Not at all your typical spy story
I was very resistant to Zero when the book first came out.
I’m not generally a fan of spy/war/unflappable-badass-super-killer fiction. The cold, calculating nature of most of their protagonists doesn’t do anything for me. And I find them generally to be too self-serious. As exciting as the action can be, I have a hard time rooting for a character who is physically incapable of moving the corner of his lips upward in an action known as a “smile”.
Zero takes many of those conventions of the genre that generally irks me, and turns them on their head.
To start out with, is the art. One look at any individual issue of Zero immediately tells you that this isn’t your typical spy book. The art in each issue is wholly unique, as every installment is drawn by a different artist, but every one offers their own exaggerated look at this world of hired killers.
The artist for this issue is Will Tempest. Tempest uses an assured line to simply and eloquently animate the faces of his characters. That skill is essential in drawing both the interrogation scenes and the quieter, reflective ones.
Edward Zero is seriously injured after the events of his last mission. The mission ended in not only the loss of his eye but also in the death of a girl he has had a connection to since his childhood. Zero and the girl were brought up in a school that taught them everything they needed to be perfect killers, while also beating out anything that could compromise the mission. Their humanity for starters.
This is why Tempest’s style is so important to the execution of this issue. Zero and the girl were as close as they could be given the circumstances. In Zero’s interrogation with his bosses, Zero knows to answer each question with the bare minimum of emotion. Zero’s cold, unflinching gaze in these sequences is simultaneously haunting and profoundly sad.
While his expression is blank, there’s still a slight flicker of something going on in his mind. It’s subtle and can only be seen in the context of the story, but it’s very well done.
And this is another way that Zero exceeds my expectation of the genre. Zero is very much the unsmiling, hardened killer that I usually find boring. But this book is all about how Zero got to be the way he is and his buried, subconscious desires to not be. The flashforwards also provide a glimpse into the future of this character as he finally gets to rebel against his “programming”. It’s a complete picture of a character that could otherwise come across as a Call of Duty player’s wish fulfillment.
On every level, from art to story to dialogue and tone, this book exceeded all my expectations. If you haven’t caught up with the series yet, I wouldn’t recommend jumping on here though. Each issue initially reads like a one-and-done, but when read together they work to inform the motivations and mindset of our characters . The full story of this book is a tour-de-force in independent comic making.
Ales Kot (W), Will Tempest (A) • Image Comics, $2.99, January 22, 2014