later.
Forming both the main selling point (because it’s ‘intellectual,’ you see) and the main problem with the series, is the future language and culture Moore has created. Constructed languages are well established in literature, from Tolkien’s elvish, Burgess’s Nadsat, Orwell’s Newspeak, to the lower-rent Klingon. Language often helps to flesh out an invented world: language is how we convey our ideas, so a new language may convey new ideas or make us think differently.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, this is the whole point of the language of Newspeak. Newspeak has been constructed by an oppressive regime to purposefully restrict the ideas language can convey, and so restricts people’s thoughts.
In Crossed 100, the characters speak a language that is supposed to have arisen naturally through 100 years of linguistic change. It should be less a constructed language, like Newspeak, and more a fictional argot, like Nadsat from A Clockwork Orange. Nadsat is the slang language of youth in the novel, combining Russian words and phrases, rhyming slang, and the sort of abbreviation that happens naturally in the development of language (such as ‘electronic mail’ becoming ’email’). Nadsat is brilliantly realised (Burgess was a linguist, who translated TS Eliot’s The Waste Land into Persian), and adds immeasurably to A Clockwork Orange, creating a timeless language that gives insight into the secretive youth culture of Burgess’s world.
But there’s a dark twin to these constructed languages: ‘fonetickalli rendurred acksents’. Overdoing trying to convey accents through prose can cause problems – if your reader doesn’t understand what you’ve written, you may have turned your charming regional character’s dialogue into an incomprehensible mess.
Famous examples of badly written accents include Joseph, of Wuthering Heights fame, and the unnamed dying farmer from HP Lovecraft’s A Colour Out of Space. In both cases I ended up skipping their dialogue whenever they popped up, which I doubt is what the authors intended.
Alan Moore’s fictional Crossed 100 language sadly falls into the ‘fonetickalli rendurred acksents’ crap. Which is to say that the language in Crossed 100 is confusing and shit. Or, as his characters would say, “Alan Moore’s wishful fiction talk doesn’t skull and is fuck brown.”
While writing this I sat down to re-familiarise myself with exactly how the language in Crossed 100 works. I opened Crossed 100, read for a little while, and became so depressed that I put it down, minimised the window I was writing this article in, and went to go and do something else. That, along with profound despair, is an accurate summary of how I feel about this masterwork of zombie fiction.
Rather than apply the process by which language evolves to modern English and extrapolate a future English, what Alan Moore has done is take the thesaurus approach of arbitrarily replacing words we use with other words relating to that thing. Brown means shit; skulled means thought; sexing means fuck/fucking (although fuck also still means fuck, which is odd).
With that in mind, I ask you, dear reader, to try and guess what ‘opsied’ and ‘audied’ mean. I’ll tell you in a few paragraphs, no peeking, but these are two of the most common new words Moore uses, and it took me quite a while to figure them out, even in context.
The real human race doesn’t tend to arbitrarily change existing good words for shits and giggles; Moore’s approach comes off as both unrealistic and pretentious. Crossed 100 is set a mere 100 years in the future. Pick up a book written in 1916 and see if you can understand it. Do the people in the book say ‘thought’, ‘walked’, and ‘good’, or do they use some incomprehensible archaic word instead? Although 100 years probably sounds like a lot of time to some, in linguistic history it’s a very short period.
The sources for linguistic change in real life are limited. New technologies or concepts (like email and teenagers), increased contact between different cultures, a desire for greater speed in communication (like text speak). I’m not sure which of those sources would make people replace ‘saw’ with ‘opsied and ‘heard’ with ‘audied’, both of which take much more time to say than saw or heard. In addition both would require the survivors of a mass zombie attack to reject the Old English/Germanic roots of ‘saw’ in favour of the Latinate or Greek roots ‘optic’ or ‘opsis’, and the similarly Old English/Germanic ‘hear/heard’ with the Latinate ‘audio’, and then create a slang version of them both. That’s what you do when you’re trying to fight off bloodthirsty zombies: learn Latin and Greek. These substitutions add no new meaning beyond demonstrating Moore’s poor understanding of language coupled with the find-and-replace approach that he has taken.
There’s a fair amount of Crossed-specific terminology, like calling the crossed ‘churchfaces’ and ‘illbillies’ (the latter of which I think is probably taken from a Rob Zombie record somewhere). I’m not coming down on these too hard, given that you probably would come up with a bunch of new names for them over time, even if they are stupid and take longer to say than ‘Crossed’. It’s not as if expedience is important when you’re trying to articulate that you’ve seen a rapist zombie coming to get you. Or, sorry, that you “opsied an illbilly kicking to sexing fuck you.”
