Ales Kot has been doing great work for a while now. Wild Children managed to be one of the very few postmodernist deconstructions of comic narrative that was both clever and didn't make me want to self harm, Change is what Southland Tales wanted desperately to be and his work on Suicide Squad was smart, nasty and fun. Admittedly he was on the book for about 11 seconds, but, leave it Jake, it's DC.
He's just been confirmed as co-writing Secret Avengers and, next week, steps out into the espionage end of the pool again with Zero Issue 1. And it's brilliant. Here's why;
1. This is an espionage comic book
I am a mark for a good spy story. The Ellen Page news earlier in the week had me busting out my old Queen and Country trades, I've just finished the first Secret Avengers collection and the thing that has me giddy about Agents of SHIELD is the opportunity to explore the organization's ethics and how they collide with the real world. Espionage fiction is a fascinating, difficult game of three card monte that rewards perseverance and is as full of inference as it is of fact. Look at the multiple Bonds theory, the fact that Patrick McGoohan and Edward Woodward may have both played their signature characters across multiple shows. Hell, look at the ambiguity as to whether Tara Chace is in Whiteout.
Certainty is the enemy of espionage fiction and this entire story lives in the moment before discovery, before certainty. Zero, who's name we of course don't get, has been tasked with retrieving a piece of enhancement technology from a Palestinian terrorist. He's been told to be cautious, but that's about it. Get the job done, don't get caught, get out. Not even the implied out of 'Your mission if you choose to accept it.'. Just one man doing an incredibly dangerous job with no back up, for questionable reasons.
2. This is an action comic book
The entire issue revolves around a fight scene. We see it up close a couple of times but for the most part it's in the middle distance. On one side is the enhanced Palestinian terorrist, on the other is an enhanced Israeli soldier. They're both basically already dead, only kept upright by the combat pharmaceuticals in their system and the feral joy of not having to behave anymore. Again, I'm a sucker for a good fight scene thanks to a couple of martial artists friends who've taught me to be very discerning about my pretend violence.
This is one of the three best fight sequences I've ever read, tied with the fights in Jeff Lemire's Lost Dogs and the biofeedback episode of Global Frequency for sheer, bloody-knuckled energy. It's hideous and brutal and chilling, because at least one of these guys is having fun and the sheer scale of the physical damage ramps the threat and tension perfectly. They're killing each other and destroying the city around them and neither of them give a crap. These are weapons with biceps, missiles that fight dirty and seeing them up close and personal is horrifying. The fight is the spine of the comic and Kot's best moments revolve around Zero using it to get the job done. What's particularly fascinating is that the single most chilling, cathartic moment in the fight is a single, still panel towards the end. You'll know it when you see it.
3. This is a comic book that knows its toybox
I don't know exactly what influences Kot drew on but espionage fiction is rife with totems and he plays with a lot of them here to tremendous effect. The framing sequence echoes both Red and The Long Kiss Goodnight whilst the bureaucratic backstop team are slightly reminiscent of Queen and Country (Just with a lot more sex). Even the implication that Zero is a hothoused agent with an uncertain relationship with his superiors evokes everything from Harry Palmer to the Daniel Craig era Bond. In each case though, these tropes are used in a different way or, in some cases, turned into something completely different. The connection between superhumanity (Although it's closer to transhumanism here) and espionage is unlike anything you'll read. His work on Suicide Squad was fantastic and it was, at most, 50% as smart and fun as Zero is.
4. This is a comic book with an amazing creative team
Each issue is a self-contained mission, thus making this a very new reader friendly book. This intelligent, elegant approach to format is reflected how the book's art is formatted too. Each issue is illustrated by a different artist, with the first issue illustrated with tremendous energy by Michael Walsh. Clayton Cowles does great work on lettering and Jordie Bellaire, one of the best colorists working in the industry, is on board for every issue. This is a book without a single weak link; the script, art, structure and idea all combining to create something extraordinary.
Image have had a never ending stream of great new series this year but, based on this issue, Zero may trump them all. Issue 1 is released on the 18th, published by Image and costs $2.99. It'll be the best book published this month. You really should buy it.