Ales Kot writes an excellent and mind-bending spy comic for Marvel called Secret Avengers. But he also is currently writing a completely different excellent/mind-bending spy comic for Image called Zero. It’s a take on the spy genre that hasn’t been done before, a twist of spy fiction and science fiction and dark existentialism.
Zero is an unusual comic by any standard: Kot writes everything, but there is a completely different artist for each issue. Only the colorist (Jordie Bellaire) and the letterer (Clayton Cowles) stay the same, so even though each issue diverges wildly from the previous, they still maintain a level of uniformity in color and type.
Zero is about Edward Zero, “the best killer and the best spy the Agency had.” Which agency? It’s never named. It could be CIA or MI-6 or a fictional agency, it doesn’t matter. They are all the same. As they drill into the young children at the spy school: “Existence is a perpetual state of war.”
The first issue, “War Machines” (illustrated by Matt Walsh), begins in 2038 with a young boy pointing a gun at the back of an older Edward Zero. Before he dies, however, Zero has to tell his story. The first story is about a fight between two superhuman weapons, with Zero in the middle trying to retrieve a power source that’s inside one of them. Zero is a ruthless killer, but he isn’t without empathy.
The second issue, “I Remember Who You Are” (illustrated by Tradd Moore, co-creator of the All-New Ghost Rider), flashes back even further to 2000, when Edward Zero was at the agency’s school, leaning how to be a spy with his friend Mina Thorpe. Going on his first kill mission. As Edward and Mina hang upside down from a tree branch, he tells he that their all going to die. “That’s reality.” “Zizek says reality is what we force it to be.” Roman Zizek is their teacher, their superior. He gives them orders. “Existence is a perpetual state of war.”
Each issue is a stand alone vignette, but each connects to the next. Each one shows a different facet of Edward Zero and those who “control” him, from Roman Zizek to Zizek’s boss to Zero’s enemies. Each issue takes place in a different time, from 2019 to 2025 to 2038.
Every fight Zero takes part in is brutal. There are no quick endings. Each fight is a struggle for survival. One fight ends with Zero losing an eye.
The realities of war are not sugar coated. Issue #9 is a flashback issue about Zizek’s past. It takes place is Bosnia in 1993 and it ends with this chilling statement: “Estimates for the total number of women raped during the Bosnian war range from 20,000 to 50,000.”
Zero is a darkly existential comic book: Edward Zero is the best spy and the best killer in the Agency. But, as he is shown, he doesn’t have to be those things. Does existence mean a perpetual state of war or can that change? Can we force reality to be what we want it to be?
Add in some science fiction elements and a slew of great artwork and you get Zero.
Three trade paperbacks are currently available: “An Emergency” (issues #1-5), “At the Heart of It All” (issues #6-10), and “Tenderness of Wolves” (issues #11-14). The first volume is less than seven dollars in Amazon at the moment. I heartily recommend checking it out.