Thursday Comics Hangover: More than Zero

Originally published back in 2000, Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett's Section Zero was an adventure comic that paid tribute to some of Jack Kirby's greatest creations — primarily the Challengers of the Unknown and the Fantastic Four, though with some Kamandi and Demon thrown in for good measure. The limited series, about a secret team of supernatural explorers employed by the United Nations to investigate mysterious happenings, was packed full of the stuff that made Kirby's comics great: wild character designs, a breathless pace, and plenty of action. But Section Zero was caught up in a publishing implosion and the inaugural adventure was never completed.

Books that are canceled in medias res are a risk of reading serialized comics. They don't happen too often, but every once in a while you'll have your heart broken by a story that never ends. The heartbreak of Section Zero, though, was that Kesel and Grummett seemed to be having a blast with the series. You can tell when a creator is totally invested in a book, and Section Zero was clearly a labor of love.

This year, Grummett and Kesel launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to publish the first three original issues of Section Zero, and then to complete the story they started nearly two decades ago. I backed the campaign and just received my Section Zero: There Is No Section Zero hardcover book in the mail this week. It's a gorgeous book, even including a bright green cloth bookmark for extra classiness.

I'm happy to report that most of Section Zero's early issues have aged quite well. The team, featuring an unflappable leader, a grey alien named Tesla, a sea monster named Sargasso, and a kid with a cursed tattoo that turns him into a bug for a day at a time (he's gloriously code-named The 24-Hour Bug) is about as comic-book-y as they come.

And when it comes time to incorporate the new material into the book, Kesel and Grummett wisely don't pretend nothing has changed: instead, they skip the narrative ahead to 18 years later, following the characters over almost two decades of change. The new material — in conjunction with a framing device that shows off Section Zero teams of the past — allows the creative team to provide meta-commentary on adventure comics in history. They're not fighting the past, or living in the past, they're in conversation with themselves in the past, deepening and adding new layers to the story.

Only one main character — unfortunately you could argue the main character — seems unfortunately dated. With his cool-guy sunglasses, his edgy katana, his unfortunate facial hair, and his brown leather jacket on top of a full spandex outfit, Sam Wildman — the roguish Harrison Ford-type of the cast — feels pulled right out of the doldrums of late-1990s hero comics. The book is actively better when he's not in it, pushing his edgy vibes on everyone.

But what's a team of adventurers without at least one annoying character (looking at you, Fred from Scooby Doo) to make everyone else more relatable? Collected in one place like this, with the span of time incorporated into the narrative, Section Zero is like no other adventure comic on the stands. Here's hoping that Grummett and Kesel can keep telling these stories for as long as they desire.