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 new 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 says "the story as it unfolded would have been too ponderous and long-winded for him".[2]

With hindsight Morrison says that "I like Phase I the least now – it wears its influences a little too obviously on its sleeve."[3] He rates 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, this does not mean he thinks any less of the story, saying "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. Attempts to republish the series (including the never collected Phase IV) have so far been 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 only be offered as a hardcover book 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 legal proceedings are usually unable to speak, Grant Morrison appears to have been unsuccessful in halting this initial publication. Zenith Books 1 and 2 are now available for pre-order 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

Zenith, real name Robert McDowell, is the son of two members of Cloud 9, a super-team of the 1960s who had been created by the British military but rebelled and became hippies and psychedelic fashion icons. Zenith himself used his somewhat unreliable superhuman 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 been developed from technology brought by defecting Nazi scientists in World War II, and the Nazis had developed it from knowledge given to them by the Lloigor. The Nazis created "Masterman", but in fact the real purpose of the project was to create host bodies strong enough to house the Lloigor's spirits. Due to these circumstances, within this 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 1960's, and promptly rebelled like many teens of that time. Ultimately, Zenith's parents were killed, (by American psychic agents - although this 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) becomes a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, and Ruby Fox (Voltage) becomes a journalist and writer. Siadwell Rhys (Red Dragon) owns a pub in Wales - where he apparently spends much of his time drunk.

  • In Phase I, Zenith reluctantly teams up with surviving members of Cloud 9 to defeat one of the Many-Angled Ones "Iok Sotot", although this proves fatal to Red Dragon, a Welsh member of the team. St John demonstrates his considerable mental powers by defeating Iok Sotot via a hypnotic suggestion implanted earlier in the story. Phase I shows 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 details the efforts of a media tycoon modeled on Richard Branson[7] to use Zenith and two female superhuman clones - Shockwave and Blaze - as breeding stock for a new group of superpowered humans that he will use for world domination. Zenith is generally successful on his own in Phase II, however he relies on (again) St John at times, and also a CIA agent who is killed early on. Phase II details more of the Zenith history, and introduces Chimera, a superhuman composed entirely of thought, who eventually transforms 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 involves a multidimensional 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 are close to "ascending" and dominating the universe(s), waiting for the infinite alternate universes to align and form a universe-sized crystal – the "Omnihedron". The multi-universal heroes destroy several alternate Earths to introduce a flaw into the Omnihedron and prevent the alignment, but discover that they have been betrayed by Maximan – the destroyed worlds removed a flaw already present in the Omnihedron. Only at the last moment do they succeed by destroying the alternate Earth that the Lloigor are using to ascend. Due to the vast cross-dimensional body count incurred in this series a surviving superhero comments 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 transform into the very Lovecraftian horrors that Zenith battled in the first series - Iok Sotot is Zenith and Blaze's son. After destroying American society in retaliation for a psychic attempt on their own lives they use the Sun as an incubator for their final metamorphosis into The Many Angled Ones, and after destroying the Earth they ascend to the heavens attempting to gain control of the multiverse. St John has however (during part two – "The Eleventh Hour" episode) trapped the Lloigor in the pocket universe created by Chimera, and the "real" universe is assumed saved – although it is implied that St John has his own agenda for taking control, as by this time he is already Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Zenith has since returned three times to the pages of 2000 AD: In zzzenith.com, a one-off featured in "Prog 2001" which takes place years after the end of the previous series. Zenith once again meets with St John, who is still in control of the country via a telepathically manipulated Tony Blair. Zenith is aware of this, and is not particularly bothered, and therefore St John seems equally unconcerned that Zenith knows the truth. St John is still in possession of the Omnihedron pocket universe containing the Lloigor, however Marconi have been experimenting on it, and St John is 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 to Prog 1500, although his image is small and hard to see.

Collected editions[edit]

Zenith was collected into a series of (out of print) trade paperbacks by Titan Books. However, on 29 May 2013, 2000 AD publishers Rebellion announced plans to reprint 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 collecting 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]