Special mention for most ridiculous new word goes for ‘sextime’, possibly the stupidest unit of measurement of all time, given the potentially wide variance of the metric.
The irritating language merely serves to obscure a glacially paced, shittifyingly bad story, that drip feeds you the stupid story arc over the length of many, many, issues. Partly this is a problem with the Crossed series as a whole. Despite purporting to be an edgier, more realistic deconstruction of the zombie apocalypse scenario, it lays out a whole set of rules about how the Crossed are just regular humans gone nuts and how they’re just as vulnerable to inclement weather as normal people. Then it ignores them.
Sure, the human protagonists are having trouble scraping stuff together to survive, but the Crossed can run around half naked, covered in cuts, and smeared in excrement and yet somehow they survive as a species for a century. There’s an ‘explanation’ for this longevity – a really, really, stupid explanation that I’ll cover later on.
All variations on the Crossed family of comics lean on tired old zombie-fiction tropes to raise tension. Have you ever been out in your home city early in the morning, or very late at night, when nobody is really around? The chances of anyone sneaking up on you in those circumstances are pretty damn low. Sound carries in the concrete corridors of city streets. Having the characters be repeatedly surprised by continually-shouting Crossed, or in one case a pack of dogs (dogs: the cunning, silent, animal), is risible.
The classic ‘guns have a range of 10 feet’ trope gets trotted out. Zombies come in two core varieties: ‘slow, shuffly, and tough’, and ‘fast, angry, and human’. The Crossed are the latter type. For millennia, human-on-human warfare was essentially people running angrily at each other with various sharp implements: it’s a tactic we’ve created a lot of weaponry to thwart. Such as guns, all of which work at a considerable distance from potential aggressors.
So, to avoid any characters using the ‘shoot the Crossed from far away’ solution the Crossed appear magically en masse about 20 feet from the protagonists, who then get swarmed. Clearly, the Crossed save their whole ‘raging psycho’ routine for their victims, and the rest of the time are ninja masters of stealth.
I’d be much more willing to suspend my disbelief about this stuff if Crossed didn’t trade on how much more ‘realistic’ it is than other zombie comics. To be fair to Moore, these aspects are less prevalent (although still there) in Crossed 100, with only a couple of incidents of stealth-Crossed. This is due to the general lack of interaction with the Crossed in Crossed 100. This lowers the number of annoying tropes but contributes to the high levels of tedium.
It should be difficult to make a series about psycho zombies who rape and torture everyone boring. Disgusting, puerile, distasteful, offensive, sure. But not boring. Crossed 100 is so very, very boring. Behind the obfuscating veil of the ill-conceived future English lurks a deep, deep well of tedium.
The main story of Crossed 100 (Moore’s run at least) follows archivist Future Taylor and her salvage team as they drive around in a big old train/bus thing looking for valuable historical artefacts, such as books and videos. They find evidence of the Crossed possessing a sort of culture: researching this leads them to find out how the Crossed still exist 100 years after their first appearance (‘The Surprise’).
All very promising. I’m a real sucker for anything revealing the secret origin of something weird and gross like zombies, and I also like a good look at any kind of ‘after the fall’ world. I’ve also always been fascinated by how zombies continue to exist after 3 to 4 weeks. However you look at it, human physiology requires energy, and it’s hard to imagine a zombie cooking a three-course meal.
Crossed 100 fails to live up to the promise of the premise. Moore’s vision of the world after man appears to be borrowed from the TV series Life after People, with feral pets and zoo animals running loose in an overgrown, crumbling world, i.e., the vision of the post-apocalypse that is considered to be most factually accurate. It’s hardly original, however, and little of the carnage of ‘The Surprise’ remains behind, aside from some mass graves here and there. (Who did the burying? And did the Crossed leave them alone while doing it?)
If Crossed 100 was more interesting Moore might get away with taking jabs at his fellow authors in the post-apocalyptic fiction genre. One of his characters reads The Road by Cormac McCarthy and dismisses it as being too cheerful and not nearly as edgy as the ‘reality’ of Crossed. It’s an arrogant move given that Crossed 100 has about 1/1000th of the merit of The Road, and given that the Crossed series as a whole has just outright stolen much of the mise en scène of The Road.
Factually the world of Crossed 100 isn’t as miserable as that of The Road. In The Road the biosphere is toast and the world is grey ash. In Crossed everyone turned into a rapey zombie for a while, but nature itself is doing pretty well.
Having a character read a Cormac McCarthy novel raises another plot hole. Given that everyone speaks some fucked up future-language, and given how difficult to read McCarthy’s writing can be for modern readers, how are these future people getting on so well with these books? Why do they watch, read, and understand all this media in 20th Century English, then opt to speak a strange, inconvenient pidgin language the rest of the time?
