Edward Zero is the “Agency’s” former best secret operative whose life in 2038 is at the hands of a child operative from the agency in which he was once the shining star. As he speaks to the child, he begins to explain his story about how one of the world’s best agents fell from grace. From chapter to chapter, we see many of Zero’s missions, ranging from returning a stolen bioweapon in the Gaza Strip to eliminating a former agent who is now the leader of a nonviolent community in Brazil. Along the way, we meet the people in Zero’s life: Zizek, his trainer and mentor, Mina, his childhood love, Cooke, the new leader of the agency who is highly suspicious of Zero, and Ginsberg Nova, a masked man who is known as the leader of global terrorism who claims to know and remember Zero.
What ensues in Zero Vol. 1: “An Emergency,” is a relatively standard story of a rogue agent of the CIA or some fictional secret operative agency that is supposed to represent the CIA. For the most part, each checkpoint in Zero’s escape from the agency is fairly predictable; Zero begins to break away from his stoic, machine-like, humanity-void countenance and protocol when he experiences emotional trauma. The first break happens when his love Mina is killed. The second break happens when he has to kill another rogue agent. Then, the major break happens when he simultaneously begins to ask questions about his parents, whom he cannot remember, and also realize that his agency is responsible for some bio-hazard material that has transformed people into lumpy, blob-like beings that look a little too much like a hybrid cross between Samantha Eggar in David Cronenberg’s The Brood and the pustule-laden Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch’s Dune.
I reference these two films because the blob creatures are only a minor example of a sad and disappointing trend in the Zero series: watered down motifs, plot devices, and characters taken directly from films. As a graphic novel, Zero is not entirely a failure. As I read it, I was moderately interested and was at least motivated enough to complete the volume. And from a visual perspective, there is some stunning artwork in the series, with each chapter illustrated by a different artist in order to add visual segmentation of the different phases of Edward Zero. However, upon completing the reading, I had an overwhelmingly unsettling feeling that what I had just read was a graphic novel reconstitution of pieces of films. After spending some time talking to Generoso about the volume, three films came up in our discussion: the Bourne trilogy, The Conversation, and Three Days of the Condor.
Zero takes plot devices and themes from these films and fails to do what they all do so brilliantly: create suspense and an overall feeling of cynicism toward the agency one is part of while creating a sympathetic central figure that the audience hopes will succeed. Like the Bourne series, the narrative of Zero has a semi-paternal relationship between Zizek (the trainer) and Zero, the agent/trainee. In addition, Zero begins to go rogue as he begins to question about his past which has been wiped from his memory, which is the identical to the motivations of Jason Bourne when he goes rogue. Like Joe Turner in Three Days of the Condor, Zero falls from the top of the agency when he gains prohibited knowledge of a secret operation. And, like Harry Caul in The Conversation, what leads to Zero’s end is what he was himself.
Okay, so sure, as long as the story was engaging, I should not take too many points away from the graphic novel. But what makes Zero an unsatisfying read is that not only did it mimic narrative branches from some excellent films about espionage and secret operations but it also failed to combine these duplicated devices in a way that created suspense or allowed me to connect with Edward Zero as a character. Despite the small moments of human emotion that we see in Edward Zero, there is little to motivate the reader to sympathize with him and to desire to see him accomplish and triumph, which I feel is essential in any narrative where anyone leaves an affiliated organization and former friends and colleagues become enemies.
By the time I completed the first volume of Zero, I felt that I wished I had seen a film instead. There are intricacies in the espionage genre that just were not captured in Zero, despite the fact that it used material from some impeccable sources. Consequently, the failure of Zero as a graphic novel is even more upsetting because the story is both unoriginal, with identifiable pieces from other older material, and dull, failing to capture the paranoia, the suspense, and the constant desire to see the protagonist triumph over corruption and evil that make a betrayal, rebellion, or fall from grace story thought-provoking and alluring. Zero combines multiple motifs and themes used in the espionage genre, and yet, is unable to execute any one of them completely and successfully.
Zero is written by Ales Kot and is available via Image Comics.