OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF CHRISTOPHER J. PRIEST |
Penciller ChrisCross, known best perhaps for his stint on Marvel Comics' Captain Marvel, Slingers, and Milestone's Blood Syndicate, is one of the most inspired and gifted artists I know. Cross has an unparalleled instinct for dramatic storytelling, one that is wholly under appreciated by the major companies who are still playing by Curt Swan rules of artistic engagement. Being an enormously tall black man with big fists and a deep voice doesn't help Cross much in this, a business dominated by short pudgy white guys who never dated much in high school.
A man of enormous mirth and enormous proportions, Cross is also a man of deep and inspiring religious conviction who has waited patiently— too patiently— for his moment in the sun. Regrettably, in this business, the cards are somewhat stacked against him, with the race card being fairly near the top, and the You've Been Around Awhile But Haven't Had A Big Hit card being likely at the very top. This is a business that rewards creative talent who score big wins with more big wins. The business, however, continues to be hampered by the outdated idea that guys like Cross need to "prove themselves" by turning a B-level book like Slingers into a top seller like X-Men before he is considered for any A-List work.
Which is incredible bullshit. It's just a cover for the rampant cronyism that's crippled this business for too long. This notion of hits and misses is just a smokescreen for the fact most editors in the business really can't tell what they are looking at. because if they could, ChrisCross would be a star. The main difference between ChrisCross and Hot Artist Of The Month is HAOTM had a shot at Daredevil or X-Men and Cross never has. And may never have. It's been decided. Somewhere, in the recesses of Common Thought that floats through the halls at these companies, It Has Been Decided who is hot and who isn't. The not-hot guys never get even a chance to handle Daredevil, to prove what they can do, and to bring home the numbers that seem to be the only sure way most working editors these days know good talent from "bad" talent.
ChrisCross is one of the greatest living comic book storytellers working today. I can only hope and pray these companies mature beyond the nascent and ephemeral caste system that continues to dictate who gets his day in the sun and who doesn't. That this phenomenal talent isn't the most sought-after artist in the business is, to me, more proof of how terribly flawed the business is, and how unwilling it is to change.
Christopher J. Priest
CITIZEN TRANE: Cross
borrows a famous page from Welles' book.
TABLE FOR ØNE: Cross finds the emotional center of a scene, emphasizing the villain's loneliness by isolating him and partially obscuring him with the cafe umbrella. This is brilliant, breathtaking storytelling, the emotional subtext and subtlety at play, here. and Cross was regularly hammered for this by editors who simply didn't get it; who just thought Cross was clueless about where to put his virtual camera, missing completely, the genius at work here. Without one word of dialogue, Cross has added tremendous depth to the villainous Øne, Xero's arch nemesis. The previous page featured Øne in a high voltage action sequence, full of explosions and, one would guess, loud music. Going from that to this static subtlety, Cross literally and emotionally unmasks Øne in a sequence that is both riveting and revelatory. The too-tall panel one sets up the canopy over Øne's head as the gloom settles in on him and Øne is enveloped by and then swallowed by shadow. This sequence sets up the page turn where Øne is taken by surprise by his boss, Frank Decker, who suddenly appears in the next frame, startling Øne (something not easily accomplished), and signaling Øne that he has been marked for death. It really doesn't get any better than this, kids.
I've posted an excerpt from early issues of Xerø, dealing with the subplot that ultimately unravels Xero's carefully-constructed duality. Trane Walker's brother, Trent, fails the character test and, reeling from the disintegration of a co-dependent relationship, he ends up drunkenly leaving the door open to Trane's top-secret warehouse. The kindly and noble town Sheriff then stumbles onto Trane's secret identify, causing the Sheriff to be marked for death by the super-secret agency Xerø works for. The choices Xerø makes as regards the Sheriff's mandatory elimination become the basic foundation for the character, a foundation ultimately not needed as the company's non-support for this book (I mean, nobody in the office was even reading it, sending the book out with glaring and huge errors) made the book's demise a capriciously self-fulfilling prophecy.
These pages further showcase Cross' excellence in storytelling, acting (I mean, really look at the expressions and body language of the characters), and of the genius and power of this man, who wrings an entirely new level of depth out of the script. Even now, years later, I'm still seeing things I didn't notice the first time around: little bits of magic and story brought out by the hand of a superior craftsman.
Critical to the story of Xerø, a major league basketball star by day, a 4th-level Closer by night, was the story of his brother, Trent. In fact, XERØ, the series, was actually not about Xerø The Closer at all, but was about his little brother, a man of no obvious moral fiber and possessed of unquenchable thirsts for power, fame, money and women— one woman in particular, Sabrina Lake, daughter of (and deputy to) Emmett Lake, Sheriff of St. Claire County, Missouri. An intelligent and dutiful daughter, Sabrina was in love with and all but engaged to Darius "Rev" Kirkwood, a towering but gentle figure who played center for the National City Vipers, the pro basketball team both Trent and his brother The Closer played for. Unhinging this relationship proved to be far too great a temptation for Trent, whose absence of moral character preyed on both Sabrina's inherent low self-esteem and her voracious libido. The two fell into a fairly icky affair, blatantly using one another for gratification of unmet needs, and, ultimately, destroyed Xerø, Trent's own brother. This is brilliant storytelling, pacing, and acting from the phenomenal ChrisCross. Moody and cinematic, with an eye for design, detail, and a broad range of emotions and facial expressions rarely equaled in comics these days. Cross makes my dialogue fairly leap out at you, bringing potency, vibrancy and subtext to the words. Brilliant work, wholly unappreciated at the time, in this series that ultimately became the Apollo 13 of my career.
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