It’s not as if it’s just one tribe of survivors who speak like that, they communicate over radio with the wider world and everyone talks like that. People today argue over ‘soda’ and ‘pop’ but cut forward 100 years and everyone’s happy to talk about “mopping churchfaces” and taking “three sextimes to make brown in the bonepile.”
The biggest plot hole of all is the method the Crossed have used to prolong their existence lo these hundred years. During the Crossed outbreak Beau Salt, a serial killer who despite being infected fully retained his sanity. Because he was already crazy, you see. Not the Crossed sort of raving, uncontrolled crazy but the serial killer sort of crazy where you fit into society and periodically murder people. Happily (because obviously insanity is a binary on-off state, rather than a whole bunch of different conditions and afflictions) Salt was able to just carry on as normal in a world he perceived as paradise. Salt even goes for brunch.
This is the sort of lazy idea you’d expect a writer to use as a throwaway gag when writing a Batman comic about the Joker, not what you’d expect Serious Comics Genius Alan Moore to use as the lynchpin of his Serious, Cerebral Take on hit zombie-rape franchise Crossed.
The overarching Crossed back story already establishes that the Crossed have various degrees of sanity, from those who cut their own legs off for fun, to more methodical, tactical serial-killer types, so why Moore couldn’t have used this instead of the cheap gag of ‘he was already crazy so he couldn’t go double-crazy’. It’s just lazy.
So the totally sane (aside from the periodic murdering thing) Beau Salt realises that the Crossed as a whole are very poorly suited for long term survival, and decides that, to perpetuate this earthly paradise, he needs a plan for the future. And the plan is: selectively breed and condition the Crossed to be less insane, and then let humanity have some time to regain numbers before the slaughter starts again. The early stages of this ‘plan’ are conveyed through videotapes and journals found by the protagonists, and the latter stages are shown when they stumble upon a Crossed village, but the intermediary steps are a little hazy. It’s not completely clear what these new Crossed did when their ‘sane’ founder died, but they worship Salt and his plan religiously.
While humans were busy scraping by and trying to rebuild society (which they’ve managed to a good degree, with the neo-Islamic fortress-city of Chooga) the Crossed have apparently mastered raising and training horses, and have taken to stealing Ostriches from the humans for food. I buy it that a small tribe of smarter Crossed could survive a hundred years, but they seem to be sustained by authorial fiat more than any real logic.
SPOILERS! Well it’s hard to spoil Crossed 100 in any meaningful way, but should you have put it away for a rainy day, note that spoilers will follow.
Alan Moore Sads Up Peoplekind
Long story short, the disfigured black guy in the protagonist’s gang is actually a Crossed ‘in disguise,’ which in itself, violates the basic concepts of Crossed. Maniacs who can stay calm for long periods of time? Can they also take up meditation? He betrays Future Taylor and her salvage team, everybody gets raped and killed, the end. Because I guess cavalry trumps guns in Alan Moore’s Fucked Up World of Shit.
I don’t want to come off like one of those insane detail-freaks who complains about whether a horse is a Palomino in one scene or an Arabian stallion in another, because I’m not someone who demands scrupulous realism or perfect mastery of the science of linguistics in my funnybooks. I’m entirely happy to suspend my disbelief for the wide range of bone-headed horror tripe I consume. But when a series tells me it’s a realistic take on the zombie-craze, and then isn’t, that’s when I notice. When I read articles going on about how smart and well-conceived this future language is going to be, that’s when I start noticing that it doesn’t make any sense.
People have a tendency to assume, when reading something written by a revered creator, that if they don’t understand it, it’s because it’s too smart for them. That if something doesn’t make sense, or is inconsistent, it’s because they missed something, not because the author failed to make their work add up. Alan Moore gets away with murder because of this. Moore is a talented guy who has had a huge influence on comics and popular culture for decades. Like most of you I loved V for Vendetta, Miracleman, Watchmen etc., but I feel that he often puts less effort than he should into his writing, and people spot him the difference and treat sub-par work as if it’s great.
Crossed 100 isn’t great, it’s boring, and beyond anything else that is its cardinal sin. It’s boring, and the crappy future-speak makes it difficult to read and boring.
In Othello Iago talks about the difficulty of creation, and says that his ideas come from his head “as birdlime does from frieze”: It’s like getting bird shit out of fabric. This serves too as an accurate description of the experience of reading Crossed 100. You put in the work to extract the meaning from the pages, but all you’re left with is a handful of shit.