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.