Channel Zero, as you may or may not be aware, is an old (circa 1997) comic series from Brian Wood. HOWEVER, Dark Horse has just released a new collection of the work. And to make it even better, there's a prequel story in the collection illustrated by Becky Cloonan. So that's sexy. The re-release of the book seems really appropriate now that people are going around banning gay marriage. Big ups to the voters in North Carolina; some of you are who Warren Ellis is talking about in the intro to this new compendium (and a great intro it is. Don't skip over it just to get to the comic). Little Tommy, the kid who cries about being persecuted because of all the sex and violence on TV and thinks the answer to his woes is to deny others their rights. Come to think of it, that mentality explains a lot about this country.
Insert Rock n' Roll analogy, the Christian Temperance movement, Plato calling theater brain rotting tripe and all other recorded instances of fun-police trying to ruin everything in the name of their own sense of morality.
See, Channel Zero is like a semi-prequel to his next great work, DMZ. It's all about what would happen if Jerry Falwell got his way, and the Big Bad Government replaced the Constitution with the Bible. TV and radio can't broadcast a single vowel without the approval of a zero-tolerance censor who Does It For The Kids. Defying the laws of God are punishable by a gunshot to the head, and those laws include "no littering". Voicing your opposition could result in either imprisonment or your message getting twisted to boost TV ratings in an effort to appear "unbiased". Kinda like that Sinclair Lewis quote about flags and crosses and all that.
The series focuses on and around the events of the life of "Jennie 2.5", who hijacks internet landlines and wireless signals to broadcast her anti-government messages. Not only is she chased by the police, but she finds her message being co-opted as a way to coddle a complacent populace into thinking that free debate still exists. It's all about the same kind of thing Woods talks about in his subsequent work: How does mass communication affect us? What does it affect in the classic American Doomsday scenarios: fascist dictatorship and civil war?
The writing is mostly cynical narration by Jennie. She swears about as much as I do and you can just hear the disillusionment in her voice as she talks about her past and her changing values. Some issues focus on side characters, who have their own monologues to help give us an idea of Woods' universe. News briefs break up these narrations so we can find out how the Other Side thinks, but for the most part dialogue happens in kind of a voiceover fashion, where even direct conversation is spoken without displaying the speaker talking in real time.
This came out closer to 2000, so it's really weird seeing how things were back then. I mean, the futurists in this work predict people emailing each other at hundreds of kilobytes a second. Man. What blazing fast speeds, huh? Woods has some pretty harsh words for Rudy Giuliani too, since this was before 9/11 pretty much canonized the guy. For some reason it really irked me that Jennie thinks Mao Zedong is the reason China has so much power these days when really it's because of Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in the 80's. Whatever. Off topic.
The art is excellent, of course. It's that dirty black and white style that brings out the best and worst of New York, with characters defined by their stark fashion choices. Those fashion choices all evoke a different feel of the city's culture that depends on where you are. A barcode tattoo, a respirator on a bald, scowling head, lip piercings, Chinese logograms. Just when you think New York's culture can't come up with a new flavor, it does. Each one of them is a middle finger saluting Smalltown, America and the conservative Christian mentality that makes it illegal to look like they do in their universe.
Of course, as time goes on and people get used to the state of things, you slowly start to see those fashion trends take on a homogeneous tone. God is it ever depressing.
Pictures of scenery and objects look like photo negatives and silhouettes, which gives it the feel of an underground art scene, but with the black and white, it's also emblematic of the fascist climate that overtakes NYC. In a way I think this series is a celebration of the city's diversity, moreso than just using it as a backdrop. It's impressive that even in black and white the artist can still convey a ton of detail and still get the feel of the city, even in a way that's different from DMZ.
If there's one thing Brian Wood is good at, it's writing interesting stories with dead serious political commentary. It may be kind of overbearing with the whole "College Art Student figures out how rigged the system is and how we're all sheep and fights fascism with nothing but pastels" but if you're into that then you'll like this. I might be biased in favor of it because I liked DMZ so much. Rest assured, if you gave this and Wood's subsequent work to your Republican uncle at Christmas, you'd get to listen to him demand more laws banning this kind of work all the way to New Years'.
TL;DR: If you like Brian Woods' work, punk rock, and anti-authoritarian revenge fantasies you'll like this. Or if you're just looking for a swank new collection of the work with bonus material from Becky Cloonan.
Channel Zero is written and illustrated by Brian Wood with the prequel story, Jennie One, illustrated by Becky Cloonan. This brand new collection is published by Dark Horse. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our Amazon web store.
Spandexless received a preview copy of Channel Zero through NetGalley.