Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Existence is a perpetual state of war."
Fast, furious and utterly brutal, the one thing this isn't is pretty.
But then neither is war nor espionage nor the means with which either are executed. As much as anything this is a book about indoctrination and duplicity. We suspect we're being lied to most of the time; not just casual omissions, either, but a wholesale jettisoning of the truth to hide what us grunts should never be allowed to know.
As Shami Chakrabarti wrote in the Guardian this week, "Orwell's observations on the power of language "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable" is something that Liberty has witnessed throughout its history - "extraordinary rendition" wasn't sweet singing, but a chilling euphemism for kidnap and torture during the "war on terror". "Waterboarding" was never a seaside sport. Governments have twisted words to sanitise abomination and obscure outrage."
Now imagine you are part of the military mechanism perpetrating those wars - those illegal infiltrations, undercover ops, calculated assassinations. If you routinely deceive other nations, side-step national boundaries and fabricate falsehoods to mollify the public, you're almost certainly blindsiding your own operatives.
This book slides backwards and forwards in time during the forty years during which orphaned Edward Zero was trained to be the ultimate in detached obedience and the sharpest scalpel in surgical assassination The Agency ever had, through the gradual realisation that his superiors were lying to him and to each other, to what he decided to do about that, when he was found out, and when they finally caught up with him.
2038 AD. Atop the white cliffs of Dover sits a battered, buff military man, a bottle in his hand. Behind the man stands a boy about twelve, and in his hand is a gun. It is pointed directly at the back of the bruiser's head.
"You sure this is a decision you want to make, kid? I killed my first man when I was ten. The Agency wanted to make sure we were all ready early on. The point being, killing is easy. You can do it. I won't try to stop you
The boy hesitates, uncertain.
"Just got a story to tell first."
It begins in the Gaza Strip, 2018.
"A war zone. A mission. A target.
"A thing to steal. A place to use. A person to kill."
The mission is an extraction. The target is a Hamas soldier, bio-modified with a unit in his chest using tech stolen from The Agency's lab. That is what he is there to steal: he is going to extract that unit from the Hamas soldier's chest. Unfortunately there are complications: Israeli soldiers after the very same thing, their own bio-modified soldier, and The Agency back home monitoring his progress.
That one is quick and slick, narrated with total authority backed up by hard research and punched onto the page by Michael Walsh in gruesome glory using broad brush strokes uncluttered by extraneous detail. Jordie Bellaire's palette is a minimal mix of sand and blood - although there is an awful lot of that, along with shards of broken glass.
There'll be more of that glass in Rio during October 2019 when Edward Zero finds himself on the other side of that gun, trained on a fellow operative The Agency has decided to "retire". It is there that he discovers he is not Sub-Director Zizek's "hound" but his "bitch". He is being used.
Oh, it's all delightfully complicated, Ales Kot relying on implication rather than explication, letting only a little out at a time. Where exactly Zizek's real loyalties lie remains unclear. Often at overt odds with his immediate boss Sara Cooke with whom he has a love / hate relationship, he appears to have more covert priorities too.
The writer of WILD CHILDREN and CHANGE is joined here by five strikingly different artists. Morgan Jeske is given the Rio chapter, closest to Walsh's in skull-crushing brutality and matches that with wince-inducing success luridly lit in lime-green and blood. Love the higgledy-piggledy, sprawling hillside suburb too. In total contrast Tradd Moore comes off in places like a late-career Carmine Infantino (I'm thinking his tenure on SPIDER-WOMAN) with hair and beards full of maritime swirls and the most innocent-looking young Edward you can imagine. Until that innocence is shot down not so much by the sniper but by a single sentence uttered by his I.R.A. target. Mateus Santolouco is closest to your traditional action artist, inked à la Paul Pope, but none of those words will prepare you for his two pages spent squeezed, naked in a ventilation duct. And I mean truly squeezed: superb use of space to depict the lack of it.
It's in this Shanghai sequence that lies the first real clue to the first-book's conclusion which I doubt you will ever see coming, back where we started on those same Cliffs of Dover. Although maybe another clue comes in the form of Will Tempest's ultra-fine line and Jordie Bellaire's sudden shift of hue to various shades of grey. To me that signalled more than a change of tone, but one more word and I will have given the game away.
We can talk about that on the shop floor, if you like.