Zenith (comics)

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Zenith
Zenith on the cover of 2000 AD prog 792, by Steve Yeowell
Character information
First appearance 2000 AD #536 (August, 1987) (1987)
Created by Grant Morrison
Brendan McCarthy
Steve Yeowell
In-story information
Full name Robert Neal Cassady McDowell
Abilities Initially Flight, strength, & durability.
Later also realises telepathy & pyrokinesis
Publication information
Publisher Fleetway
Schedule Weekly
Formats Original material for the series has been published as a strip in the comics anthology(s) 2000 AD.
Genre
Publication date August 1987 – December 2000
Main character(s) Zenith
Mandala
Lux
Red Dragon
Creative team
Writer(s) Grant Morrison
Artist(s) Steve Yeowell
Jim McCarthy (Mandala: Shadows & Reflections)
M Carmona (Interlude 3: Maximan)
Letterer(s) Mark King
Gordon Robson
Colourist(s) Gina Hart
Creator(s) Grant Morrison
Brendan McCarthy
Steve Yeowell
Editor(s) Tharg (Richard Burton)
Reprints
Collected editions
Book 1 ISBN 1-85286-030-8
Book 2 ISBN 1852861371
Book 3 ISBN 185286172X
Book 4 ISBN 1852862629
Book 5 ISBN 1852862637

Zenith was a story about a British superhero, which appeared in the science fiction comic 2000 AD. Created by writer Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell, with original character designs by Brendan McCarthy, it first appeared in 2000 AD #535 (22 August 1987). The character Zenith (real name Robert McDowell[1]) first appeared in the second episode.

Shallow and sarcastic, Zenith was a distinctly Generation X superhero. Morrison used the Zenith serial to explore cultural differences between generations and criticize the Conservative Party.

Zenith was featured regularly in 2000 AD from 1987 until 1992, with occasional appearances since. The series was an early success for Morrison, who has since written popular works for DC and Marvel, using his own characters.

Publication history[edit]

Zenith appeared in August 1987 during a period when editor and assistant editor, Steve MacManus and Richard Burton respectively, were shaking up 2000 AD by publishing numerous new stories which gave fresh talent a chance.[2] Grant Morrison had been thinking along the lines of Zenith since 1982, but "[t]he original version had a more traditional superhero costume and was a little grimmer in tone," and the final concept came together as "... a reaction against torment superheroes."[2] Despite liking both Dark Knight and Watchmen, he felt that "... both books felt pompous and concept albumy to me as a young man in the '80s."[2] He found more of an influence in the work of Brendan McCarthy: "... tell the truth on to the page and let your psyche all hang out," and it was McCarthy who would provide the initial character designs, although he never drew the actual story, because Morrison said "... the story as it unfolded would have been too ponderous and long-winded for him."[2]

With hindsight, Morrison stated, "I like Phase I the least now –- it wears its influences a little too obviously on its sleeve."[3] He rated Phase III far higher, saying, "I think it is one of the greatest superhero crossover events ever."[4]

Zenith returned for Phase IV in 1992 but Morrison's attention was elsewhere: "I'd moved on and was more excited by the possibilities of working with American superheroes. By 1992, Zenith seemed like something dragged up from my past." However, that does not mean he thinks any less of the story: "I like a lot of things I write under duress. I actually really like the last book of Zenith. I'm very fond of it."[3]

Titan Books published five trade paperbacks of Zenith between 1988 and 1990, collecting Phase I through III. However for years after that, attempts to re-publish the series (including the never collected Phase IV) were prevented by a copyright dispute between the publisher and Morrison. In 2007, Morrison said, "Fleetway have no paperwork to confirm their ownership of Zenith, so I'm currently involved in legal proceedings to clear things up."[5]

On 29 May 2013, British publishing company Rebellion announced that they were publishing a complete collection. Initially, it will be offered as a hardcover book only, limited to 1000 copies.[6] The book sold out within two days of being announced and the delivery date was brought forward to early October. The book collected all four phases and has a nearly exhaustive collection of covers and pin-ups. Whilst parties involved in ongoing legal proceedings are, as a rule, barred from speaking publicly of them, it appears that Grant Morrison has been unsuccessful in halting that initial publication. Zenith Books 1 and 2 can now be pre-ordered for December 2014 launch through mainstream distribution chains, so it would appear that the complete hardback limited to 1000 copies has succeeded in asserting the copyright of Zenith to Rebellion, to the satisfaction of risk-averse American distribution chains.

Plot[edit]

Steve Yeowell's cover to Zenith Book one

Robert McDowell, alias Zenith, was the son of two members of Cloud 9, a super-team of the '60s assembled by the British military who had rebelled and become hippies and psychedelic fashion icons. Zenith himself used his somewhat unreliable super-human abilities, not to fight evil, but to promote his career as a pop singer. Shallow, spoilt, self-centred and initially cowardly, he was reluctantly dragged into the struggle against malevolent, supernatural entities known as the Lloigor or "Many-Angled Ones".

The British superhuman project "Maximan" had emerged from work brought over by defecting Nazi scientists in World War II, in turn, having been developed from knowledge obtained from the Lloigor. The Nazis had created "Masterman", but in fact, the real purpose of the project was to produce host bodies strong enough to house the Lloigor's spirits. Due to those circumstances, within the story's alternate history, Berlin was the target of the first nuclear weapon, not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, mainly because both the British and Nazi supermen were fighting in Berlin at the time.

The British superheroes came of age during the tumultuous '60s, and promptly rebelled, as did many teens of that time. Ultimately, Zenith's parents were killed, (by American psychic agents - although that is not revealed until later in the storyline,) other members of Cloud 9 disappeared, and the few remaining (having lost their powers,) retreated into civilian life: Peter St. John, (Mandala) became a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, and Ruby Fox (Voltage), a journalist and writer. Siadwell Rhys (Red Dragon) owned a pub in Wales - where he apparently spent much of his time drunk.

