Simon Pulse, 2015
Five friends with hidden superpowers who call themselves the Zeroes, bound together by the supernatural charisma of the one they half-jokingly call Glorious Leader, work together to perfect, control, and find purpose for their abilities. Or they used to, back when they could actually loosely call themselves “friends,” before Scam’s power to exploit people’s secrets tore the group apart. Now there’s a sixth super on the radar, and she’s about to be dragged into the deadly mess of her father’s mob dealings, along with Scam and anyone else who gets mixed up with her. It’s going to take the skills of all six, if all six are going to have a chance of making it through alive.
That thing about needing all six? Well, actually, for a story centered so closely on a group dynamic, two of those six don’t end up being terribly important to the final action, which is a bit of a letdown, and the fact that the characters joke about two of the Zeroes’ powers being confusingly similar doesn’t stop it from being true. This being me, I’m also compelled to note that while all the Zeroes are well-realized, and there’s nothing insulting about the portrayal of the female half of the six, the guys are graced across the board with the more novel and thought-provoking power sets.
On the whole, Zeroes is a great example of ensemble done right. All six Zeroes get their turns in the spotlight and leave their impressions, distinct, understandable, hopeful, and sad. There is no single hero, and there are no slogging detours through points of view that never quite manage to be important. As a take on the modern superhero, it’s a refreshingly realistic yet optimistic and always personal image of the lives of a group of young people born with extraordinary but not quite godlike powers, some of them fascinatingly different from the already often-explored gold standards. No flying. No super-strength. There are no capes or masks, no public personae or global outcry. Nor are there any budding psychopaths unleashed into the depths of irretrievable evil by their sudden excesses of power.
Instead, there’s Scam, who can summon exactly the right words to convince the person in front of him to do what he wants... only he doesn’t know what those words will be, why they’ll work, or whether they’ll back him into corners he can’t talk his way back out of. There’s Anonymous, who was accidentally abandoned by his family when he was thirteen because of his uncontrolled power of being nearly impossible to remember. Even the Zeroes’ overbearing leader struggles with when and how to share the vulnerability he can otherwise brainwash people out of noticing.
Among them all, there’s the isolation and tenuous trust and the search for identity, purpose, and family that everyone goes through when building a life, magnified by the Zeroes’ genuine differences from the people around them. Scam especially is a compelling study of a person torn between the option of being what other people want him to be, or living with the insecure and ineffective person he is.
In place of an epic clash of good and evil, Zeroes is the character-based allegory for coming of age that so many superhero stories claim to be.
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