by Ales Kot, Marek Oleksicki, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles
The story in Zero is certainly a continuous one, but within the arcs Kot certainly seems to have certain thematic choices. In this third act, Zero has become primal. Since his return and subsequent discovery, the book has replaced much of its dialogue with aggression. The fallout and rage continue in this issue as Zero comes face to face with a piece of his past.
Despite the series skipping small chunks of time for a bit as Zero hits on the most important moments of his tale, recounting how things came to find him on a cliff at gun point, it has slowed. That is not to comment on the quality of the storytelling, nor the weight of the individual issues. Instead it is to comment on the movement through time. Kot has spent nearly three straight issues on a single moment in this timeline. In some ways, readers might start to feel as though no progress has been made since the new arc began. But it is through reflecting on the time jumps and vignettes that have come previously that this change proves itself. It is unlike the series to stall and thus there is a reason. Remembering that Zero himself is telling this tale from a moment in the future gives an indication as to how long his recounting has hung on this one moment. He was out, he was living a different life and yet he chose to come back. When he did, this is what he found.
Issue #14 of Zero is possibly the most brutal of the issues thus far. That comment feels like it may have, and certainly should have, been said several times now. Somehow, Kot and his chosen artists have never made these sequences feel trashy or exploitative. Whether that comes from Kot’s scripts or the artist, it allows the book to register and impact the reader in a far more impactful way. There is real rage and real pain pouring out of Zero in these issues and that is not lost in the violence. Here, Marek Oleksicki and Jordie Bellaire render a fist fight that is uncomfortable to sit through because of its effective panels and imagery, not because of any hyperbolic action sequence.
And still the most unsettling moments in the book, once readers can suppress the brutality of the fight, come in the early moments and in the final pages. Kot, again, uses very little language in the issue, but makes it count when he does. The opening moments with Sarah Cooke are blunt, but not cold. Kot’s decisions and the fantastic panel by Oleksicki of Sarah act are a gut punch. Later, as the book is concluding, and as the fight draws to an end, Kot brings back lines from the classroom. These lines, the one repeated and drilled, flash into the panels as one man goes still. And still, in the efforts to save the children and destroy it all, the fatalistic aspect of the story sinks in. Somehow the agency still exists to find Zero so many years down the line. Somehow, the children are still being trained.
It’s bleak. There is no escaping that sensation while reading Zero. But the story and craft are mesmerizing and Zero remains one of the best books in comics right now.