Review time! with <i>Zero</i> #5

"This time the revolution will be computerised / You'll know it as you do it / In real time before your eyes"

Ales Kot was nice enough to send me a digital copy of Zero #5, which hits stores tomorrow, and I thought I'd do a quick review of what is turning out to be one of the best new comics out there. Image publishes this, Kot writes it, Will Tempest draws it, Jordie Bellaire colors it, and Clayton Cowles letters it.

It's the end of the first story arc, more or less (the trade will end with this issue), and it's a nice game-changer as Kot moves forward with the book.

If you've been reading Zero, you know it's about Edward Zero, a super-duper secret agent, and incidents from his life. Kot has done each issue with a different artist, which is fairly clever, and he's been jumping around in time a bit. In this issue, we move ahead to 2038, and Zero is a somewhat tired and unhappy old man. The first page shows us a much younger man - not much older than a boy - holding a gun on him, and Zero decides to tell him about his past a bit, and Kot jumps back to 2019. Zero, wrapped up in bandages, is chatting with his handler Roman Zizek. This follows events from issue #3, but I don't want to spoil those events if you haven't read the issue yet. Suffice it to say that Zero has gone through some rough times. Zizek's superior, Sara Cooke, also wants to talk to Zero to assess his status. Zizek and Sara don't quite see eye to eye on how to deal with Zero - Sara is concerned about something that happened in issue #1 (unless I'm misremembering), and she thinks Zero knows something he's not telling. Zizek goes behind her back and shows Zero something, and then, in 2038, Kot wraps up the story with another strange revelation. It's quite cool, to be honest.

I know it's hard to write very much about the issue without giving too much away, but it's put together quite well. Kot has shown himself to be a writer that you have to pay attention to, because, like the best writers, he doesn't make things blatantly obvious. All three characters in this book are running their own game, and it's all about who can run it the best.

It's obvious that Zero is hiding one crucial thing about himself, but Zizek also has secrets, and it's safe to assume that Cooke does too. Kot has shown that he can express quite a bit without writing a lot of words, and he does so here, especially when Cooke is interviewing Zero. Both of them seem to dance around the main topic, and Kot does a nice job with it, but he also lands obvious points with a dull, bureaucratic oppressiveness, as when Cooke tells Zero that they don't want him if he can't do the job. It's a well-written comic, which is good, as there's hardly any action. Kot wants to get to his bombshells at the end of the issue, so he quietly goes about it, and there's no room for a lot of action.

That's probably a good thing, as Tempest's art seems weak in that area. There's one scene of violence, and Tempest's figures look very stiff and almost comical. He's probably the weakest artist on the book so far, but Kot does play to his strengths - he's good at faces, so the fact that a lot of this issue is talking heads is a good thing. He makes Zizek a functionary schlub, one who looks completely haggard and out of his depth, but shows some flashes of deeper strength even though Cooke goes out of his way to emasculate him. Cooke is drab and wan - not exactly unattractive, but completely unconcerned with her appearance, which is fitting for the way Kot writes her and for her position. Zizek is the same way - he's a slob, but he doesn't care in the least. Zero is another interesting character, as his expression hardly ever changes until we get to 2038, when he's realized how bad some of things he had a hand in have gone. Tempest gives each character a lot of personality just from the way their faces look, and it's probably good that he drew this issue and not one with more action.

At the end of the issue, he gets to be a bit more creative, and he does a nice job with it, but that's all I'm going to write about that! Bellaire, continuing her quest to color every comic book that comes out, is very into blue in this issue - the coolness of the entire book fits with the existential chill that runs throughout Zero's interrogation, and it's contrasted with one scene that Bellaire colors with some browns and beige, making that one scene look sicker than the rest of the book. It's fairly clever, and the entire book is full of fairly interesting color choices.

This isn't the strongest issue of the series - issue #2 is still the best one yet - but it does answer some questions about Zero while opening up many more avenues of exploration for Kot. Without giving too much away, this issue does make Zero a bit more than just a spy comic, even though it's been a good one of those so far. This issue does give us a bit more of an encompassing theme or plot for the comic, and it might be the first one in the series that doesn't stand completely on its own. But it's still a good issue - Kot has managed to create these rather blank-slate characters (Zero, of course, but also Zizek) who are still compelling, and in this issue, he allows some of their deeper thoughts to sneak in, which should mean that the book will just get better. At least that's what I'm hoping!

Zero #5 is on sale tomorrow, and the trade comes out on 19 February (I think). Give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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