Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Comic Review - Zenith: Phase One

Grant Morrison's late-1980s slice of superhero revisionism is something of a change from the myriad Watchmen/Dark Knight Returns knockoffs of the time. Zenith isn't a dark, brooding figure, he's an idiot. The rough gist, for anyone who's yet to experience the serial, is that Zenith is the world's one known superpowered being but instead of protecting the world he uses this status to become a pop star. It sounds a bit sneering in text, but Zenith's bratty behaviour is actually quite engaging. That said, in the first storyline he's not actually too bad - there's a bit of snark and selfishness from the lad, but he actually spends most of the story doing more or less the right thing, despite protestations. Don't get used to that, though...

The book actually starts off with a strip set in 1945, showing a battle between the Nazi superhuman Master Man and Britain's game but outmatched response, Maxi-Man. It then moves forward to 1987, where we're introduced to Zenith in suitably idiotic style and he crashes through the roof of his own house, worse for wear after a night out. The plot centres on the return of Master Man (actually a cloned, enhanced body inhabited by an extra-dimensional alien Lloigor named Iok Sotot), who attempts to wipe out the supposedly de-powered survivors of a 1960s superhero group named Cloud 9. This group and their history are laid out by Morrison in a number of tantalising little hints as odds and sods are revealed, and it holds the interest nicely.

Morrison has gone on the record to say he dislikes the first arc because it wears its' influences on its' sleeve a little too much, and in places you can see what he means. There are more than a few parallels with the first arc of another 1980s revisionist title, Alan Moore's Miracleman - the superpowered battle in the streets of London in a world not used to superheroes (Cloud 9 don't seem to have actually fought anyone) especially, something redoubled when the villain is eventually undone by subterfuge after outmatching the hero. But at the same time there are a lot of unique touches in here, including one jaw-dropping character death.

The series doesn't quite have the multi-layered characters it would later benefit from, though. Most notable is Peter St. John, an ex-Cloud 9 member. He does basically save the day, but for the most part doesn't have the sheer manipulative drive and intelligence that would see him become the undesignated star of the rest of the strip. Conversely, this is about the most we'd get on Ruby Fox, ex-Voltage of Cloud 9. She remains a major character for the rest of the series, but is never quite as well-rounded, sympathetic and three-dimensional as the sympathetic occasional narrator we get here.

Steve Yeowell's clear, crisp pencils fit the black-and-white artwork perfectly, retaining a large amount of dynamism without becoming cluttered and confusing, while the facial expressions especially capture a lot of unwritten emotion perfectly (Siadwell Rhys especially is a triumph). The first book may be slightly derivative, but it's influenced by some good stuff and builds nicely on this base. It's not an all-conquering classic, but it is a decent enough start with a lot going for it.

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