It was in a Comics Portal column a few months back that I talked about the return of Zenith, the first Grant Morrison story I ever read.
The first “phase” or volume has now been released, if somewhat late. It’s still worth discussing, so let me dive in and talk about a book way, way ahead of its time!
Previously in ZENITH: “Grant Morrison’s first comics masterpiece with unforgettable art by Steve Yeowell, has been unavailable to trade for twenty years, but is published again here in a stunning new hardback edition. Berlin, 1945: The allies unleashed the second world war hero Maximan upon the German super-soldier Masterman. Maximan’s defeat was only kept secret by the nuclear bomb which destroyed both men. Forty-plus years later, and twenty years after a generation of ’60s British super-powered heroes came and went, the teenage pop star Zenith is the only superhuman left – and his only interest in women, drugs, alcohol and fame. So when he is contacted about the threat from the many-angled ones and the impending destruction of our world, his first reaction is to steer well clear. But the superhumans of the past have other plans … .”
THE FIRST TRULY FLAWED SUPERHERO I EVER READ ABOUT
These days, we expect our heroes to be truly flawed. The fact that Superman has a strong moral compass has made him a difficult character to write, it seems to me. We KNOW what he’s going to do because he wants to do the right thing as much as possible.
Back in the 1980s, the notion of an imperfect hero was outrageous! Granted, Marvel had heroes with their imperfections, but they were still heroic. Who would have expected Spider-Man to use his powers in a rock band? “With great powers comes great music?” Really?
Zenith was just such a character. His parents had been superheroes so, ever the rebellious type, Zenith wanted to be everything else BUT a hero. He wanted to do what HE wanted to do, not sacrifice himself for others. He saw that the heroic path likely ended up in one’s death and destruction.
Again, in the ‘80s, this was completely incomprehensible … to everyone except Grant Morrison, it seems.
I had to beg and plead local store owners at the time to order the reprints of this series from 2000 AD. It was in black and white, but I didn’t care – I just had to know what happened next!
If you haven’t read this series yet, you may find it as engaging as I did. Lucky for you, these four lovely hardcover volumes will be much more easily accessible than the reprints were for me.
If you want to read a story with truly believable characters in situations we can relate to, you can often turn to Grant Morrison. He’s able to understand the motivations of these people like few other writers can. He’s also good at challenging the people he writes about to the point where we fear for their very “existence.” Yeah, that’s what Zenith did to me.
This first volume lays the groundwork for the last three. We meet Zenith for the first time, and we see the terrible enemies he’s going to have to combat. We also discover Zenith’s allies, who look on the rock star with a huge amount of disdain. Like the rest of the world, they couldn’t for the life of them understand why Zenith was so selfish and cowardly. Not wanting to throw himself into a potentially life-ending battle? Why, the very thought!
As I said before, you may not find these characters and situations all that new, but I do again ask that you imagine that you haven’t read The Dark Knight Returns yet, for example. To this day, I am in awe of Mr. Morrison’s ability to break such new ground as this.
Yeowell’s art is very powerful, especially since he had to communicate both action and drama in black and white. I still find his artwork tremendously engaging, if somewhat rough around the edges.
I also liked the glossy white paper, which made the art literally pop off the page to me. I “fell into” the off-white paper I had read before, so imagine how great this volume looks to me! Then, too, the hardcovers are worth collecting so you can pull them out and read them again and again.
I like that Yeowell makes each person clearly identifiable from the others, and that includes the villains. After a while, just the sight of Masterman’s face caused me to cringe.
He also keeps up the pace with Morrison’s fast-moving script. I think that was an amazing accomplishment in itself, so give the guy some credit, even in the 1980s!
Some people have asked for stories like this to be colored in, but I like it the way it was originally presented – stark in its drama and danger. Wow!
BOTTOM LINE: ‘Zenith: Phase 1’ Is Comics History You Should Not Miss Out On
Want to see how Morrison cut his chops on superheroes? Want to go where no superhero had gone before? Well, Zenith is the perfect place to go! Decades later, this book still grabs the attention and won’t let go!
Granted, the four volumes will be spaced out a few months apart, but if you can’t wait for a story to conclude, I recommend buying the books and waiting until you have them all in your possession to dive in.
This is a volume worth adding to your collection. I do recommend buying the previous editions so you can get the most out of this tale. If you know a Morrison fan, this would be the ideal holiday gift for him or her. If that means you, don’t miss it!