While Nelson is primarily known for creating Rex Mundi, a long-running Image and Dark Horse comic that retold the Quest for the Holy Grail as an alternative-world murder mystery, he has also written for Robert E. Howard lines Kull, Thulsa Doom and Red Sonja, so he’s mastered the epic hero. This ties in very well with Zero Killer, whose protagonist, Zero, is a ferocious loner who keeps his motivations and ultimate goals a secret even from people who consider him a friend.
The setting is New York City after the fall of civilization. A nuclear war in the 1970s has eliminated 90% of humanity, leaving most of the world — excepting only Africa— in ruins. The city is partially submerged with ruined skyscrapers jutting from the water, and each building is the turf of one of the gangs — the Black Cats run the Chrysler Building, the True Bloods control the Empire State Building, and the Pan Am Building is the turf of the Jokers. Needless to say there is no central authority, with what’s left of the United States government — JOCOM (Joint Operations Command) — organizing raids from some bunker, “harvesting” (kidnapping) survivors for genetic testing.
Nelson immerses us in this new world — believably — in just a few pages. He does so in part by recreating the propaganda leaflets that JOCOM dishes out to its grunts. These bits are plausible and informative, not to mention hilarious — they provide welcome comic relief to an otherwise grim story.
Speaking of which, Zero Killer is very much a comic for mature readers. It depicts graphic violence including decapitated heads, rotting bodies, children getting murdered, as well as implied (but not shown) sexual violence. But all of this isn’t gratuitous. The end of civilization won’t be pretty, and neither is the wasteland depicted in the comic. Nelson’s script is sardonic and grim, and Matt Camp’s art and Dave Stewart’s colors reinforce the setting’s apocalyptic nature with kind of a stark, washed-out neon glow. Zero Killer‘s a fun read and I recommend it.