Review: Zero #3

I’ve said this before in previous reviews for other titles, but just as a caveat, I’m not a huge fan of pure spy comics. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate espionage as a sort of guiding conceit, but to get me to really appreciate that particular flavor of book, it really has to stand out. It has to transcend not just the genre, but sometimes the medium itself. In other words, it has to be special. So take it from me when I say that Ales Kot’s Image book Zero, while fundamentally being a future-based spy story, also happens to be pretty fucking special. Is this affinity related to Zero #3‘s use of crackling sci-fi portals or something called “targeted molecular disassemblification?” Well ... yeah, both of those things help, but it’s more than just the sexy-karate of quasi-futurism that makes this bitch sing.

As temporally disjointed as this story appears to be from issue to issue, there is this undercurrent running throughout its whole; a calm-cum-frantic pace that simultaneously broods and boils its story in its own self-loathing juices. And it starts this issue even before the beginning.

While the concise yet strangely poetic recap page does a great job of succinctly explaining the story of Zero thus far, I have to say it’s the intro of villain Ginsberg Nova that stands out. His brief, two-lined description here is a credit to the no-fat yet coy way in which Kot is conducting this story. Nothing in this intro, this issue or indeed this series thus far feels extraneous; there’s simply no farting about with the unnecessary.

zero03_coverNow, the only possible challenge to that reading is issue three’s odd reference to Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” which probably won’t still be a popular ringtone in 2019, unless (a.) Kot is cynical enough to think it will become a defining song for a generation (which would be fucking sad), or (b.) all is not what it appears to be in this book, which is more likely the case, given the ambiguous conversation shared between pro and antagonist.

If, however, there is an option (c.), and Kot was just making a (pretty lame) joke, I’m gonna be disappointed. I know it’s a simple thing, but it would ruin an otherwise impressively-focused, if not entirely transparent approach to storytelling. Time, I guess, will tell.

Speaking of story, this issue follows the eponymous Zero and his childhood friend (and fellow Agency assassin) Mina Thorpe, reunited at a quaint little get together for the world’s most nefarious terrorists, held by the aforementioned Nova, who turns out to be a {SPOILER} pretty gnarly psychopath, with mad intelligence (in both senses of the word), death-proof powers and interestingly far-flung connections.

As our hero Zero proves once again why he’s the most badassiest badass on the planet in the quiet arts of spying and “ass-beating,” shit - as is often its wont - goes down, thus necessitating a pretty speedy, but also fairly tragic exit for our white-hatted spies. Essentially, this is a fast and furious infiltration story; one peppered with a veritable bevy of fantastic character moments and bloody action, which comes at both breakneck and high tech speeds. And it’s great. Like, really great.

Santolouco’s visuals are, like the story, clean, chiseled and seemingly unfettered, but there’s a similar false calm about them. His art, like, say, two trained killers in a room brimming with kill-worthy bad guys, can’t wait to cut loose; it bristles with this potential energy which, when it becomes kinetic, absolutely explodes, be it in a mid-shit superkick to the throat, a gunfight that hiccups across the page like a harried heartbeat or even just a naked guy crawling through a ventilation shaft.

So far, this mini-series has had three issues, and with them, three separate artistic leads. At first, I thought that approach might be discombobulating, but as I’ve mentioned previously in my thoughts on Zero, I think it actually capitalizes on the disjointed yet still sequential nature of the book by representing visually the dynamic nature of Edward’s ever-changing life throughout the liner notes of future’s history.

In a complementary contrast, Kot, as he has been known to do, at one point uses text on the page like minimalist wallpaper, and the effect - particularly in context here - is expectedly brilliant, both confronting the perceived weakness of the graphic side of sequential art and uncovering the strengths of a presentation style, which, when used sparingly, can make the experience of reading a comic book that much more nuanced. He’s a fine trickster of form with the right artist and so far, he has chosen his partners-in-crime well.

He accomplishes something of a more practical or functional role in the official post-mission interrogation accounts of Zero, thereby allowing us to peek behind the door often left ajar in the secretive back-room dealings of international espionage, at least as we understand it when vetted through fiction. Oh, and OF COURSE Kot is a fan of Cormac McCarthy, who he quotes in a nice little pop culture sprawl at the end.

While Zero conveys well what is at the heart of every spy book, it also does so with a delicious sort of insidiousness. As with much of his work, Kot is not in the business of making things easy for his readers, but in so doing, it’s a sure bet that the whole of Zero will be anything but the emptiness that its name implies.

Score: 5/5

Writer: Ales Kot Artist: Mateus Santolouco Colorist: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 11/20/13