Zenith Phases 1 to 4, by Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Annie Parkhouse, Mark King, Gordon Robson

This site is mainly a way for me to get my thoughts out on some of the 2000AD and 2000AD related works that have meant a lot to me throughout my years as a reader, the ones that have kept me thinking or that helped shape my appreciation of comics, books, films. For me there are certain keystone pieces of work that hold 2000AD up to a higher standard than any other comics publisher. Slaine, The Horned God, Rogue Trooper: The War Machine, Judge Dredd: Necropolis and all the years-long story arcs that built into it, the Deadworld saga we see playing out at the moment. Zenith is among these epics, at the very peak of comics literature where I'm concerned. 

Alan Moore's Watchmen rightly gets a lot of credit for deconstructing the superhuman mythos and for elevating the medium to be something that people who normally wouldn't read comics have claimed among their new-found geek credentials, but I would argue that while Moore does a deeper dive into the insanity of what a superhero/vigilante hero would be, Zenith is by far a better story, and a better exploration of some far-out concepts that frankly blew my tiny mind as a kid. Still do today, to be fair. Zenith grips you from the start, and builds and builds through the four phases into a peak of Lloigor-fuelled insanity. Zenith is, quite simply, the greatest superhuman comic story ever written, drawn and lettered. 

For a saga that spans the multiverse, not to mention creates a whole new one, the story starts small with a World War 2 propaganda reel cheering on the exploits of the first British superhuman, Maximan, as he helps lead Allied forces onto supposed victory. This reel gives way very quickly to what sets the tone for much of the series, a dark and brutal story of superhumans vs dark gods, and building to the final revelation of what those dark gods actually were, something that really was a mind warp when first revealed. Not to mention how those dark gods are finally defeated, in itself a huge "wtf, oh that's bloody clever" moment that's as effective now as it was all those years ago. There are some stories you think are clever when you read them as a kid; they stick with you, you revisit them over the years but they gradually lose their power. You realize maybe they weren't quite as clever as you'd thought when you were younger. That's not the case with Zenith; if anything the opposite is true. This was a Lovecraft novel with pictures and dialogue, with better plotting, story and concepts. I'm still amazed and disappointed Zenith didn't spawn novels, or a miniseries, or movies. Perhaps it's better it didn't, could they ever have hoped to live up to those pages? I'm not sure. I wish though, even knowing that it couldn't have been as good. It feels like one of the greatest epics of comic literature that too few of us know about, as others that are far less deserving seem to get all the attention of late. 

For those of you who may happen upon this rambling of mine who have yet to read Zenith, first of all get that sorted, seriously, and second, there'll be spoilers from here on out. For me, this was my first introduction to the concept that superhumans, the supposed heroes of their own stories, could be total jerks. For that's what Zenith is at his core, a self interested, less than heroic superhuman only interested in himself, who has to be pushed or cajoled into the actions he takes for the greater good. I hadn't read Watchmen at this point so perhaps that's why Zenith seemed more of a revelation, more real to me - as a teen, I could easily see a young superhero with all the fame and power he had would be a total arse. Robert McDowell seemed like a real character to me then, he does still. That element of selfishness brings the fantastical elements going on around him into more of a reality, it also makes when he does take any action to help more of an effective moment in the story.

He is, arguably, not the true hero of the story. There are many as the phases go on, and this is part of what interests me most about the whole thing. Traditionally less relatable people such as a Tory minister are the ultimate powers of the piece; even though the good they did, they did partly for their own purposes. Peter St. John may have an ultimate plan for exploiting all he did, but it's more of the "if I manage to pull this off" level than the driving motivation. This duality of the characters, people who you'd hate in real life being the bigger 'hero' of the piece, the protagonist being the hero on occasion but more often acting only out of pure self interest is something that leads into the revelation of who the villains of the piece, the Lloigor truly are. Mankind, or supermankind fighting it's own nature in the most evolved form of a very human evil - our feelings of superiority to others ascended to a new level of barbarism. We're seeing this horrendous part of ourselves on the rise again, as it did in the time the first page of Zenith is set, again here in real life in the most powerful nation on earth at this time. The relevance of the Lloigor today, and knowing there are people out there now ruling nations who have the same detachment from humanity as they embraced in the story, well. It certainly gives Zenith as a whole a renewed sense of urgency to the story. We may not be facing the Many-Angled Ones, but we are certainly facing people who have given up their humanity for their own advancement and ascendancy, and that's equally as horrifying as we know full where this can lead. 

