Kirby for the Aughts: Casey & Fox's Dark Reign: Zodiac

This Wednesday, Joe Casey and Nathan Fox's Zodiac wraps-up and through it, ostensibly, some small piece of Marvel's post-"Secret Invasion" event, "Dark Reign". Not that you need to know much about "Dark Reign" to enjoy Zodiac, the comic does a good enough job indulging the who's and how's of that event and then, moves on to doing whatever it wants. If anything, Zodiac's loose connection to "Dark Reign" benefits Casey and Fox's series and the event itself. Distilling "Dark Reign" down to its big, broad, awesome idea as well as providing a stable frame for two comics dudes that can go really crazy when left to their own devices.

Zodiac's conceit is a kind of one-upping of "the bad guys have taken over" hysteria sweeping through the Marvel universe right now. If Norman Osborn taking over S.H.I.E.LD and calling it H.A.M.M.E.R was bad, well Zodiac and his crew of baddies is really, really bad. Osborn has concern for his reputation, loves the idea that he's something of a public hero, and kinda sorta hides his dirt behind this or that, well Zodiac just doesn't give a fuck.

Issue #1 opens with Zodiac in a barn, with a hundred or so H.A.M.M.E.R agent chopped-up and hanging from the ceiling. Fox's art, often at its strongest when you don't totally know what's going on, is ideal to illustrate this kind of chaos and each and every set piece developed by Casey revolves around destruction. From the cartoony mass of wounds, blood, and contorted bodies at the beginning of issue #1 to Manhattan being systematically wrecked--the panels full of explosions, sound effects, and screaming people--at the end of #2.

No doubt, Joe Casey's work on Godland connected the dots here, but basically, this is a big awesome insane Jack Kirby comic book for the "aughts". Just as imaginative, just as wrapped in comics mythology, and wisely politically engaged--Kirby's later work, people often forget, are basically these liberal tracts--Zodiac finds a way to be fun like old comics and at the same time, one-upping the grittiness that's become the big comics' staple.

The very conceit of "Dark Reign" to me, seems a kind of parallel and wrestling-with, the past bunch of years of the Bush administration. Readers can point out the flaws in the metaphor or the ways it doesn't line-up perfectly, but it doesn't have to, it's a comic book, and it's better for precisely not being strictly about ol' G. Dubbs. This isn't a new idea, plenty of articles like this have at least touched-upon the concept. But what makes "Dark Reign" additionally poignant is its connection to "Civil War".

"Dark Reign"s point is: If Tony Stark in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D was a bad look, well Norman Osborn taking over S.H.I.E.L.D and calling it H.A.M.M.E.R is a lot fucking worse. This seems to be a quick address of the knee-jerk, not-so-discerning cynicism of politically-engaged Americans, especially of the Left. Namely, that because there's always something problematic being drummed-up and turned into an end-of-the-world hub-bub, when we're really onto some end-of-the-world type shit, everyone's sick of hearing about it. Nothing special, nothing groundbreaking, but therein lies the genius of "Dark Reign", it's a simple comic book kinda political allegory.

What Zodiac does then, is continue this line of concern and broadens it beyond any kind of governmental or social structure and confronts all the characters, "good" or "bad" with big, crazy chaos. Which just kinda makes it like The Dark Knight, right? Well kinda, though it's not as Conservative and hasn't yet, devolved into the defense of "by any means", it seems mainly about wrestling with chaos and fixing it, less so.

And well, the "by any means" stuff, is primarily being employed by the chaos-creator here, Zodiac, who is basically techno-Anarchist. Issue #2 involves hacking into H.A.M.M.E.R's computers and creating the illusion that Galactus is about the devour the entire planet as to show just how dopey and incompetent Osborn is as a leader. In a way, Zodiac's like those guys "The Yes Men", creating genuine chaos to prove a point (or something).

Zodiac's larger intentions remain a bit unclear, which is key to the comic's success; there's some ambiguity here. It's almost entirely wrapped-up in Zodiac and Osborn and concepts of "good" or "bad" stop being relevant and it's more like you're just sort of wandering through this weird, world unlike our own with major implications for a our world. The same way you're just like, in Fox's nutty artwork, you're in Casey's narrative. Right now it's all people as pawns and sci-fi insanity, boiling over with cool set pieces and nutty ideas, loosely grafted onto some corporate comic company's over-arching universe. Like I said, Kirby for the aughts.

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