ZERO In On Damaged Super Spies with Secret Avengers' Ales Kot
CREDIT: Image Comics
The government’s greatest spy has become the its greatest enemy. In the Image series Zero, Edward Zero has been fighting for his country as a spy for decades. But over the course of the five issues released since its launch in September 2013, Zero has discovered that country he’s killed for isn’t what he thought it was – and he might be the only one who can right it.
Zero creator/writer Ales Kot might be best known to comics readers for his work on Marvel’s Secret Avengers and his abbreviated run on DC’s Suicide Squad, but the Czech-turned-Brooklyn author has his heart and soul in the world of creator-owned comics. After breaking in in the summer of 2012 with the original graphic novel Wild Children, Kot has been riding a wave of popularity with one-shots, miniseries, as well as the aforementioned work-for-hire opportunities. For Kot, Zero is a very personal story set on the battlefields and behind closed doors across the world. Coming of age in the Czech Republic as pop culture delved even deeper into depicting war in movies, television and video games, Zero is an exploration of his invigoration of action movies and violent video games while as a writer seeing the disconnect between great action and great story that is all-too-common in mass media entertainment. Kot told Newsarama tha the idea that became Zero first materialized when he walked out of the James Bond film Skyfall dissatisfied with the limited scope of the secret agent and leaving the writer convinced to do his own.
Truly a post-modern espionage thriller, Zero has earned praise from the likes of Scott Snyder and Jonathan Hickman. A collection of the first arc, titled Zero, Vol. 1: An Emergency, is scheduled for release on February 19th with the second arc primed to begin in March. Newsarama spoke with Kot about the story of Edward Zero, and the stories from movies, video games and real life that called him into duty to create his own.
Newsarama: Despite its title, Zero has already put out five issues with a trade collection coming in February. How’s it feel to have it the first chunk of stories out there, finished, and in the public’s hands?
Ales Kot: It feels a bit exhilarating, a bit strange, a bit irrevocable. It feels about a million different ways. There's a sense of it having to happen this way, a sense of this being right and correct, a thing that is coming out of me exactly the way it should be, doing its thing, morphing along the way as a narrative, morphing me as a human being just by existing, and also by the interaction between me and the narrative, and by the interaction between the team, and…yeah, a million different ways. What does making Zero mean in the context of my life? While on some levels I understand it as a part of a process where I work my way towards understanding certain core themes, such as the war impulse / virus, on other levels I see a veil.
Art is conversation. So this is the next part of that conversation -- having the thing out and letting it talk with the world. At the end of the day, I am content with that, and I feel I need to do this to feel truly alive, so that is why I do it.
Nrama: The last issue, Zero #5, saw your protagonist Edward Zero on unsteady ground – both the near future timeline and the one twenty years distant. Where would you say his mind is at?
Kot: Do you mean by the end of the 2018 storyline or by the end of the 2038 storyline? If you mean 2018, one of the easy, non-spoiling ways to explain it would be to sum it up as "expanded." If we're talking 2038, I don't want to spoil anything about that, and the true answer is, I don't know, or I don't care about voicing it at the moment, I don't care about consciously determining it for myself, even. As the journey forms the 2038 finale morphs with it. I feel some basics of it.
Nrama: Newsarama interviewed you upon the launch of Zero back in 2013 and you stated you had an extended story planned for this series, so what comes next for Edward and the series?
Kot: #6 is set in CERN, Switzerland -- so the Large Hadron Collider is in the center of things, and so is a character that returns from a hiatus of sorts. The issue is drawn by the wonderful Vanesa R. Del Rey (Hit).
#7 is set in Mexico. Zizek and Zero go on a road trip. There's a war down there -- a war that FBI willingly supports in our world, as we can see based on the recently released news of FBI's open support of the Sinaloa cartel. So I dug into that, because even before these things became public knowledge, it was pretty clear. Matt Taylor draws this issue.
#8 is set in the United Kingdom. What happens in #6 and #7 pre-determines some key events of #8. By the end of it, the narrative drive makes a very big change. Jorge Coelho (Polarity, Venom) draws this one. This is the closest we get to seeing Zero do his own version of Predator.
#9 is set in Bosnia in the 90's and it's probably the darkest thing I have ever written. Tonci Zonjic (Lobster Johnson, Who is Jake Ellis?) is drawing it.
And then we go to Iceland.
