Review: Zero #5

Zero #5 may be the best thing Ales Kot has ever done. Now, I don’t mean to sound abrupt or unnecessarily congratulatory right out of the gate, but I also don’t know any better a way to start this review. In fact, that’s arguably where I should also leave it, thinking anything I write might just bead off of the source material like rain off the skin of a freshly-waxed Lamborghini or slightly-chilly Brazilian bikini model’s gyrating posterior. It’s that sexy. And yet, this is also the series’ driest offering, mostly following the recently-cycloptic Edward Zero as he recovers from his death-defying tumble in Rio de Janeiro last issue with a disenfranchised former colleague, blankly debriefing his superiors this time on his prior missions and his own mental state as he does. It’s essentially one, long interrogation scene of varying muted voracity, spliced with scenes of Edward being alternately “treated” and “tested” for physical and mental duress.

I understand that may sound less than exciting without experiential context, and while it’s definitely not as action-packed as anything Zero has offered before, it’s also its most intriguing, thanks mostly to the form-exemplifying interplay between visual and textual storytelling. As ever, symbolism features large in Kot’s work, and what he and issue artist Will Tempest are able to produce here with things like pills, holes, a meticulously manicured sense of absence and fungus is so special, any explosion would simply pale by comparison.

From now on, and in direct contrast to my aforementioned reluctance to sacrifice any reveals, there are going to be a few {SPOILERS} (though not of the ending), so tread wisely. Kot and Tempest’s game of ping-pong is perhaps no better expressed than in a scene where Edward recounts one of his recurring vivid dreams, which ends with a realization that, “their mouths are just empty holes,” followed by an image of his own gaping maw as it swallows a fistful of pills.

Zero-05Being that he is, of course, the “pill” The Agency has fed society to keep it sedate, it becomes that much more powerful a definition of character and story. And it’s still but one in a string of such moments as panels and prose shuffle amongst each other in a visually rigid yet arresting way, languidly marching to an ending that consumes completely.

Now, I’m not familiar with Will Tempest, but I’m sure-as-shit glad Ales Kot is. His art here reminds me of a less-textured Pitarra, and while it fits well within the “one thread in a patchwork weave” dynamic of Zero, he also mixes it up by offering a much more clinical treatment to a story that demands it. I’ve gone on before about how I dislike plain backgrounds elsewhere, but here Tempest’s sparsity is clearly a calculated move that not only establishes the subdued tone of the book, but perfectly sets up its drastic and sweeping paradigm shift at its close.

Working well in tandem with Tempest is series regular, Jordie Bellaire, whose loyalty to the tone of the issue shows how flexible her talents truly are. The only time there is any color of note in this story is when Edward is made to look at a bank of screens featuring his past exploits. In the here-and-now of issue five, however, his is a drugged, muted resignation, on the surface once again playing the perfect soldier for The Agency, but surreptitiously, almost without telling the reader, his blank-faced obedience begins to crack. That, I suppose, is why I so enjoy the art, colors and writing of this issue: like, we are led to believe, Edward himself, they are all so tastily traitorous.

Sure, this issue is dry, even wooden; as such, it is also the perfect bedding to start a fire, and that’s exactly how Kot treats it, meticulously rubbing an otherwise action-parched story into a furious narrative friction that suddenly whips into a roaring flame at an ending which will completely change everything you thought you knew about this story.

All-in, Zero itself has been an impressive title for Image and an ideal showcase of and introduction to Ales Kot’s increasingly more daring yet palatable fiction, as well as those artists he has chosen to work with on its telling. But issue five transcends even Kot’s most experimental work and becomes, at least in my opinion, a fantastic exemplar of form. For that reason, and because I am infinitely more intrigued with where this story will go and the series of events that has and will take it there, Zero #5 has officially become the issue to beat in the nascent days of 2014. You should be reading this series just to get to this issue alone.

Score: 5/5

Writer: Ales Kot Artist: Will Tempest Colorist: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 1/22/14