The search for a lost friend, a deadly battle with razor-sharp blades, and a quest for the Promised Land pack the pages of “Zero Killer” #6, the concluding chapter of “Rex Mundi” writer Arvid Nelson’s post-Apocalyptic rampage. The issue is in stores this week, courtesy of Dark Horse. CBR News caught up with Nelson to discuss the miniseries’ end and what might be next for the devastated world in which its characters live and die.
“Zero Killer” follows Zero, a “trash man” or bounty hunter living in a flooded New York City, ruled over by warring gangs, each of which operates out of a skyscraper. Reluctantly, he takes on a young woman named Stark as his partner in crime, after rescuing her from a few of his “targets.” When a government helicopter is shot out of the sky, the pair soon find themselves working for mysterious g-men who promise free passage to Africa – the only place on Earth not ravaged by nuclear fallout – in exchange for recovering a steel briefcase. But the briefcase is located in the one place Zero fears to tread, the (still-standing) North Tower of the World Trade Center, where his former gang, the Disciples, hold court.
Issue #5 saw revelations that Zero is not the noble hero that Stark or the reader may have believed him to be – while living in the North Tower as a member of the Disciples, Zero and his brother Ajay tortured, killed, and mutilated captives as they bided their time, waiting for a voyage to Africa. Deegan rose to power by exposing Zero’s dream, and thus his weakness, leading to a fatal confrontation between Ajay and a ruthless knife-man called Southpaw.
“Zero’s not as bad as he used to be. The things in his past, revealed in issue five, have mellowed him,” Nelson said. “In some ways, ‘Zero Killer’ is a Western, and it’s a classic type from that genre: the gunslinger who’s trying to go straight.
“How people deal with their inner darkness has always interested me. I mean, some people just are darkness–there’s a character like that in ‘Deadlocke,’ another thing I’m writing for Dark Horse. But I think for most people, Zero included, it’s a struggle. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t!”
That penultimate issue ended with Zero facing off against Southpaw, the man who killed his brother, fighting to the death amidst a hostile crowd of Disciples. Aside from the personal aspect of this fight, Nelson noted that confronting his old adversary is necessary to Zero’s quest. “It’s pretty simple: to get to Africa, Zero needs to get the briefcase. To get the briefcase, he needs to kill Southpaw.”
As to why Deegan, the leader of the Disciples gang, does not fight Zero himself, Nelson’s answer was succinct: “Deegan is a coward!”
Like Nelson’s epic “Rex Mundi,” which also concluded recently, there are strong religious aspects to “Zero Killer,” familiar to readers, but filtered through the world of the story. Belief in a higher power, though, has a peculiar weight in a nuclear-devastated world run by extreme violence. “You’d think that during times of extreme hardship, people would be less religious, not more. But the opposite is true,” Nelson said. “Religion is an intrinsic part of the human experience. It’s never going away.” The notion of Africa as a pseudo-Biblical “promised land” also fits in with Nelson’s theme. “It pisses me off that there’s so little attention paid to Africa in U.S. news media. So, Africa’s place in ‘Zero Killer’ is sort of a grim joke: it’s on top of the world, because nobody thought it was worth bombing when nuclear war broke out,” the writer said.
Though it’s clear from the start that this is a very different world from our own, the prominent use of the Twin Towers as a setting may be somewhat jarring for some readers. “It’s definitely a risk, but one worth taking,” Nelson said of using the emotionally-charged imagery. “Again, looking at Africa: 3,000 children die of hunger there every day. That’s a 9-11’s worth of deaths. Every day. Why is it when 3,000 people in the United States are killed it’s a ‘great tragedy,’ but when 3,000 children in Africa die, it’s not even worth reporting?”
With “Zero Killer” wrapping up, a number of questions about the protagonist and the vast alternate world he inhabits will undoubtedly be left unresolved. Nelson told CBR that he does have a follow-up planned that would round out the story. “I have a lot of plans for the second series, but we’ll have to see how sales are for the first,” he said. “I really hope we get to do the final six issues. We’ll delve much deeper into what happened to the United States, and deeper into some of the weird biotechnologies that’ve been cooked up. It’s going to be less post-apocalyptic and more horror science fiction. Call it ‘biopunk’, I guess.”