Today, Taylor and Scott are discussing Zero 3, originally released November 20th, 2013.
Taylor: Tell you what, reading a Cormac McCarthy novel is a chore. This is by no means a criticism, merely an observation. I think anyone who has read any book by McCarthy would agree with me – the guy writes some pretty bleak stuff. Despite that, his writing is some of the most important to grace the written page in the past fifty years. He’s a master at his craft and his style and voice are so unique that one could argue they have become iconic. Still, reading the likes of Blood Meridian or The Road is far from a pleasant way to pass the time. These books are beautiful in their own way, but they are equally violent and incredibly depressing. Given this, it seems fitting that the afterward of Zero 3 quotes a passage from Blood Meridian. Like McCarthy’s work, Zero is bloody and disturbing, but also like McCarthy’s work it is thought provoking and occasionally beautiful.
Edward Zero, P1, is on assignment in Shanghai. The date: January 2019. His mission is to gain intel on a terrorist who is essentially starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund his villainous pursuits. On assignment with Zero is Mina Thorpe, P12, who is long time friend and probable lover of our hero. During the fundraising party, Zero eavesdrops on his primary target and learns that he has constructed a teleportation device. Before he can learn anymore, Mina is captured and Zero rushes to save her. He does and in doing believes he kills the terrorist leader, Ginsberg Nova. Zero decides to leave through the teleportation device but this proves to be a bad idea. Ginsberg is still alive and he turns off the teleporter as Zero and Mina are going through, severing Mina’s arm in the process.
The world on display in Zero is one where the strong survive, usually by killing. The logical follow up to this statement is that the weak are killed and so far we have no reason to believe this isn’t the case. Like McCarthy, writer Ales Kot’s fictional world is one that seems built on Darwinian mechanics. There isn’t morality, there is only survival. The main protagonist, Zero, is the embodiment of this ethos (at least outwardly) and this makes for a hero that would make an uncomfortable bedfellow.
You see that right there? That’s Zero killing a man by kicking him in the throat while he was pooping. It’s a shitty way to die (sorry) but Zero cares little for the ramifications of his actions. After all, he has been trained since his youth to treat life as something that can and should be taken away if necessary. In this case, the guy on the toilet stood between Zero and his goal. He was killed not necessarily because he was evil (though to be fair, he was probably a terrorist), but simply because he was in the way. It’s a winning choice by Kot to have his protagonist embody one of the defining characteristics of the world he has created. This creates a unique experience for the reader where we sympathize or shrug off the morally questionable actions of the hero because they seem like an everyday occurrence. In short, it’s an effective immersive technique.
Kot, like McCarthy, also makes some daring compositional choices in this third issue. When Zero and Mina are making their escape, instead of depicting their teleportation, Kot ops for a full blank page filled only with Zero’s description of the experience.
This type of thing goes totally against what many of us, myself included, have come to view as a strength of the comics genre. Namely, the ability to show things in a visual way. One would think that with a talented artist in tow, such as Mateus Santolouco in this case, Kot would give the artist a chance to strut their stuff so to speak. Why not let Santolouco draw a dazzling picture of teleportation? Why go for a written description instead of a visual one? Perhaps Kot is playing against expectation to create a jarring reading experience to better put us in the shoes of Zero as he deals with the loss of Mina. It is indeed a unique experience as it makes the reader slow down and pay attention to what is being written. They have to shift from one type of reading experience to another very rapidly. This arrests the action and changes things, much in the way things change for Zero as he exits the teleporter. However, I still have to wonder how Santolouco would have drawn the scene given the chance.
Luckily, the art team still gets plenty of chances to let their talent shine in this issue. I’m a huge fan of Santolouco’s style, having seen his work extensively in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles and it’s both gratifying and interesting to see it transposed onto a different universe. Few artists draw facial expressions that are as engaging and interesting during dialogue as Santolouco does. They always add an extra amount of emotion to scene.
Additionally, colorist Jordy Bellaire does an excellent job with the background colors in these panels. They transition from a dull orange to a blood red as Ginsberg delivers what is essentially a death sentence to his fellow terrorists. It ramps up the emotion and you can feel Ginsberg Nova going from calm and collected to infuriated.
So Scott, do you think Kot is the McCarthy of the comic world? Maybe it’s a bit too soon to be making such comparisons, but I’m curious to know if you see any similarities. Also, what do you think of this series so far. On the surface it’s your typical spy thriller, but there does seem to be something more substantial lingering under the surface. Do you think that’s the case? Will this blossom into a beautiful, yet deadly, addition to your comic library?
Scott: It has quickly earned itself a spot on my pull list, yes. I love when a comic vividly establishes a unique world, and Kot has done just that with his ultra-bloody spy thriller. Taylor, I hadn’t thought of the McCarthy comparison, but I like it. If McCarthy had created James Bond, I imagine it would’ve looked an awful lot like this.
The pervasive violence in McCarthy’s writing deters its fair share of readers, and I imagine that to be the case with Zero as well. This is the type of read for people who aren’t uncomfortable with characters getting shot in the head. Frequently. It’s a lot to stomach, but I’m hoping readers will look beyond the blood and guts and see this for the special comic that it is. Like Taylor hinted, there is plenty of substance under the surface. Agent Zero may have been trained to feel zero emotion, but it’s clear that isn’t actually the case. Zero is ruthless in his pursuit of his target, Nova, crawling naked through the air ducts to track him down. But still, some things are more important to him than finishing off his target.
When it comes down to stopping the most-wanted terrorist in the world or saving Mina, his partner and closest friend, the choice is simple. Seeing Zero climbing down from the vent, still naked and dropping F-bombs, is at once hilarious and touching. If that’s not proof enough that he’s more than just a mindless killing machine, take another look at the text-only page Taylor posted above. He loves Mina, which makes the final page- where he holds her severed arm- all the more heartbreaking. Later, during Zero’s post-mission interrogation when he says he felt nothing, we know he’s lying (Don’t ignore those interrogation pages, which Kot fills with telling details, like Zizek’s five minute toilet break after hearing about Mina’s arm).
So far, I’m really enjoying the quirks of this title. Each issue is drawn by a different artist, which sounds like it could be a bit distracting, but I haven’t found it to be. It (one again) reminds me of the James Bond film franchise, with its revolving door of directors, each contributing their own look and style before giving the reins to someone else. Zero‘s episodic structure lends itself to this approach, anyway. Each issues focuses on a new mission, so they feel like separate pieces, kind of like the different films in a series. Having a new artist adds some extra excitement to each new installment. And the style is only half-changing anyway, since Jordy Bellaire handles colors for each issue. It’s another interesting choice for a comic that isn’t afraid to go bold. I can’t wait to see what it looks like next.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?