How do you end an event that saw the majority of the planet’s heroes, villains, and civilian population replaced by alien Skrulls? You have Norman Osborn shoot the queen in the head on live TV, ushering the a new status quo for the Marvel Universe: a Dark Reign. With Norman and the villains in charge and the heroes pushed to the sidelines, what is your everyday psychotic super villain to do? Cause chaos, death, and destruction for everyone, of course.
Written by Joe Casey
Illustrated by Nathan Fox
Colored by José Villarrubia
Norman Osborn may be running the show, but not every super-villain is going to accept the new world order. But who — or what — is ZODIAC?
The basic premise of “Dark Reign” was: what would it be like if the villains were the good guys? Norman Osborn ran H.A.M.M.E.R and created his own Dark Avengers team, made of former villains and the bipolar Sentry. While many stories explore how villains could benefit/cozy up with Osborn and how the real heroes were functioning in hiding, Joe Casey and Nathan Fox chose to do the opposite. Enter the Zodiac. Zodiac acted as the antithesis to Dark Reign. A true super villain. A man disgusted by Osborn. True, brilliant chaos.
Joe Casey is a writer who always shows great care when it comes to the history of comics. He has the ability to write with the wonder and wackiness of Golden/Silver Age comics. In Marvel history, The Zodiac is criminal organization whose members were named and costumed after a sign of the astrological zodiac. A perfect weird concept Casey could play with. Those guys are all dead. Their heads were cut off and now line the desk of Zodiac, a man with a sack over his head, reminiscent of the Zodiac Killer’s costume during his Lake Berryessa attack.
Within the first three pages, Casey and Fox set a tone for the overall series. Zodiac gives a monologue as he guts 100 H.A.M.M.E.R. agents to make an announcement to Osborn, to other villains, and the reader. It is the beginning of a story while steeped in chaos is planned from beginning to end. It is a tightly paced heist movie but with a lot more violence and sex. I won’t spoil the story because while it is only 3 issues every moment of the series is used effectively. Every act no matter how insane has a purpose. In addition to the story every character has motivations moving them along. Zodiac is a real super villain. He has no tragic backstory that Casey dives into. He is evil for the sake of evil and as crazy as he appears his motivations are clear.
The series handles multiple characters with their own minor subplots that all feed into Zodiac’s bigger plot. Again they are all handled well. Zodiac’s team is a unique group of odd and horrible people. I will go back to the heist movie analogy but they all have a role and when they are used they are used with a purpose. Casey even inserts an every man H.A.M.M.E.R agent who for most of the series feels the negative effects of Zodiac’s antics against Osborn. In the end he even serves an important purpose as an audience for Zodiac’s super villain speech for his why and how he did what he did.
The intensity of the story is brought to another level by the art team of Nathan Fox and José Villarrubia. Nathan Fox is one of the first artists I got really obsessed with when I got heavy back into comics around 2007. It’s a style that feels like it is too cool for mainstream comics but at the same time fits perfectly into mainstream comics. His art matches Joe Casey’s themes for the series for me as well. His art is chaotic. There are a lot of lines and noise but it all comes together in a succinct picture. He is able to draw real people. They all have flaws and at times an ugliness to them that stands out. José Villarrubia’s color are bright, glowing and fluorescent. The highlight Fox’s art and give the series a whole different aesthetic. The art is able to handle the high level of action the series demands. The book is dark but Fox and Villarrubia bring a clear and radiant filter to contrast the subject matter. The art stood out then as something very different and would still stand out to me today among Marvel releases.Continued below
The series ends stating “The end of the beginning.” It is a great non-origin origin story for a character who could in three issues proved he could wreak havoc on heroes and villains alike. In this series alone he takes down Johnny Storm, kills 100 H.A.M.M.E.R agents, fakes a Galactic Invasion, out thinks Norman Osborn and Mr. Fantastic, and much more. When the series finished I was convinced we would see this cast of characters again. The Hood became a big player in comics during Dark Reign so surely Zodiac could slide right into that type of role but he never did. He is only ever mentioned in another one of my favorite Casey series, “Vengeance.”
Casey, Fox and Villarrubia gave readers a tie in that was different from any other tie in at the time. I would love to see Zodiac make a return someday but maybe his time has passed. Would this character work without the team of Casey, Fox and Villarrubia? Selfishly, I want to say no. If nothing else, they created an epic three issue story that I find myself continually returning to.