In the summer of 2000, Image imprint Gorilla Comics debuted a series described as “Jack Kirby does The X-Files.” Written by Karl Kesel and penciled by Tom Grummett, Section Zero unspooled a kinetic story about a cast of characters working for the United Nations and uncovering the truth behind urban legends and myths.
After creating the popular Kon-El iteration—leather jacket in tow—of Superboy in 1993, Kesel and Grummett had established a stable rhythm as collaborators and wanted the chance to stretch their imaginations throughout a creator-owned series. But only three issues of Section Zero released before the Gorilla Comics imprint retired, leaving the fledgling series’ future as much of a mystery as the secrets within its pages.
“I never gave up on it,” Kesel explains. “There were times I thought I might die of old age and it wouldn’t have come back, but not because I hadn’t tried.”
Now, nearly two decades after its abbreviated run, Section Zero is returning to Image Comics thanks to its determined creative team, its debut issue releasing with a new printing on April 3rd under Jim Valentino’s Shadowline imprint.
“Tom and I wanted to return to Zero almost from the day I suspended its initial run,” Kesel says. “It was just finding a way to make that feasible—that was the biggest challenge.”
Grummett chimes in with a similar sentiment. “I always felt it would return somehow... the stars just had to come into alignment. We both just loved the characters too much to completely give up on them.”
The comic is an effervescent love letter to the sci-fi adventure and monster comics from the Golden Age of the medium. A prologue features a trio of villains hinting at the vast Section Zero timeline, showing how a quartet of powerless adventurers first repelled the threats of “atomic power, giant insects, and little green men.”
Decades later, Titania Challenger— from a world-renown family of brilliant scientists and explorers—has continued the legacy of discovering the truth lurking behind prominent urban myths. Her team includes her wisecracking ex-husband, Sam Wildman, and an extraterrestrial gray, Tesla, who one-ups electric cars with his flying saucer. The first issue also introduces a new teammate, with the modern Section Zero field team rescuing Thom Talesi, a cursed Cambodian boy who transforms into an insect for exactly one day—or, the 24-Hour Bug.
The overarching aesthetic is timeless and kinetic, a breakneck callback to the globe-spanning adventure that marked the advent of sequential art. It’s fun in a way comic books haven’t been in a very long time. As mentioned above, Grummet channels the bounding energy of comics pioneer Jack Kirby, as seen in the first confrontation between Section Zero and Talesi—the latter’s appendages flailing and characters volleying through windows.
Section Zero’s trajectory also represents the evolution of the creator-owned comic, itself once a pipedream for comic artists and writers whose work was owned by their publishers.
Kesel believes the industry is changing for the better. “This is a golden age for creator-owned comics,” he says, citing Image and web-comic platforms as worthwhile options. “Clearly the biggest difference in creator-owned comics over the past 20 years is social media. The readers expect to have a much more personal connection and relationship with you than ever before. That’s exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.”
Still, even if 20 years of advancements in technology and social media made resurrecting Section Zero possible, returning to an old story can create its own challenges.
“I was a little terrified,” Grummett admits. “When that kind of time passes, you have to wonder if you're really going to be able to ‘get the band back together.’ But I don't think our styles have changed so much as evolved over time. Artists learn as they go, and are influenced by everything around them, and that's going to show up in the work.”
“The second half of the first story is vastly different from what it would have been if we’d done it in 2000,” says Kesel. “We had already decided to age the characters in real time, and I saw no reason not to continue that. The trick was finding a way to fit an 18-year gap into the story.”
Working again with favorite characters also helped anchor the story after an 18-year gap. “The most interesting character to revisit was probably Thom Talesi, the 24-Hour Bug,” says Kesel. “He was always a favorite character of mine—I just love the idea of a guy who rubs a cursed tattoo and transforms into an insectoid person for exactly one day. But he was introduced as a kid in the first part of the story, and 18 years later, he’s an adult! So by definition, he’s changed the most of any of our returning characters, and it was interesting to see what the years had done to him.”
Part One: Ground Zero will reacclimate old readers and introduce new ones to the series before the previously released issues roll out, followed by completely new content to conclude the miniseries. Kesel and Grummett hope that readers sense their joy in reuniting the Section Zero team.
“It was like coming home,” says Kesel. “A home you have really good memories of, too.”