Review: Zero – Volume 1 – An Emergency / Author: Ales Kot / Publisher: Image Comics / Release Date: Out Now
Good sci-fi spy thrillers are hard to come by in any medium, but there is a growing trend in comic books to give it a good old try. It makes sense – the comic book mainstream is filled with super-humans of one sort or another, so if you want to tell a tale about espionage and crime you may as well throw in some super-powered secret agents to help it sell.
Zero takes this notion one step further – though there is a strong science fiction/meta-human element to the entire work, this is really a powerfully written crime thriller that just happens to contain some very strange super-powered elements in it. The plot revolves around a very special espionage agent called Edward Zero. Trained from a very young age to be a cold-hearted and pragmatic killing machine, Zero is surprisingly likeable, mostly due to his growing sense of purpose and humanity. His journey into humanity is the focus of the story with a steadily worsening world acting as the backdrop.
This is a gritty, action-filled tale replete with uncompromising violence and a depressing (yet realistic) worldview. Every character is damaged in some way and this lends a dour and downbeat vibe to the tale. The artwork changes throughout the tale, each artist tackling a different element of the story, and though this is meant to shift the reader’s focus between chapters, really it’s just a bit messy, though it is never confusing. It is always adult, never once dipping into violence or shocking moments for the sake of it, though it is very graphic in places.
Ales Kot has a unique voice, though fans of both Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis will be on familiar ground here. Kot skilfully blends high-octane military action fantasy with character development and introspection. The pacing is strong; the cast of characters are interesting though a little clichéd in places. There is perhaps a little too much focus on foreshadowing early on and as this is only Volume 1 it seems likely that this will continue for some time. Overall this is an intelligent, well-paced sci-fi spy thriller with some great twists, and just the sort of thing comic shops need more of if they’re going to appeal to a broader audience.