Arvid Nelson was nice enough to send me the proofs of the final three issues of Zero Killer, his post-apocalyptic tale that began two years ago and then went away for a while. This Wednesday, issue #4 arrives in stores, so I figured I’d remind you about it!
So here’s Zero Killer. Written by Arvid Nelson, drawn by Matt Camp, colored by Dave Stewart. Published by Dark Horse, costing 3 dollars a pop. Hooray for particulars!
Zero Killer tells the story of Zero, a mysterious man moving through the wreckage of New York, 2007, coming across bloodthirsty gangs and helping a young lady named Stark, whom we meet at the beginning of the series as she’s being chased by some dastardly gang members. Yes, “wreckage” of New York. In Nelson’s series, “Zero Hour” isn’t an annoyingly convoluted mini-series in which Hal Jordan destroys the universe but a nuclear holocaust in 1973, resulting in the death of 90% of the Earth’s population. Thirty-five years later, Manhattan Island has dropped 100 feet, meaning that everyone gets around by boat because everything is flooded, and gangs rule in the skyscrapers. Zero is a “trash man,” meaning he’s a bounty hunter, bringing back gang members who try to leave.
When last we saw the series, Stark had latched onto Zero for some reason (it doesn’t feel romantic, but by the end of issue #3, we still weren’t sure), a helicopter flying over the city had been shot down, and two men representing the Emir of Sudan (Africa having been spared the nuclear war; Nelson makes the point about the superpowers forgetting about Africa subtly, although it strains credulity, as in 1973 Africa was a hotbed of competing ideologies) trying to employ Zero to get the cargo of the helicopter back. They know Zero is trying to get to Africa, and they promise to take him there if he gets the cargo (a suitcase) back. The suitcase is in the Twin Towers, someplace Zero does not want to go, but at the end of issue #3, he’s made up his mind to take the job, Stark is coming with him because someone important to her is in the Towers, and we’ve gotten a bit of backstory about Zero – his brother was killed at the Towers, and the gang members who did it are still in control, meaning Zero will have to contend with them. Sound good? Good.
Nelson does quite a few things that are obvious in the final three issues of the series (which doesn’t make it a bad series, I should point out). We know that Zero is going to have to confront Deegan and Southpaw, the two people he mentioned when he was “talking” to his “brother” (in a hallucination) in issue #3. We know he has a history with them and the Disciples, the gang that lives in the Towers, and it’s not too difficult to figure out what it is. Stark’s quest is likewise a bit obvious, even before she says some things that make it even more obvious (except to Zero, apparently). Again, that doesn’t make it bad, as Nelson keeps everything moving along nicely, and the battle between Zero and Southpaw and then Deegan is done well. Zero has to overcome that part of his past, and Nelson does a good job showing us that Zero has a lot to atone for. It’s interesting that we believe Zero to be a kind of anti-hero in the beginning of the book, when he saves Stark not because he wants to, but because he’s been hired to bring back the men chasing her, and we think as the series progresses he’ll become more sympathetic. Interestingly, as Nelson reveals his past, we become less inclined to like Zero, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t struggle to overcome his demons. Nelson avoids sentimentalizing his quest, so although we have an idea about what’s coming, it’s still compelling, as Zero’s character is fascinating to watch. Despite the somewhat standard climax to the story, Nelson has done a nice job creating these characters, so we’re more invested in them and seeing them go through an ending that is a bit telegraphed doesn’t matter as much. When Stark finds what she’s looking for, it’s a very nice moment even though we’ve seen it coming. When Zero reaches the end of his quest, we feel uplifted even though, again, we could see it coming. As we often find in fiction, the journey is more interesting than the destination, because we’ve seen so many stories like this before. As long as Nelson doesn’t completely blow the destination (and he doesn’t), the series is a success because of how he builds the world.
The only problem with the ending is its ambiguity, which seems to imply a sequel (Nelson has said a sequel is definitely planned, so there’s that). I don’t really have too much of a problem with the ending, because the story is more about Stark and how Zero needs to put his past behind him, and both of those issues are resolved (whether they will be to your satisfaction is up to you). It’s still a good way to wrap up the first series and set up a second one, but still, if the sequel doesn’t pan out (and in today’s marketplace, who knows?), it tells a good, six-issue story. Nelson leaves a lot about the world Zero and Stark inhabit ambiguous as well, like the status of women, who are being used in fertility farms in order to repopulate the planet. This is an interesting backdrop to the book, because it’s obviously an important part of the world, but it’s not necessarily pertinent to the main story, so it adds some nice depth to the series.
Matt Camp’s art continues to be impressive, and it’s kind of neat seeing it in black-and-white, before Stewart gets his hands on it. As good as Stewart is (and he is), it’s neat seeing the pencil work for issue #6, mainly because we get to see Camp’s work unadorned. The cityscapes are rawer and have a bit more impact, while the figure work is a bit less defined. When Stewart colors it, the figures become a bit more solid, and the ruined buildings of New York look a bit more refined, which distances them a bit from the characters. It’s an interesting contrast, and it’s neat seeing how the art evolves from the pencil work to the final stage.
Obviously, this is a lesser work than Rex Mundi (the final issue of which also shows up tomorrow), but it’s still a good, solid, post-apocalyptic story that, while it might not rewrite the post-apocalyptic book, is worth a look. If you’ve forgotten about it, that’s too bad. It’s a neat comic with cool art and some interesting characters doing their thing. And if you missed it the first time out, it’s time to dig into the back issue boxes!