  • In Phase I, Zenith reluctantly teamed up with surviving members of Cloud 9 to defeat the Many-Angled One called "Iok Sotot", although that proved fatal to Welshman Red Dragon. St John demonstrated his considerable mental powers by defeating Iok Sotot via a post-hypnotic suggestion previously implanted. Phase I showed that Cloud 9 only temporarily lost their powers and regained them under duress -- or, in St John's case, may have never lost them at all.
  • Phase II detailed the efforts of a media tycoon modelled on Richard Branson[7] to use Zenith and two female superhuman clones -- Shockwave and Blaze -- as breeding stock for a new group of super-powered humans he intended to use toward achieving world domination. Zenith was generally successful working on his own in Phase II, however he relied on (again) St John at times, and also a CIA agent who was killed early on. Phase II describes more of the Zenith history, and introduces Chimera, a superhuman composed entirely of thought, who eventually transformed itself into a pyramid-shaped miniature universe.
  • An interlude between Phase II & III introduces the concept of alternate universes, and that members of Cloud 9 who were previously thought to be dead were, in fact, establishing themselves in the alternate realities with other-dimensional heroes, and developing their powers and abilities.
  • Phase III involved a multi-dimensional war against the Lloigor utilizing comic-book characters from other British comics from the '50s, '60s and '70s (using either the actual characters or analogs, depending on their legal status). The Lloigor, close to "ascending" and dominating the universe(s), were waiting for the infinite alternate universes to align and form a universe-sized crystal –- the "Omnihedron". The multi-universal heroes destroed several alternate Earths to introduce a flaw into the Omnihedron and prevent the alignment, but discovered that they had been betrayed by Maximan: the destruction of the worlds removed a flaw already present in the Omnihedron. Only at the last moment did they succeed by destroying the alternate Earth that the Lloigor were using to ascend. Due to the vast cross-dimensional body count incurred in this series, a surviving superhero commented that it may have been "...a pyrrhic victory".
  • The final series, Phase IV, brought the story full circle as the remaining members of Cloud 9 eventually transformed into the very Lovecraftian horrors that Zenith battled in the first series -- Iok Sotot, who was Zenith and Blaze's son. After destroying American society in retaliation for a psychic attempt on their own lives, they used the Sun as an incubator for their final metamorphosis into The Many Angled Ones, and after destroying the Earth they ascended to the heavens, attempting to gain control of the multiverse. St John had, however (during part two – "The Eleventh Hour" episode), trapped the Lloigor in the pocket universe created by Chimera, with the "real" universe assumed to have been saved –- although it is implied that St John had his own agenda for taking control, as by that time he was already Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Zenith since returned three times to the pages of 2000 AD: In zzzenith.com, a one-off featured in "Prog 2001" set years after the end of the previous series. Zenith once again met with St John, who was still in control of the country via a telepathically-manipulated Tony Blair. Zenith, being aware of that, was not particularly bothered, and therefore, St John seemed equally unconcerned by Zenith's knowledge of the truth. St John was still in possession of the Omnihedron pocket universe containing the Lloigor, however Marconi had been experimenting with it, and St John was worried about the results gained.

He also appeared in a story unconnected to the Zenith universe – A Night 2 Remember, a strip about the comic's 25th anniversary celebrations, which appeared in Prog 1280. His final appearance so far is on the cover of Prog 1500, although his image is small and hard to see.

Collected editions[edit]

Zenith was printed as a series of (out of print) trade paperbacks by Titan Books. However, on 29 May 2013, 2000 AD publishers Rebellion announced plans to re-print the entire series in a hardcover volume, limited to 1,000 copies. Priced at £100, the book was published on 1 December 2013, and was sold exclusively via their website.[8] A series of cheaper books of the series has been announced, commencing in late 2014.[9]

  • Book One: Tygers (88 pages, April 1988, ISBN 1-85286-030-8, reprint never widely distributed, August 2001, ISBN 1-84023-343-5) collects:
    • "Phase I" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD #535–550, 1987)
  • Books Two & Three: The Hollow Land Parts 1 & 2 (June 1989, ISBN 1-85286-137-1 and August 1989, ISBN 1-85286-172-X) collects:
    • "Interlude 1: Whitlock" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD #558, 1988)
    • "Interlude 2: Peyne" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD #559, 1988)
    • "Phase II" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD #589–606, 1988)
  • Books Four & Five: War In Heaven Parts 1 & 2 (June 1990, ISBN 1-85286-262-9 and August 1990, ISBN 1-85286-263-7) collects:
    • "Interlude 3: Maximan" (written by Grant Morrison, art by M. Carmona, in 2000AD Winter Special 1988)
    • "Mandala: Shadows & Reflections" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Jim McCarthy, in 2000AD Annual 1990, 1989)
    • "Phase III" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD #626–634, 650–662 & 667–670, 1989–1990)
  • Collected only within the new hardcover edition
    • "Phase IV" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD #791–806, 1992)
    • "zzzzenith.com" (written by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell, in 2000 AD Prog 2001, 2000)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ [1] Zenith Pop Fax
  2. ^ a b c d Bishop, 2007, page 120
  3. ^ a b Bishop, 2007, page 157
  4. ^ Bishop, 2007, page 129
  5. ^ Bishop, 2007, page 216
  6. ^ 2000AD's official website
  7. ^ Titan Trade novel Phase II
  8. ^ 2000adonline
  9. ^ 2000adonline

References[edit]

External links[edit]