Taylor: While it’s not glamorous, there’s something to be said for the home life. True, this statement probably doesn’t carry much weight from a homebody like myself, but — like a Hobbit — I just love the comforts of my own digs. While some people seem mentally disposed to this lifestyle, others have come to appreciate it because they haven’t always been able to enjoy it. Edward Zero is certainly the latter of these two. After being a spy his entire life, he seems to long for nothing but the quiet life. A house, a partner, and maybe a few chickens sprinkled on the side are all he needs. However, in the case of Zero he didn’t choose the spy life, it chose him. And when that chooses you, it can be difficult — if not impossible — to escape.
Edward is still in Iceland after quitting life as a spy. He’s been in the same place for a number of years and he’s even settled down and found himself a girlfriend, Siobhan They have a pleasant life — a nice cottage, a small farm, a car, and apparently money. This idyllic state of affairs, one in which Zero seems genuinely happy, is disrupted, however. One day while returning from getting groceries, Zero is attacked in his home by another agent. After a brutal fight Zero prevails and learns that the agency — or someone associated with it — wants him to return to action.
That’s the extent of this issue. Once again, writer Ales Kot seems more than happy to let a large portion of the story telling duties fall to the artist. In the case of issue 11, these duties are given to Ricardo Lopez Ortiz. As with other issues of Zero, I found myself immediately drawn to yet another new style of artwork. Indeed, one of the chief pleasures I derive from this series is the exposure to different artists each month. Kot’s ability to script a story is admirable as he gives an artist direction, but never so much to dampen their style.
With Ortiz’s work I couldn’t help but be drawn to his portrayal of the Zero’s happy home life. While I’m certainly happy to see Edward happy, Ortiz’s artwork makes me feel nice and comfy right along with our hero. One panel engenders this feeling particularly well.
Several things are at work here which make this such a friendly scene to behold. First, the symmetry of Zero and Siobhan is perfectly balanced but in their postures and in the meal they have laid out in front of them. This makes us think balance, which is something it appears Zero has for the first time in his life. But what’s also interesting, is that despite this symmetry Zero and Siobhan appear quite different. She’s bright and vibrant, whereas Zero is dark and complex, as the picture framing his head in the background suggests. Still, these are to complimentary characters here. The scene just speaks of harmony.
In all of these scenes of domestic bliss, we mostly just see Zero from his left side — the one missing an eye. Often, as in the panel above, it appears as if his eye is simply closed — and not missing — due to “eye-smiles.” This makes Zero look as if he’s always happy in these scenes. Contrast this to when he’s in battle later in the issue and you notice a stark difference in how his face is portrayed, best exemplified in the panel below.
Not only do we see his other eye, but it’s the center of attention in Ortiz’s panel. Where we once had a smiley Edward, we now have the cold-blooded Zero again. This could be an allusion to the fact that while Edward was enjoying his life with Siobhan he effectively was living his life with eyes closed. This is to say, he was ignoring a past which he knew sooner or later would catch up to him. When the attack finally comes in the last third of this issue, his eyes are opened. He can’t hide anymore or pretend that his past truly is in the past. This little attention to detail, paired with some the other excellent artwork in this issues makes for visual story telling that’s among the most entertaining in comics.
Patrick, did you enjoy Ortiz’s artwork? What do you think about Zero’s life in Iceland? Could this be the different, happy universe that the “actors” in issue 10 were talking about?
Patrick: I do think there’s some of that left-over “this is all a play” stuff from the previous issue. This is one of those issues of Zero that’s happy to present what appears to be an incredibly superficial turn of events, but is actually expressing something so much more subtle and difficult. We spend half the issue simply watching Siobahn and Edward being happy, but that is a state that is not natural for our super-spy hero. The transcript of their daily conversations — which come at the end of the issue — are positively spellbinding, and reveal that simply presenting normalcy is difficult for Zero. But the point isn’t that being normal (read: happy) is hard, but that Edward is making the effort. The last issue that had such a silent attention to process was issue 8, wherein Zero and Cooke stalked and killed a whole squadron of dudes. That was a violent, action-packed, affair, and this issue serves as a delicious counterpoint to that chaos. Both issues show Zero bringing all of his skills and training to bear on a problem, it’s just so much harder to pick up on the visual cues of this problem.
Luckily, Kot and Ortiz have a wonderful primer in the form of the perpetually erupting volcano. The entire first page is made up exclusively of eight panels depicting the eruption. The camera is dispassionately static, and while we might not be able to discern what’s really happening in those first couple panels, the final panels make the action clear enough.
The fallout here is even more interesting. As the volcano spreads ash around the countryside, Zero and Siobahn’s country cabin appears to be draped in idyllic snow. That kind of snowfall is so evocative — snuggling up by the fire with someone you love and trust. I couldn’t help but be flooded with various semantic triggers: one being that we refer to freshly fallen snow as “virginal,” and another being the sheer number of snow songs that really come down to cuddling (revisit the lyrics to some of those secular Christmas songs and you’ll see what I’m talking about). And that’s exactly what Zero has here: sexual experiences that are understanding and loving, sharing a meal, even sharing affection for another living thing. All this domestic bliss plays out against a backdrop that sure looks a lot like like snow. Only problem is: that ain’t snow — it’s ash. Just like this simple happiness isn’t exactly simple. The pleasures themselves might be simple — indeed they’re among the most base pleasures I can imagine — but the process of enjoying them is what requires some doing.
So then, what are we to make of the spy-thriller beat-em-up at the end of the issue? Taylor and I have both already weighed in on how long we thought that section was — Taylor says it’s one third and I said half, but we’re both short in our estimation. Actual page count is 12, and as a result “Day Five” is clearly the bulk of this issue. It’s a great sequence, and Ortiz’s line-busy art never gets in the way of the clarity of the action. Ortiz’ style trades in messiness — complimented beautifully by Jordie’s Bellaire’s newsprint-esque coloring — but its his direction that elevates the scene above a Borne Identity-style shaky-cam slug-fest. Apologies for posting entire pages: it’s just so fucking good.
First: let’s look at a couple of things Ortiz and Bellaire establish straight out the gate to make this scene read as clearly as it does. Each of the characters has their own set of colors assigned to them, and in a scene dominated by browns and blues, each combatant has a nice colorful feature that makes their positioning immediately apparent — Zero’s yellow jacket and the assassin’s red hair. Next, Ortiz wants us to be able to track the whereabouts of that gun: the only way Zero’s going to be able to take the advantage in this situation is if he can control that gun. The problem, of course, is that the gun has to trade in the same grays we’re seeing elsewhere on the page. That’s why the page on the left — while the gun is still in play — has so many panels dominated by the thing. Also, check out that implied motion of the gun: it starts off on the left side of the page, then progresses to the middle, and finally, as it’s pointed away from Zero, it changes the alignment of the panels. These pages (and the two that follow it) strictly keep the attacker on the left and Zero on the right, so the path of the gun from the attacker to Zero and then out of bounds is remarkably intuitive.
That brings me back to Taylor’s point about the lineup artists on this series. Even with a rotating crew of pencilers, we’re pretty much guaranteed a jaw-droppingly beautiful book. That’s due, in no small part, to Jordie Bellaire’s coloring, which seems flexible enough to heighten a new style every month. But i’m also guessing the quality has something to do with Kot himself. I’d love to get a look at his script pages and see what kind of direction he’s offering. Or maybe it has nothing to do with direction, and Kot’s greatest attribute is his gift for restraint. Whatever’s happening there — Zero’s routinely the best looking book I pick up every month, and I usually don’t even know the artist before I pick it up. That’s a damn magic trick right there.
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?