Original Release Date: November 2004
Number of Issues: 2 (ongoing)
Publisher: Pickle Press
There are many, many great reasons to love smaller and independent companies, especially in the realm of printed media. Much like the food you found at local markets grown by farmers in the area, many times these are folks whose existence literally depends on producing the best items possible in order to generate sales. They are passionate folks who do what they do because, at the end of it all, they love it. In addition, you as the consumer can feel like you are a part of something special: anyone in the world can go out and buy a bag of Doritos, but only a select group can taste the juicy freshness of apples grown at a small orchard in your hometown.
So, I’m always happy to get my hands on small-market stuff. Whether it’s said to me directly or through the pride in which I am given the product, one thing is always clear: these folks don’t want any special treatment, they want to be compared directly against the “big boys,” for better or for worse. Such was the case in March when I met Nik Havert, owner/operator of Pickle Press. After chatting for a few minutes, he proudly handed me the first issue of a comic series he created, “Agent Z,” and asked if I would give it a read and review. I could think of nothing I wanted to do more, and I’m here today to share my thoughts with you.
“Agent Z” follows the tale of Zach Ash, an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) officer who has a rough couple of days as the story opens. See, during a stakeout-gone-awry he’d just been shot in the head and sank to the bottom of a chemical-dumping sewage lake…yet two days later he’s heading back towards the office like nothing happened. After his partner freaks out upon seeing him alive – and, convinced he’s a spy clone, shooting him point-blank four times in the chest – Zack continues to carry on as normal, perplexing not only himself and his chief, but everyone else who hears the story as well. Through Ash’s mental retracing of his steps, we are introduced to a much larger and convoluted story involving crime bosses, double-crosses, and enough mystery to get us to the cliff-hanging conclusion of the first issue.
Unfortunately, it may take readers quite some time to learn the conclusion to the tale, if it even reaches a printed conclusion. Issue #1 of “Agent Z” was first released in late 2004; issue #2 came out in March 2010, over five years later. Here’s hoping the production schedule ramps up and allows Havert and company to finish telling the very intriguing tale they have started.
Let’s ramp ourselves up into the Score:
G: General Entertainment – As I alluded to above, the storyline definitely hooks you from the get-go and keeps you flipping the pages with great writing and unique ideas. What the black-and-white comic might lack in eye-popping art, it definitely makes up for through the well-written story and intriguing conspiracy-esque scenario. 8/10
O: Original Content – Essentially what we’re given in “Agent Z” is, for all intents and purposes, a zombie who may or may not actually be a zombie! It’s clear from the ordeals that Ash has gone through that he should be dead; as the character himself says, “in the last three days I should have been dead as many times.” It’s the aura of mystery and the reader’s subconscious wondering of how much physical destruction this man could withstand that helps set this tale apart from others. 7/10
R: Realism – The Score dips here a bit for two primary reasons: first, while I enjoyed the tale, many of the characters felt a little too “caricatured” for my taste. Especially problematic for me were the stereotypical Italian-mobster crime-boss and his crony entourage, although in fairness I might see them as stereotypical simply due to the fact that I’ve only been exposed to them for the part of the one issue of the series I have read. My other minor qualm is the story itself: while I thoroughly enjoyed it, most of my enjoyment came from the written portion, and it’s a very text-heavy book, bordering on too much so for a comic book. A lot of folks who seek out comics to read do so because of the balance of art and word, and I felt that “Agent Z” may have strayed a little too far off the “normal” comic-book balance here. 5/10
E: Effects and Editing – While maybe not specifically an editing issue per se, I think the seemingly-erratic production schedule to date has to come into play here a little bit. Also as mentioned in the “R” section, the primary focus of the book seems to be the written story, which is excellent in its own right, but as a result the artwork seems to take a back seat. The drawings themselves, done by artist Federico Zumel, are beyond serviceable, especially in the primary cover (shown with this review) and the “alternate” cover featured on my copy. Looking closely at the artwork, I wonder if the printer used to produce the book was less than professional-grade, as I can see the art breaking down into individual dots in places. This didn’t distract me at all or lessen my enjoyment of the book, but I thought it was worth noting here. 5/10
TOTAL SCORE: 6.25/10
All in all, “Agent Z” is an incredibly intriguing story that I hope is successful enough to live on (pun intended) to see its conclusion in print. If you are interested in picking up a copy of issues #1 and/or 2, please visit http://www.picklepress.net for ordering information.
And now, my friends, you know the Score!