This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on August 12, 2014.
Ales Kot is not interested in holding your hand, but he will rock your world.
Zero continues to be one of the most innovative and interesting comics at Image, a publisher that is defined by those adjectives. Every issue works on at least two levels, constructing a non-linear spy epic and acting as a standalone story. The remarkable thing is how well it functions on both levels. The larger mythos of Zerocontinues to expand and weave both small personal dramas and grandiose science fiction into its narrative. Although the issues are not released in chronological order, they build on one another in a thematically poignant manner better than a simple linear story possibly could. With so many questions still unanswered though, the series is far better served by reviewing each new issue in relative isolation.
Zero #10 is set further in Edward Zero’s life than any previous issue, excluding some brief flash forwards. He is a retired spy living under a pseudonym in Iceland. It’s a quiet life, one filled with routine. Although he is still active, this appears to be the end of the road for Edward Zero. A life after his life.
It’s a quiet story filled with quiet moments. The car chases, gunfights, and shouting matches that comprised his life as a spy are gone. The silence they leave behind is deafening. Zero is clearly haunted by what has come before and is unable to move past his own mistakes even when left entirely alone. The quiet and the pain of a seemingly peaceful life are brought out by the work of Michael Gaydos.
Gaydos, best known for his work on Alias and Manhunter, has plenty of experience with dynamic scenes, but really excels with human drama. With relatively few lines he captures the essence of facial expressions, then allows inks to pull out their depth and authenticity. Inks drip across Edward’s face, beaten into a haggard state by both age and combat. Although he is in hiding, his physical scars remain. His shell shocked appearance and trepidation in many sequences help to reveal psychological scars as well. In a story that does not spell out its meaning, the artist is required to carry a great deal of content on the faces of characters and Gaydos does so admirably.
The composition of the comic helps to underline all of the ideas found on Edward’s face. A three by three grid is used to structure a routine that creates crossbars locking in the life behind them. Two double-page spreads open up the claustrophobic panel layouts only to provide a sense of staggering isolation. All of this is enhanced by Jordie Bellaire’s work on colors. She captures the cold essence of the land and focuses on dull interior colors as well, leaving a lifeless essence to Edward’s many years in the North.
The final sequence of the comic is bound to be the most interesting to readers due to its potential connections to other characters and plot threads. It still functions without any context though, hinging on a parable and placing Edward side-by-side with a man who looks very similar to himself only with a few decades added. The pain of regret evoked in this scene is only enhanced when considered alongside earlier segments of the story.
Zero #10 does reveal some seams by incorporating itself into the larger narrative. It includes flash forwards to the end of the story on a cliffside, where the first issue actually began. The conversation between this future version of Edward and a young child helps to provide some narrative details to the central story of Zero #10, but breaks the illusion that this issue can be read alone. There are also new questions raised by the actors Edward speaks to at the end of the issue. Several answers are plausible, but none is presented in an obvious fashion. Readers will be left with plenty to puzzle over until Kot decides to reveal more.
In the quiet of Zero #10, there is a powerful drama occurring. The persistence of regret, the inescapable nature of memory, and the pain of isolation can all be found in these pages. Edward’s personal hell built in the peaceful, scenic landscape of Iceland explores the darkness we all may one day face as we retreat from the world. There is a lot at play in this comic, but it is subtle, requiring effort from the reader to carefully parse out meaning. Both as a short and long-form construct Zero can be challenging, but that is part of what makes it one of the most rewarding comics being published today.