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Stories about assassins are often quite fascinating because of the discipline and methodology of the hit man. These stories are usually not about raging, passionate individuals. They are about cold, calculating professionals for whom murder is simply a job. We find such an individual in the first issue of Zero, a new series from Image Comics written by Ales Kot and illustrated by Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire. The first issue sets up a number of intriguing plot threads but much of that is undercut by confusingly gratuitous sex and graphic violence.
There is a lot of story set up in the first issue of Zero. It centers on an agent named Zero who works for a shadowy group called The Agency. He’s been sent to the Gaza Strip to retrieve a piece of technology stolen from the Israeli government by Hamas and used to create a biomodified terrorist (this part of the story takes place in 2018). He needs to extract it from the terrorist, but there is another biomodified prototype from the Israeli side battling Zero’s target. Zero eventually succeeds in his mission but not without a great deal of collateral damage.
Kot makes a couple of deft moves in structuring this story that opens up the world of Zero and hints at a much larger story than what he is able to show in 30 pages. First, he begins the issue with a scene that takes place in 2038. A man is sitting on a cliff with a young boy holding a gun to his head. It seems that the boy must kill the man to be admitted to The Agency. The older man warns the boy that killing is easy, but that it will change your life. He wants to tell the boy a story and launches into the main story of the issue. So this seems to be Agent Zero, though he looks very rough in the 2038 segment.
The other maneuver that Kot uses in the issue is that he makes the last couple sentences of the issue mean a lot. After the action of the issue has taken place, the issue closes with Zero mentioning that he lied to The Agency about something important (to reveal what would give away the end of this issue) and that five years later The Agency found out about the lie and everything Zero had done since then. With these couple of lines, Kot has alluded to a larger story, one containing conspiracy, betrayal and much more. Taken with the scene at the beginning, it sets up Zero as a story that may move back and forth in time in an interesting way, slowly revealing pieces of the bigger picture.
The idea of an assassin agent for a secret powerful organization who runs afoul of the organization reminds me a great deal of the Jason Bourne saga. The creators of Zero have added more sci-fi and political elements that also makes this feel like it’s going in a Neill Blomkamp (District 9) direction. Zero could have potential if that’s the trajectory. However, while Blomkamp is always using action and sci-fi in service of his “big idea,” there’s things in the first issue of Zero that make me feel that the political setting is only window dressing. There is nothing about the biomodified combatants that marks them especially as from Israel or Hamas. They are pretty similar to any big bruisers you’d find in any comic book. The comic doesn’t seem to have anything particular to say about the Middle East conflict either. It’s simply a topical place to set an action scene.
There’s also moments in Zero #1 when the choices go in directions that don’t seem to further the story. There’s a random sex scene between two observers at The Agency. The two seem quite hostile towards each other the first time we see them, but then are going at it immediately the next time we’re shown them. While the scene isn’t overly sexual (and not sexy at all), it is graphic. The artists show both male and female genitalia. I don’t have problem with nudity in comics, but this seems out of nowhere and unnecessary for the story. It strikes me as simply there for titillation and creating some sort of buzzy “explicit sex” vibe for the comic. Personally, it took me completely out of the central Zero story and made me doubt whether the comic was really what I thought it was going to be.
The art, which is good overall, gets pretty explicit in terms of its violence, too. One character in particular meets a grizzly fate. While it’s not horrific, the carnage does pile up as the story progresses. Combined with the random sex scene and the lack of a strong connection to the Gaza Strip context, there are a number of things that make me unsure if Zero will be worth reading on a continual basis. However, Kot, Walsh and Bellaire have also set up a large world in Zero #1 with a central character who has some clear problems coming his way. So if nothing else, Zero may end up being a good action story. If you like stories about rogue agents, assassins and conspiracies, the first issue of Zero may be worth checking out.