So the depth of characterization, the depth of the story, the levels at which the story can work for different people feels as fresh to me today still as it did when it was first being published. Morrison and Yeowell may have moved on to what they may consider better works, but to me this is their greatest work. The story is accessible to everyone but the layers build and build to what I see as a hell of a satisfying conclusion, a perfect payoff to what seemed a minor point planted earlier in the story, as well as a massive mind-fuck of a concept. The whole fourth phase paying off like that was a work of genius.

Each phase of this work has it's peaks, but I have to state that Phase 3 is the highest point of the whole work. Phase 4 is genius in how it pays off the story, but Phase 3 is where the story turns from "great" into "epic".  Zenith is one of the most satisfying epics of 2000AD's entire run; it ties up its story without leaving you hanging needing resolution, and it does so in one of the cleverest moments the comic has published. It's a dark story, it goes places you don't see coming when you're new to it - especially THAT moment in Phase 1 - and it absolutely kicks all other superhuman stories to the kerb. Marvel and DC get all the attention for the superhero genre, but as is always the case, it was 2000AD that did it the best. It's a work of staggeringly effective art, brilliantly plotted story and terrific characterization. For those of you who know it already, give it a revisit. You'll be glad you did. For those of you who have yet to read it, get it, get it now, and you'll thank yourself for doing so. 

Deadworld from Kek-W, Dave Kendall and Ellie DeVille

In terms of reviews, I'll start with what's a bit of a passionate love of mine in 2000AD. I've always been a sucker for a Dark Judges story from the very beginning. Those original Wagner stories warped my mind as a kid and left a deep love for those characters and that whole, in the main unexplored darker world they're from. I kept having that love for the characters as the years went on, paying off when we got to the magnificence that was Necropolis, surely still the standard for mega epics in comics as a whole, let alone 2000AD. That love for them stayed when their stories started veering into dark humor and then just flat out humor...where else could the writers take them, I'm guessing was the issue at that point. They'd taken them all the way to Necropolis, the only way was down from there, nothing could be more horrific surely. So I can understand why the Dark Judges then became fodder for more humorous stories as the horror of them was lightened, then lightened some more, then pretty much disappeared completely. Still loved them, regardless. 

Then we started getting more serious takes on them again after some years. Wagner wanting to return them to the horrors they'd been. We got some cracking stories leading up to another high achievement in the history of 2000AD - Dark Justice. A streamlined story some might say, but effective and razor sharp. A haunted house in space with the Dark Judges being properly horrific again, all set to the incredible art of Greg Staples. I thought at that point we'd seen the final peak, no-one would create such a perfectly balanced mix of writing and art for the ghouls. 

But then along comes Kek-W and Dave Kendall to happily prove me wrong. Inspired by genuine nightmares, they set about reinvigorating the characters again, achieving what I would have to say is for me the pinnacle of character work regarding the Dark Judges - more horrific than they'd ever been, while all the more understandable and revolting. From there, Kek and Dave progressed into filling out Deadworld itself and we are currently seeing a mega-epic unfolding week by week, story by story as they work their way through the exploration of Deadworld I myself had always wanted to see, with the horror of it so well thought out and considered, the art of it so perfectly tuned to the malevolence of it all that I struggle to think of a better written, better inked work in the history of the weekly progs. And they aren't even finished with it. The sheer thought behind every facet of the work, from the writing through the art and character design and through the lettering is staggering to me. The grinding terror of a world slowly changing and dying, of the governmental forces becoming a nightmare to the populace, to that populace itself turning against each other is something a lot of us can relate to in current times, if to a lesser degree than Deadworld is experiencing, but it's a hell of a mirror to hold up at this time. 

For anyone who is yet to give the Deadworld series a go, rectify that immediately. It has, for me, rapidly become the greatest modern work of 2000AD and just may well go down as the greatest thing 2000AD ever produced. Kek, Dave, Ellie and anyone even remotely connected to getting this series to the page should be incredibly proud of themselves for it. A masterpiece. 

Welcome to the Dredd Universe

Welcome to the first post of the new Dredd Universe website. This website is an offshoot of the @dredduniverse Twitter account. I'm looking to entertain myself and maybe one or two of you with some reviews, news and information from the world of 2000AD, its writers, artists, letterers and staff. I'll be linking to interesting articles from Dredd fans and website contributors, as well as giving my own opinion on the current happenings in the world of 2000AD and its connected offshoots. Be warned; there may well be occasional articles about Flash Gordon also, because why the hell not.