“Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land, ye’ll wake more than the dogs.” – Cormac McCarthy, “Blood Meridian”
It is the year 2038 and former super-spy Edward Zero is looking pretty battered. A young assassin has tracked him down to the white cliffs of Dover and is about to end Zero’s life for an unnamed betrayal. So Zero starts delivering a valedictorian speech, about the many bloody war missions that have led him and the boy (and the world) to this moment of reckoning.
Each issue of Ales Kot’s “Zero” is drawn by a different artist and details a new mission; each one advances the story in ever-more-surprising ways toward an apocalyptic Earth, (it seems), no doubt the result of Zero’s work for “The Agency,” a shadowy organization that directs his every move and is totally not the C.I.A.
Call it “How I Destroyed Your Planet.”
The minor gimmick of the varying artists is unimportant, partially because not all the artists are equally daring in their approach, partially because Kot’s blend of espionage and science-fiction is so compelling that stick figures might have served just fine. Six issues in, this is one of those rare comics that generates genuine intrigue (what IS going on with that teleportation gate?) without resorting to the constant showy cliffhangers of the kind that marred Joss Whedon’s otherwise excellent run on “Astonishing X-Men.”
Kot’s theme is violence: the traumatic, physical and psychological effects it has on those who receive it and those who dish it out. It’s not a new thing to point out that mainstream comics glorify or nullify the effects of violence: every punch is heroic, every bad guy had it coming, every building destroyed while the Avengers fight is presumably empty. It’s also not new to tackle those conventions: Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis all got famous by having something to say on the topic.
What Kot emphasizes is consequences: how scars remain for decades, how the bad personal decisions of 2018, (0r 2008) determine the global horrors of 2038. His long-termed thesis might as well be: “James Bond has no right to be looking dapper after all those years of murdering the enemies of the Free World; he should have a furrowed face, be a bent shell of a man, and maybe he should be missing an ear.”
The near-future of “Zero” is very near indeed; it’s almost ill-advised that most of the pivotal events occur around 2018-19, which means that readers discovering the trade collections in a mere four years will no longer be reading a near-future tale at all. (Reminds me of Conan O’Brien’s “In the Year 2000” skit from the mid-90s, that got funnier as the year 2000 got nearer and nearer, while flying cars seemed to get farther and farther away.) Kot wisely keeps his prophecies on the simple side: in 2018, there will be trouble in the Middle East, (what are the odds of that?); also the word “fundraiser” will completely relinquish its throne to the word “kickstarter.”
The rest of 2018 will be fairly familiar. It’s 2038 that looks alarmingly different, and I can’t wait for “Zero” to get there.