Nrama: With Zero you really took the idea of a “spy thriller” and modernized it. Can you talk about your interest in the genre and how it developed into Zero?
Kot: I was always immersed in war. It's what we wake up to when we become alive to some extent, isn't it? This world filled with war. There is love, yes, and there is plenty of it, however the war is also a part of it, it's written under the stones we walk upon, it's written (often) in the eyes of our family, in the curriculum, and so forth.
So, from being enveloped in that -- on some levels unconsciously in the beginning -- to seeing action movies, to seeing books on war, to hearing my grandfather speak about war, to seeing James Bond movies, from seeing a society that glorifies the "strong male" who solves problems by brutal force, and to video games like Doom and Wolfenstein, by the age of seven I enter primary school and this is just the beginning of it. See the war children wage on one another, often replaying the conditioning shared by their parents. See the war of base impulses.
To some extent I was fascinated by this. As a young overweight kid there was something genuinely uplifting about seeing the men win against all the odds and the numbers and the lack of belief in their abilities. There's a reason why I was wearing the Rocky costume when I was five or so.
At the same time the true action heroes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme and such is so often precariously Randian. The action movies of that era (late 80's) combined polite (yet horrifying, because unkind) Reaganisms and Thatcherisms with the Randian sense of triumph of one against all, although, at the same time, one can say this goes all the way back to some of our primal myths, so I suppose that part of my explanation might be invalid. Regardless, this changes when films such as Aliens and Predato' come out with genuinely subversive takes on such themes (see Arnold's Dutch Schaefer, a man genuinely tired of killing, and the CIA officer who lies almost all the time as one of his mirror images), influencing me years later when I get a chance to see them in the Czech Republic around 1993-94, being about seven or eight years old at the time.
As you can see I could write a book about this but I won't, at least not right now. What we end up with is me seeing Skyfall and, despite Craig's worthiness and the fantastic cinematography of Roger Deakins, being annoyed by a script that had genuine potential and fell on its mouth like a wonderfully dressed toddler with a genuinely lovable tiny face that attempted to walk for the first time and then fell and shat itself.
So I thought "Well, James Bond is clearly dead if they don't want to deal with serious themes in a non-juvenile way, because story-wise, except for some fantastic scenes, this fell apart thirty minutes in."
So I thought "Well why don't I invent the new one?"
Nrama: In each issue you worked with a unique artist – Michael Walsh, Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Will Tempest – all colored by Jordie Bellaire. How does having such unique artists, but only doing one issue each, change how you navigate the larger story?
Kot: It doesn't "change" anything really because I came to this story with the specific idea of the artistic collaboration being this way. So I approached it this way from the beginning, and therefore it's all very organic. What this means is I work with a very versatile, talented, professional team that keeps things together (design by Tom Muller, colors by Jordie, letters by Clayton Cowles, adherence to overall design of the characters/places) and at the same time opens things up when it comes to finding just the right story for each artist.
I love writing for my artists. I want to work on true collaborations with true talent. I am not interested in wasting my time or energy or money and I am not interested in wasting yours. So what you get is either top grade or nothing. Occasionally an experiment doesn't work out perfectly and that's fine, I'm a scientist, I'm constantly learning. Failure is great. I embrace failure and I want it because it helps me learn and improve. I want to go in the direction of my own fear.
Isn't that inspiring? I want this stuff. And in this case a part of that fear was "Can you pull this off? So many artists, so much you want to do?" and the answer is a clear yes.
Nrama: Even if you don’t change anything in the script for the artist, how did completing the stories and seeing them in print affect your plans for the series as a whole?
Kot: There are so many ways. It's a constant process. Once I reread the stories I sometimes change things in subsequent issues, sometimes I come up with an entirely new storyline or a moment. Sometimes a color Jordie uses completely changes what I want to do going forward.
It's a constant motion. I have to let the story tell me what it wants to be. I have to be present and listening, receiving and sending. It's organic architecture and it works in life, in any sort of creation. It's the balance between order and chaos.
And so is Zero, in a way. It's my way of exploring light and dark, war and peace, both outside myself and inside myself, although to make such a separation might be a tad premature and possibly wrong. At the end of the day I look into a mirror and Zero is a part of my life, and so is the mirror. Maybe at the end of the day all art asks the question "Who am I?" and then I finish this interview wondering about the answer or maybe even knowing it and just not telling you because there's a reason why "I am nothing" is the phrase on the back of every issue.