[Author's note: The text in this article originally appeared on http://kittyspryde.forumotion.com on 08 September 2010 and may have had its content changed or edited since its initial online publication]
- (Dark Horse Comics, 2010; 160 pages; reprints Zero Killer #1-6, originally published in 2007)
- Writer: Arvid Nelson
- Line Art: Matt Camp
- Colours: Dave Stewart
- Cover Price: $16.99 US
The recently released Zero Killer trade paperback collects the speculative fiction comic book series about a post-nuclear war New York. The book’s primary premise is intriguing. In the world of Zero Killer, the United States did not drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, instead using a solitary atomic bomb on an unpopulated Japanese island to demonstrate its power. The demonstration did not lead to Japan’s surrender, and the Second World War continued on with increasingly brutal land warfare until 1947, when the defeated Japan is divided by the Allies into a communist North Japan and a democratic South Japan (mirroring the fate of post-World War II Germany, which was divided into a communist East Germany and a democratic West Germany, both in the real world and the parallel world of Zero Killer). It is this fundamental difference from the happenings in the real world that starts a chain of events (explored in retrospective “newsletters” that are interspersed between chapters) that leads to an all-out nuclear war in 1973, pitting the US and its NATO allies against the USSR, a war that eliminates 90% of the world’s population and plunges it into a dystopian state, rendering the USSR a radioactive wasteland bereft of human life, the United States a struggling military dictatorship led by a faceless and nameless Director of the Reconstruction of the United States of America (DRUSA), and Africa (particularly Ethiopia) as the sole industrial world power (having escaped most of the nuclear exchanges of 1973).
It is in this world that we are introduced to Zero Killer, a “trash man” (a mercenary/bounty hunter) who caters to the various gangs that have partitioned Manhattan in the wake of the nuclear holocaust. Zero’s ultimate goal is to escape the moribund United States and get to “the promised land” of Ethiopia.
There’s a lot of depth to the world of Zero Killer, much more than I can cover in this review. Nelson has been seemingly inspired by Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (the DRUSA and his manipulation of the media and the institutionalization of military paranoia are very reminiscent of Orwell’s Big Brother/INGSOC and its tactics). I disagree with some of the premises that shape the story’s alternative/parallel history, but my qualms are relatively minor and do little to detract from a very solid and entertaining story. Also, the aforementioned newsletters at the end of every chapter do a great job of fleshing out the background and context of the story, providing the necessary exposition in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the flow of the narrative.
Camp’s art is great for the most part, although his figures occasionally come off as a bit too stiff, which can sometimes be a problem when using photographs of staged static scenes as visual reference (as opposed to using paused video of dynamic scenes). The character and environment designs remind me of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, even Zero Killer’s outfit seems somewhat inspired by Akira‘s Tetsuo Shima. One of the things that really stood out to me with the art is Camp’s ability to clearly portray hand-to-hand combat scenes in a reasonably naturalistic manner. With many other comic book artists, the depiction of hand-to-hand combat is simply a series of stock poses learned by rote that show little to no sense of momentum and movement in relation to the environment, with the figures often suspended in mid-air and at least one of the figures in an absurd “flying punch” pose. Camp looks like he actually did his research, incorporating realistic and practical-looking martial arts moves into the action scenes. In an online conversation I had with artist Matt Camp and writer Arvid Nelson, they confirmed that certain fight scenes were indeed modeled on scenes that involved Camp taking poses based on Kempo and Kali martial arts techniques.
All in all, a very good read. Highly recommended.