Like presumably everyone else who has read his stuff, I have a strange relationship with Ales Kot’s body of creator-owned work. I immediately fell in love with his first foray into the industry in Wild Children, and I generally thought his book Change was an interesting, postmodern take on graphic pseudo-biography. But as much as I have enjoyed his high concept, I’ve really been looking forward to what he has described as a more “grounded” story in his new Image book, Zero. Following a dispassionate operative named “Zero,” (so it’s not just a clever name) this example of what Kot has called “speculative fiction” revolves around a mysterious, vaguely governmental black ops organization known so far only as The Agency, or more specifically, its clandestine meddling within world war throughout the ages.
Set mostly in the Gaza strip in the near future of 2018, where Our Man Zero must catch up with and diffuse a technologically/pharmaceutically-endowed super-soldier, the true time and place of this story is a flashback from 2038, wherein we find a much more grizzled Zero wistfully glaring over the white cliffs of Dover while he recounts the story to a small child, who happens to have a gun trained to the back of Zero’s head.
At its heart, this is a future-realistic spy story about the unseen architects behind war rather than its overt players, and on that surface alone, Zero is extremely entertaining; like a darker, more embittered opening to a Bond movie. The action, fantastically illustrated by Comeback’s Michael Walsh, is a whipped frenzy of blood and sand as a ruthless Israeli cyborg-of-sorts squares off against his similarly-overpowered Hamas opponent, explosively destroying a significant amount of prime Gaza real estate in the process, not to mention their own drug-altered bodies.
But we’re not really watching these two wolves fight, we’re watching the smaller yet no less tenacious dog pacing in the background; waiting, plotting, licking its teeth. I’ve always enjoyed stories showcasing danger at the periphery, and I think Zero is a great example of that espionage-meets-illuminati approach, while also bristling with action on its skin. It promises to further blossom into more dimensions, with hints of a much more strained relationship between Zero and The Agency in the future ... or past ... whatever.
Things are still vague here at the outset, of course, and there are a lot of character questions left to answer. Perhaps chief among these is why two otherwise diametrically opposed senior operatives at The Agency suddenly and pretty damn randomly [SPOILER] “fuck the shit” out of each other while implying an almost familial relationship with their field agents. That was weird, but you kind of expect something like it in a Kot book. That scene seemed very out-of-place for me, though, other than to set up a weird “mommy daddy” dynamic in this organization, but I guess I’m just as much interested in seeing how it gets explained.
Over course, Kot never explains anything explicitly, but he does bring with him a solid track record of interesting research in the reading of his books. For example, in this issue, Zero is shown to score off-the-charts on something called the “Häyhä Scale.” This I’m guessing was named after real-life Finnish sniper, Simo Häyhä, aka “The White Death,” who spent weeks in sub-zero temperatures racking up well-over 500 confirmed kills during the short but harrowing conflict called The Finnish Winter War, between 1939 and 1940. (What up, Google!)
Now, I’m not sure how this translates into a measurable biological readout, or even if it will factor into the story to any greater depth beyond nominally, but that subtext is pretty fucking brutal, and points to deeper thinking within this book’s creation. Equally as insidiously savage is Michael Walsh’s art.
I absolutely love this guy’s stuff, and for this raw, blunt story, he is the perfect fit. His thick, rough line work and simple, splintered style lends itself so well to a hail of bloody motion; I could easily watch him deal death all damn day. He also fuels Kot’s frequent quiet moments with a scarred kinetic storytelling style that shows a great command of varied perspective. Along with Bellaire’s ever-exquisite color, Walsh and Kot’s shared direction of this story is hard, wet and fucking vicious, but what’s really terrifying is that it’s probably even more calculating at its looming backend.
In a way, it’s sort of a shame that this book will see a new artist with each issue, but as much as I loved Walsh’s stuff here, I’m also looking forward to seeing what Kot’s other impending artistic collaborators - Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske and Tradd Moore - will bring to what will inevitably be, both visually and narratively, a very layered story by its end.
Writer: Ales Kot Artist: Michael Walsh Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Date: 9/18/13