Generation Zero by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela

Generation Zero Volume 1 could have gone horribly wrong: mutant-like teens, shadowy illuminati villains, and yet another attempt to cash in on the YA market that is so hot right now. But the author/artists neatly sidestep the expected to craft a story that is wholly unique, artwork crisp and hip, and with a very diverse set of characters with very obvious flaws. Certainly, throughout the story I had no idea where I was going but was enjoying the ride all the same. But I also have to admit that this feels very overwritten, with a clear checklist and agenda with a headline “ways to make our story different than the usual’ and tick marks underneath.

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Story: Keisha, daughter of the town sheriff, is a rebel at the school but happily in love with her boyfriend. When he discovers something he shouldn’t, it becomes clear that something is very wrong with the ‘revitilzation’ of this rust belt town in Michigan. When he dies in a mysterious accident, she seeks help online from a mysterious group called Zero. When they take up her case, she may just wish she had left things alone.

First and foremost, the crafting of the characters is quite well done. Each is nuanced, with defects in their personalities that keep the reader off kilter throughout. Heroine Keisha is both smart and dumb in her own way; she’s not a unique snowflake though she would really like to be. The Zeroes are also quite distinct, some almost frighteningly so, and we have a learning process along with Keisha in discovering their personalities.

The artwork is quite interesting, with ‘dream’ sequences having their own unique style that makes complete sense and actually doesn’t frustrate. I especially have to appreciate all the in-jokes; e.g., in one sequence everyone looks like they were influenced by Archie comics. In another, I could almost see Hanna Barbara’s Josie and the Pussycats. But don’t think that the art style changes completely and abruptly – it’s just influenced but stays fairly consistent.

Because the characters are so flawed and due to the series feeling so overwritten, I didn’t get into it as much as I would have thought from the premise. It was oddly disaffecting, knocking me out of the story as if the author was there while I was reading and pointing out all the references. It almost got in the way of my enjoyment several times.

In all, an intriguing title that definitely breaks new ground and refuses to hang onto the same old cliches. But at the same time, feeling like it is trying too hard to be unique and wink-wink to the reader all the time. It needed more Buffy and less uptight political correctness. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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