Today, Mikyzptlk and Patrick are discussing Zero 5, originally released January 22, 2014.
Mikyzptlk: Zero began as a super spy, sci-fi thriller featuring said super spy, Edward Zero, seemingly going rogue after many years of faithful service. For four issues, we’ve seen Zero go on various missions, as we’ve learned more about where he’s come from and where he’ll ultimately end up. Along the way, we’ve been presented with important subjects related to war profiteering, corruption, brainwashing, free will, and more. Just as I begin to feel more confident about what this book is all about, Ales Kot drops one hell of a “WTF” ending effectively, and entertainingly, shattering my confidence in one fell swoop.
After getting his eye stabbed out an issue ago, we find Zero still recovering in his hospital room. Zizek asks him a number of questions related to Zero’s initial question of what happened to his parents. Apparently, he began to wonder about them for the first time in his life shortly after the death of Mina Thorpe. This could be bad, as Zero just might be feeling emotions, which isn’t a good thing. Sara Cooke, Zizek’s boss, interviews Zero and reveals that she knows that something isn’t right with him. Shortly after, Zizek takes Zero on a jaunt to a secret facility and reveals…something quite odd. While I can’t quite make out what I imagine to be the results of some strange experiments, the ending of this issue features something far stranger, which is somehow the result of Zero himself.
I…huh? Seriously, what the hell is this? I AM SO INTRIGUED RIGHT NOW, YOU GUYS. Okay, sorry about that. To be honest, the first thing that comes to mind is War of the Worlds. You know the one. With the freaky, alien tank-things?
Yeah, those. Listen, other than Zero having a gun to his head because of this, I don’t know what the hell any of this has to do with the story I’ve been reading so far, but damn it if I’m not more intrigued by this book with every passing issue. I mean, the world and characters that Kot has introduced us to is already interesting enough as it is. Now though, I’m more interested than ever to see where the story goes from here.
Speaking of those characters, Kot takes issue 5 to really up the ante as far as Zero’s fall (or rise?) into a fully fledged rouge. From the first issue, we knew that the premise of this book would, at the very least, be about a spy going rogue. Zero has been presented as one of the best operatives of The Agency. This group wants nothing less than the eradication of “evil” and agents who are cold, calculating, and emotionless. As we’ve seen throughout the series so far, while Zero is certainly a model agent on the surface, he is certainly more underneath.
Here, we see the Agency attempt to keep Zero under their control with a mixture brainwashing and medication. However, we also get confirmation that Zero is actually resisting control. Take a look at what Zero does with his meds. Warning: Prepare for an extreme closeup.
While we’ve seen him go 0ff-mission before, we’ve never seen Zero defy the Agency in such a way. Immediately after this shot, we see Zizek waiting for Zero in his room. Zizek is described as Zero’s “handler,” but to me, he seems to represent all of the emotions that Zero would be having if he were raised like a normal person. Zizek has been painted as an extremely emotional character throughout this series, and he may prove to be a moral center for Zero.
Okay, to be honest, I’m not sure how moral Zizek is. I mean, he does work for the Agency, and while it isn’t necessarily evil, it does seem to play fast and loose with the whole “morality” thing. At the very least, Zizek shows regret for the secret he reveals to Zero, and you can’t be regretful if you don’t have some sense of morality, right? Anyway, this is what he shows Zero.
Zizek says that all of this is “happening for a reason,” and that it’s “so much bigger than [he] ever imagined.” I don’t even know what to think about this. Aliens? Mutants? Alien mutants? From here, we flash forward to the “present,” which is 2038 in this context. That is when the crazy War of the Worlds imagery crops up and when Zero reveals:
Okay, Patrick, what do you make of this crazy reveal? Do you really think that Zero is responsible for this wacky future? I mean, I’m sure the Agency is involved as well, but what the hell? I was certainly not expecting something like this.
Patrick: What I love about that final moment is that Zero accepts some kind of responsibility for his mistakes, but very specifically says that the death of most of the human population hinged on “a choice.” Not “choices,” not “mistakes,” and certainly not the more broad “because of me” – it’s a single choice that sets it off. Hell, it might even be that fact that he made a choice that leads to the end of humanity. That’s what most of this issue is about: Zero taking the necessary steps to resist his programming, so he can make a choice.
Mik, like you, I can’t really discern what the nature of this huge world-changing event even is. (My first guess was sentient weaponized fungus?) But the method doesn’t really matter – fact is, Zero turns the Agency’s weapons against itself because he thinks the world would be better off not suffering under their shadow, even if it means killing off most of the human race in the process. Even that’s sort of speculative – I could be reading it wrong and what Zero’s actually done is aid the Agency in tightening its grip on mankind. The text supports both readings — or perhaps it refuses to support either specifically — but the real emotional gut-punch is that 2038 looks this way because of Zero and not despite him.
God damn, that future scene is fascinating. Who is this kid holding Zero at gun point? Clearly, they have a relationship — their dialogue hits many of the same notes that Zero’s conversation with Carlyle hit in the previous issue. Most strikingly, there’s that bit about the older man calling the younger man “kid.” When Zero’s the young whippersnapper, the conversation goes like this:
But when the tables are turned, Zero is a much more empathetic dude:
We don’t actually see Zero referring to the young man holding a gun to his head as “kid” – like so many other pieces of this story, we’re meant to put it together ourselves. Just like we’re meant to draw the obvious connection between Carlyle and Zero because they both lost their left eye in service of the agency. That’s two strong, easy connections between Carlyle and Zero, so it’s an easy jump to a third – ideology. There’s nothing to suggest that the two former spies believe in the same thing, but the assumption I’m operating under is that they both believe in something strong enough to reject their training and “go rogue” (as Mik so elegantly put it). It’s not “rogue” in the traditional spy sense — neither of them hire their talents out for cash — but they commit themselves to something they think is right.
One more cue from the flashforward and then I swear I’ll write about something else. Zero questions his friend’s use of the word “traitor” and then states that that is a matter of perspective. “Perspective” should be the title of this issue (it seems not to have one) as page after page after page focuses on what people present, what people see and how they see it. There are cameras all over the Agency’s hospital facility. We know because, every now and then, artist Will Tempest will just drop in a panel of one of the ceiling-mounted cameras passively observing the conversation. As Mik showed in that incredible page above where Zero chews up and spits out his pills, he has to be a revolutionary from the inside, where his actions aren’t yet visible to the Agency.
Kot usually employs voice over, but he stays far outside Zero’s head in this issue. All we have to go on is what he presents and what he sees – back to that issue of perspective. We’ve already posted too many images for one AC here, but there’s a sequence where Zero gets up in the middle of the night and examines his scars – poking his fingers at the evidence of close calls all over his body. The grand finale of which is him removing the gauze from his eye-wound, and Tempest treats us to a close-up shot of this empty whole, which appears dry and cracked.
Zero follows this the a vigorous series of one-handed push-ups – which I read as a desire to live. (You know how going to a funeral makes people want to work out and eat healthily? It’s like that.) He recognizes that his ability to perceive is irreparably damaged, and he is a different man because of it. Sara presents that as such a cliched sob story in the climactic interview, but it’s clear that under the skillful, patient hands of Kot and Tempest, it’s actually a profound realization. Again: perspective.
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