War For Its Own Sake: Image’s Zero
“No man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit.”
A famous philosopher said that; a man named Georg Hegel – who most of you have probably never heard of, but I swear he’s famous with us philosophy nerds. The above statement is taken from his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, an amazing book to read if you spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the ridiculous impossibility of our civilization surviving into the 21st Century. Conversely, if you don’t care at all about this crap and you really need to fall asleep, it’s also a wonderful sedative.
The reason I bring this old German blowhard up is because of a term you’ve probably heard ad nauseum in the past few years, a term that he inspired: zeitgeist. Literally, the word is German for “spirit of the time”, and it refers to the culture that a specific era of history adhered to, like the obsession with Christian symbolism that dominated Medieval Europe, or the masterful weaponry and military strategy that accompanied the rise of the samurai in feudal Japan, or the monoliths and mythology of ancient Greece and Egypt.
However, in the spirit of the current time, Hegel’s above statement no longer applies. The world of today is multicultural, spanning the length and breadth of our history with every politic, religion, language and ethnicity represented, if not equally, at least in a limited capacity.
We, the thirty-somethings and under of the plugged-in section of Earth, are the generation without identity: we define ourselves not just by our neighbourhood or family background, but by our taste in music, our favourite film and literature, and our favourite food. It’s not unheard-of to meet a white kid from the suburbs who loves blaxploitation films and can beatbox like a pro, nor is it rare to find kids of Asian descent shredding a metal solo or screaming punk lyrics while sporting the smoothest, tallest mohawk any scene kid’s ever grown.
For us, that stuff’s old hat, but go back thirty years and find an Asian kid at a Black Flag concert, or a white kid busting a beat for his freestyling friends – it happened, but it was usually accompanied by “where’d that Asian kid come from?” or “where’d that cracker learn how to beatbox?” Today, we just take it all in stride; our heritage helps to define us, but it’s no longer the definition.
The idealist will look at this new trend and smile. “See,” he/she will say. “Through technology, we’ve unified under the common banner of Humanity. In time, all of our prejudices will fade out of existence and we’ll spend our days singing kumbaya and writing poems about how enlightened we are.”
And they’ll say it just like that, complete with the sardonic sneer (which you can’t hear, but trust me – it’s there).
I, however, would beg to differ. I think that our technology has erased some battle lines and replaced them with others, on sections of the field that were previously out of sight; sections like freedom of expression, right to property, and social justice on a global scale. If this technologically has assisted us in increasing our awareness, it’s only making clear how much more fucked up it all is for everyone, not just certain strata of society.
In fact, I would say that war is not an event, but rather a state of being – our state of being, to be precise. Veritably, there is only one thing that we can safely say is the zeitgeist of our age, and it’s not high definition screens or sub-woofers. Today more than ever before, we have all become warriors on a global, digitized battleground.
Whether you fight for solar panels and cancer research; or you protest the invasion of small nations you can barely pronounce by radicalized extremist factions with equally unpronounceable names; or you simply choose to shop at local markets and boycott Walmart; you have become a social soldier. The war of the present is not just fought with bullets and bombs, even if it may feel that way from the view of the mainstream media. On the contrary, our war is fought on message boards, blogs and social media; our weapons are our voices, our signatures, and our money; our only armour is our anonymity, something that is being slowly chipped away week by week.
You may want to believe that you are a pacifist. That’s a really sweet sentiment, and one I admire greatly as I myself aspire to such heights, but make no mistake, friends; pacifism is an ideal, something to aim for. It is not a reality, no matter how we’d like it to be; rather, in a world of perpetual war, pacifism is merely another type of resistance, a form of civil disobedience that is the quintessential monkey wrench in the gears of the global war machine. However, by that resistance, the pacifist becomes a target of the violence around them, invariably directing that which they resist directly at their blissful face.
Peace sounds real nice on paper, but it doesn’t just appear out of thin air, and it can’t exist without someone fighting to keep it – unless, of course, everyone’s perfectly happy with the way things are, which has never, ever happened.
This, however, brings me back to Hegel, whose philosophy on history fits our age better than any other. Hegel developed a historical trend that he called the Hegelian dialectic; simply put, in every pivotal period of history there are two competing ideas: the first is the zeitgeist of the previous era, known as the thesis; the second, a new, opposing idea introduced through technology, exploration, or social innovation, known as the antithesis. As these two modes of thought, the thesis and antithesis, combat each other, they eventually combine to form a new, third idea, known as synthesis; this idea carries within it aspects of both the thesis and antithesis, but allows neither to be supreme. Examples of this throughout history can be seen with the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the American nation, and the Soviet Union. As can also be seen through those examples, each synthesis becomes a new thesis to be challenged by its next antithesis, leading to another inevitable conflict that will synthesize again, on and on into infinity.
Looking at things today, with the Internet rife with both censorship and hacktivism, the stock market a place of mergers and corporate conflict, nation-states fragmenting and unifying almost in the same breath, and even the farmland of the planet in a struggle between the seeds of the past and the GMO crops of the future, Hegel’s theory is more prevalent today than it has ever been.
The world of today may look different, but the eternal conflict rages on – in lieu of swords and spears, we wield drones and missiles; instead of religions and heretics, we have corporations and terrorists; but no matter the weapons or the motivation, the conflict remains uninterrupted, and the enemy is as it has always been: our neighbours, our rivals, and ourselves.
For the human race, existence is a perpetual state of war.
This is the premise of Zero, a new series written by the burgeoning talent that is Ales Kot (Suicide Squad, Change).
You may have heard of Ales Kot. If you haven’t, you will. Only a year and half since the release of his runaway hit graphic novel Wild Children, this Czech wordsmith is about to take on two new Marvel projects: Secret Avengers and Iron Patriot, both of which look extremely promising in Kot’s capable – and innovative – hands.
But we’re not here to talk about the big M, so let’s move on, shall we?
Edward Zero is a soldier, born and raised. He’s been taught from childhood to repress emotion, strike with murderous intent, and never leave a job unfinished.
And he’s not alone, as his small cadre of colleagues – employed by the secretive agency known as … the Agency (things are more important when they’re capitalized) – can attest. Or rather, they won’t attest. Because they’re secret agents. Attesting is against protocol, since it would require an opinion, and an opinion would necessitate feelings, and feelings are just messy when your sole purpose for existence is … um, murder.
But as is commonly the case with enigmatic paramilitary organizations, the river of secrets runs deep, and with only seven issues given to us so far, it’s already clear we’ve barely dipped our toes in.
Murder, betrayal, hidden agendas – even a little warping of space and time – it’s all there; yet, Kot also delivers it in a unique way: from the perspective of our protagonist decades after the story begins. Here, in 2038 at the barrel-end of an anonymous kindred gun-toting spirit, Edward’s tale is a combination of story and old man’s confession. Told in this way it feels almost like a memoir, complete with the regrets and nostalgia that only those older and wiser carry with them.
There are times while scanning a page-full of intricate hand-to-hand combat, that one wonders how such a scene of seamless martial ballet could share the same space with the articulate prose that Kot delivers, but it’s assuredly only the beginning. It’s clear from the outset of Zero that he intends for the series to exist for a good long time.
And for Edward – for all of us – existence is a perpetual state of war.
Until next time,
Posted on April 27, 2014, in Image Comics, Zero and tagged Ben, Egypt, History, Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Philosophy of History, Soviet Union, United States. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.