Zero Volume 1: An Emergency by Ales Kot and illustrated by various artists is a collection of five comics that follow Edward Zero, the top spy for The Agency who learns he's been working for the wrong side (available March 4, 2014).
When I think of spy thrillers, the first thing that comes to mind is James Bond. Lots of slam-bang action, a good helping of espionage and double-crosses, secretive organizations at cross-purposes seeking to outwit one another through the maneuvering of their agents – all these were popularized by the books and subsequent movies and have become hallmarks of the genre. The first volume of the comic book series Zero has all these elements in spades, but also brings to the forefront another aspect of classic spy novels that is often overlooked, despite being of critical importance to the driving plot: technology so advanced that it reads like science fiction. Think of Q before his gadgets were rendered “realistic” in the last few Bond movies, or of the evil plans in Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever.
Zero’s titular hero has several encounters with technologies that readily jump our modern standards to enter the realm of science fiction – fittingly, perhaps, given that the story covers a period of time from 2000 to 2038. As a spy working for an organization known only as The Agency, he’s expected to stay unflappable in the face of the horrifying and inexplicable… but even the most stoic have their breaking points.
In a departure from most spy thrillers, Ales Kot writes of Zero’s slow collapse with a lyricism that eschews the terseness commonly used in the genre, such as in this scene where Zero and a beloved childhood friend flee together through a teleportation device:
A lot changed that night. When we walked through the gate, there was no color. Not black, not white. It was… like all colors, but without color. I couldn't describe it back then, and I don't think I'm doing a much better job of it now. There was a sound, a thousand wings clapping, small birds everywhere, but you couldn't see even one of them. Another sound, like paper being ripped apart. An echo that sounded the way I imagined a tornado would sound if you shut all the doors and windows and hid underneath the house and you could still feel it circling… but it would be underneath you somehow, not just above you, it would be below and above and everywhere at once.
I remember Mina's hand in mine. I remember thinking, we should have ran away when we were children. I remember thinking, I can feel the rough spots on your hand because of the way you place it on the cement floor when you do push-ups every morning. I remember thinking, no, not thinking, I remember feeling…
But it isn’t just technology that causes Zero to lose faith in the people he’s working for and, by extension, in his life’s work and reason for being. The Agency is a ruthless organization that, even more so than many shadowy quasi-governmental bodies, regards some of its members as more expendable than others, as in this chilling description of an unnamed man, casually sacrificed in order to preserve the cover stories of those considered more important to the cause:
The sore eye leaking through the swollen grapes of the lids. The man still believes there is a plan to save him. There must be. Zizek must have planned it all since the beginning.
Their eyes meet and the man knows it is not to be, knows it was never to be.
A slow film movement of his head down as he accepts the inevitable, not because he agrees, but because he counts the possible moves and the current abilities of his broken body and he believes there is only one universe now, only one way the universe goes forward.
Maybe he sobs. Maybe it's just a sound of him gulping down blood and teeth. No longer looking at Zizek, he looks at the wooden floor. Carlyle stands, looking at him, no emotion. Yievgeniy shoots the man. The deal is made. All men walk their ways.
Five different artists bring to life each chapter/issue of this collection. My personal favorites were Tradd Moore’s and Mateus Santolouco’s installments, but each artist does a great job of propelling the story along on its bloody, action-packed way, their illustrations serving as effective counterpoint to the more introspective passages. This intelligently presented contrast makes Zero Volume I: An Emergency a great addition to the futuristic spy thriller genre, and one I’m looking forward to reading more of as it continues.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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