August 15, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #40 (Zeros #1 by Martin Eden)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

When a creator is heavily influenced by a piece of media, something will inevitably creep its way into the work that they produce. Whether it’s the surname of the original creator or the more blatant direct rip-offs produced by Robert E. Howard at the beginning of his Conan the Barbarian work, the through-line is always interesting to unpack; the aspects that remain and the ones that are cast to the wayside reveal a lot.

Zeros sets up a status quo where there is a school that teaches its super-powered population how to function in the real world. While the parallels to Marvel's marvellous mutants are plain even from that initial description, creator Martin Eden inserts a twist that keeps the concept feeling fresh. The series follows those who haven't received powers, the titular Zeros, as they struggle to find a place for themselves in a world that appears to have left them behind.

Although this book is definitely still finding its legs, there is already a distinct effort to give this fledgling world a depth that implies it has existed before what we see on the first page. Characters move in the background that are unremarked on, without descending into the distracting efforts of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, inviting you to ask questions about them and drawing you deeper into the rich narrative of the universe.

Martin Eden is a creator that thrives on adding ancillary details to panels for the keen-eyed. This might be the subtle demonstration of a secondary character's power, or a portrait of a certain telekinetic that makes the connection to the X-Men even stronger, but it demonstrates an attention to detail that makes a book more suited to multiple re-reads.

There's a palpable energy in this book that begins to swell as soon as the large group of Zeros gather in the classroom. The considerable cast bounce off each other effectively and the quick language and switching perspectives create the impression of a hectic classroom; the specific dynamics between students are yet to emerge due to the perhaps oversized set of characters, but the degree of youth and enthusiasm really bleeds through.

There is a slight lack of nuance in the facial expressions, preventing the book from landing in the realm of reality. Fortunately, the power sets, the energy projection and the youthful characters make it clear that Eden isn't trying to achieve that. The extremity of emotions feeds into the sense that these are young people who don't know how to control their emotions and that they are experiencing the madness for the very first time.

In terms of the language of the book, it's clear that this has been written with a younger audience in mind. The style of narration makes the book feel like a bed-time story being read, creating the image in your head of a parent reading this alongside their child and allowing them to marvel at the accompanying pictures. Eden takes the time to explicitly define terms like "mental abilities", which would be necessary for some audiences, but makes it clear who is supposed to be reading this book.

Zeros drips with comic history and influence, but manages to do enough to permit the book to stand on its own and, given time, will allow it to evolve into something unique. While there is a complexity to the understanding of the cast, the language makes this a book that children will be able to more effortlessly relate to. There are rough edges to the plot progression and the art, sure, but there is no doubt that Martin Eden has a future in the world of comic book creation.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me: mcdickson101@gmail.com