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Channel Zero

Has it struck anyone else as funny that in a country founded on the idea of personal freedom, more and more people are seeking to limit said freedom?

The United States has a bevy of special interest groups that pull political strings to get what they want, like The Christian Right and parent watchdog groups, who seek to "protect the nation's morality" by censoring us. Parental advisories are put on everything from CDs to video games. Wal-mart, apparently the only moral compass present in our lives, only sells censored CDs, while television shows now feature little ratings boxes for fear that some poor child might stumble upon a particularly jarring episode of Power Rangers or Pokemon. What's that? It's TV: Y you say? Well good thing, otherwise little Timmy might have had his values challenged, and we can't be having that now, can we?

Where does this censorship end? What's the line that can't be crossed, lest America become about as free as East Germany? In Channel Zero, Brian Wood shows us the line, tells us we've crossed it, and then shows us how to step back over.

In Wood's book, America is a very different place. Thanks to the Clean Act, a bill forced through Congress by special interest groups (the aforementioned Christian Right among them), broadcast and print media have been taken over by the government. All the news, entertainment and advertisements are handled by good old Uncle Sam. It is illegal to possess high-end video equipment, carrying a lengthy prison sentence to do so, and it's also illegal to broadcast anything not government-sanctioned. The thing is, not too many people care to notice.

One person who does notice is Jennie 2.5. She finds a way to hack the system and get her underground message to America with pirated video material. Her only problem is that America thinks she's just another show. Jennie has to find a way to escape her newfound celebrity and then see if there's anyway to save the nation from itself.

Wood uses Jennie more as a vehicle for getting his anti-censorship message across than he does as an actual protagonist. Her story is left open-ended at the end of this collection, and nothing is really explained about her (I hear tell that a new miniseries, out this year, called Jennie 1.0 will explain the character's beginnings). But this is okay, as it's not Wood's characterization that makes this a good book, so much as it is the way he elicits anger and frustration from the reader.

Most of America doesn't care what our government does. Our voter turnout is in the 40% range and most of us couldn't name our states' Congressmen if we were standing in front of them, begging for votes. We're apathetic.

Wood crams the consequences of apathy down our throats with Channel Zero; he gets us angry that someone could control what shows we watch and what news we have access to. One of his best writing techniques is to parallel the news heard in other countries, compared to Clean-Act-American news: journalism that is so yellow it should be called "canary."

Doing double duty, Wood also draws the series, giving him unique control of the message. While his basic line work isn't anything special (it's something of a mix between Frank Miller's exaggerated shadows and negative space and Michael Turner's detailed face work), it really does create a "revolution vibe" with its stark black and whites and Xerox-like pseudo-flyers and advertisements that encourage the reader to "photocopy this page" and distribute it.

<I>Channel Zero</I> is published by Image comics and it's pretty pricey for a black and white, four issue collection at $14.95, but it's Image. They're not known for really savvy business decisions ("Yeah, let's start a company with Rob Leifeld! He's sure not to screw us and leave the company to start his own. Not that plucky little penciler").

I'm kind of on the fence with this title. I like it a lot, but if you're one who doesn't prefer to be preached to in a comic, then it isn't for you. Opinions aside, it must be said that Wood has brought political activism to modern mainstream comics and he's done it well. For his next trick, he'll bring social-class awareness to video games, and gender equality to RPGs (not really, but I thought it was funny. See you in a week).

Channel Zero

Robert Sparling

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