This was born as a self-publishing project while Brian Wood was still in art school, and it shows. Even more, it shows that it was very much of a work of the 90s. The heavy black ink sketchy style, people heavily tattooed with barcodes and "tribal" ink, in sk8r wear and gasmasks in a sort of hacker-grunge aesthetic will be familiar to anyone who was reading 2600 and Wired back in the early days of the Internet.
It's full of raw energy and a lot of anger which bleeds from the pages. I'm not familiar with Wood's other work, but for a beginning artist's first professional effort, I can see how he went on to become more well-known.
The story itself is fairly weak, not surprising since Wood's ambition was to be an artist, and as he says in the endnotes, he just didn't have a writer to collaborate with. Channel Zero
is basically late-20th-century America through a dystopian lens. Set in New York City, it casts then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani by name as a dictator vowing to "clean up" the city by any means necessary, a movement that is echoed by the President nationwide.
Basically, take the real-world Giuliani's famous/infamous "quality of life" campaign and turn it into what his worst and most paranoid enemies characterized it as, then make that an Orwellian caricature. The "Clean Act" essentially outlaws dissent or social nonconformity, and NYC literally has "Cleaners" as an adjunct to the police department, going around summarily executing anyone found littering, vandalizing, tagging with graffiti, etc.
Into this world comes "Jennie 2.5.," a young hacker activist who breaks into the airwaves to broadcast subversive messages and wake-up calls.
There isn't much dialog or plot beyond the above; it's the sort of graphic novel where the art, particularly the heavy black and white style of it, tells the story. Entire pages without words or sound effects of demonstrators fighting against police in riot gear, helicopters blowing people away, etc. Jennie's words, and a later interview, are the sort of "Down with the Man!" revolutionary cant that sounds very deep and powerful to your average Berkeley freshman. (I can say that, because I was a Berkeley freshman.)
This collection includes a prequel story, "Jennie 1.0," in which Wood had another young student/artist, Becky Cloonan, illustrate the story of Jennie's radicalization. Surprise, she was an art student who suddenly woke up to how, like, the whole world is phony
and politics is bullshit
, man, and the cops are pigs!
I am mocking the message a little, but I don't really disagree in principle with its ideals, though as with the Occupy movement, I can't help thinking the delivery is skewed too much to be useful.
Obviously it is a story that will resonate with people, especially after 9/11, an era which Channel Zero
slightly preceded, but still could be said to have been affected by, particularly the one-shots and prequel published later.
But it's basically an art student's angry political screed in dystopian comic book form, before the art student went on to draw superheroes. Worth reading if you like the style, or would like a nostalgic flashback to 1997 and 3.5" floppy disks.