Patrick: When you read a comic book, you’re opting in to a narrative. The same is true of watching a TV show or movie (or reading some kind of non-comic book, should just a thing even exist), but following an on-going series requires a kind of continuous buy-in that just isn’t there for most other mediums. There is a cost associated with picking up your serialized entertainment this way: and not just financial — getting the most out of any one issue of Zero requires a look back at all the issues that came before it. Great example: In January, Mike and I missed that the mindblowing flashforward in issue 5 was actually foreshadowed on the first page of the first issue. So we, the audience, have to make the decision to actively participate in the story from month to month. Like good little soldiers, that’s a choice we continue to make, even when our orders don’t totally match up with what we’re experiencing.
Zero’s been cleared for action and his first mission back on the job is rescuing some hostages at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Zero’s a fucking machine, and he takes down terrorist after terrorist until he works his way to the heart of the facility, where mega-terrorist Ginsberg Nova powers up one of his infamous portals to god-knows-where. We last saw Ginsberg and his magic space-time door in issue three: Special Agent Mina died when she and Zero escaped through it. Zero’s curiosity gets the better of him and he hears out the most dangerous man in the world as he makes his escape. Ginsberg removes his mask revealing that he’s actually Robert.
“Who is Robert?” you might be asking if, like me, you don’t have every issue of Zero memorized. Robert was a classmate of Zero and Mina, he trained at the same soldier-spy school as our heroes. We met him briefly in issue 2.
Writer Ales Kot doesn’t want the significance of this character-reveal to be completely lost on us, so he has him utter the curious phrase “What is existence? Existence is the state of perpetual war.” That’s a lesson they learned in spy-school (again, issue 2). Then Robert disappears into the portal.
It’s a little bit of a mindfuck of an issue, but you have to put in the work in to meet it there. Kot does everything in his power to point us back toward the most relevant issue — number 2 — without explicitly saying “HEY GO BACK AND READ TWO AGAIN!” Robert’s last statement is “Maybe the teachers were right. We are no–” He’s about to say “We are nothing.” That’s precisely how Zizek described Zero’s first target: “we has nothing.” That issue ends by getting super trippy: both Zizek and Zero’s faces are replaced by black scribbles.
Kot has us looking back, but he does so within the issue itself as well. We start with a strange story about Russian artillery horses running onto a not-quite-frozen lake, falling through and drowning. The horses had expected the phase shift (from water to ice), but they didn’t get what they expected so they disappeared into the water. By the time we loop back around to the telling of this story in real-time, it’s Robert who’s absent-mindedly musing about “where the horses go.” His theory? “Another world.” He’s not speaking abstractly here, Robert makes allusions to alternate realities in which Zero and Mina survive and grow old together.
This series enjoys an glut of incredible artists, with each issue adding someone new to the roster. At first, I thought that was just keeping consistent with the relatively insular stories told in previous issues, but now I believe that this is a hint. It’s easy to be dazzled by artistic talent supporting Kot, there’s almost always an opportunity for several pages of uninterrupted copy-free action. This issue positively revels in it’s own slick, super-spy action, and as a reader, it’s hard not to get distracted by how fucking cool it is.
That distraction is the same as what Zero is engaging in: even though he suspects that he should be asking deeper questions about what the Agency is up to, he tosses those questions aside as to not let his focus on the mission suffer. I’ve been so wrapped up in the artistic fireworks show, that I never stopped to consider that there might be a reason each story has a different artist.
Taylor, I’m leaving you with a lot to discuss, but I think my prompt is just going to be my wild theory: we’re dealing with multiple universes. Each issue is a different version of reality, which is literally true as they’re all depicted by different people. That’s why issue two ends in scribbles — it’s not real. Or at least, there is no singular, absolute reality. Take a look back at our introduction to Robert in that panel I posted above: “the map is the reality.” Kot is interested in what is and what is not, almost in equal measure, which makes Zero’s search for the truth all the more confounding.
Taylor: That’s quite the theory, Patrick and I’m not totally sure if I’m going to be the one to answer it in a definite way. I would love for this story to be taking place in different dimensions. I’ve always been a fan of pseudo-science so the idea of a story based on the theory of multiple universes sounds quite intriguing. Robert does give us some solid reason to believe that this is the case. As you pointed out Patrick, he says there is some universe where Zero and Mina live happily ever after.
What I find of particularly interesting about this statement is that it’s thrown out not as a guess or some sort of spiritual-science hogwash. Rather, Robert seems to be saying this with a certain air of authority. Maybe he’s visited these other universes and has seen the happy couple. Or maybe he’s simply been to enough other universes to make the logical conclusion that yes, somewhere Zero and Mina are happy. Either way, that’s a pretty amazing twist in the story and I can’t help but love it.
However, the theory of multiple universes brings up the question of just who or what Zero is. Yeah, he’s a spy, but if he’s travelling among different universes that makes him kind of extraordinary. He has his useful mantra of “don’t ask questions” which seems to protect him from too much weirdness, but how long can Zero really expect that to hold out?
And if we’re asking the questions of who or what Zero is exactly, you would have to believe Zero is asking the same question of himself. Or does that qualify as a stupid question? Maybe Zero has considered it and all of the multi-universe weirdness and doesn’t like where the answers lead him. After all, a mantra only comes into use when someone really needs it. Lastly, what about Zero’s name? Could he be some anomaly in the whole multiple universe idea? If he’s a zero, then he can’t be counted among the actual numbered universes.
Ah! There’s a lot of potential oddity running in this title but it’s just enough to keep a body interested without making it reject it. As well-matched as Jordie Bellaire colors are to such musings, the earlier parts of the issue are a little hard to make out. In addition to Vanesa Del Ray’s sketchbook-like pencils, much of the issue is shaded in one color scheme or another that makes it a little hard to tell exactly what is going on in the panels. This lack of clarity actually makes the action more engaging. Discerning the action becomes its own challenge Del Ray is a great artist and I mean this only as a compliment. The reason for this is simple. When a writer makes a complex book, we applaud him or her for their prowess. So why not the artists? Why shouldn’t the art in our comic books demand that we slow down and take it in slowly? I mean, it really made me appreciate this page all the more when I saw it.
Amidst many difficult concepts and forms, this page stands out as simple and beautiful. By the time I got to this page I felt like I earned it — a wonderful feeling. I can’t remember the last time a comic engendered in me such a reaction and I think that’s worth pointing out. I guess you could just call that me opting in.
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?