It was 1988 before I finally realised how bloody good and important 2000AD was.
I was a teen of 17, and had been working at Nostalgia & Comics Birmingham since finishing my O-Levels in ’87. Now at Sixth Form and doing A-Levels, I’d seen a lot of 2000ADs, yet had never really taken much notice before seeing Zenith. But that series started a love affair with Grant Morrison so intense that I still think highly of him even today.
The strange pop star who simply wore the trappings of the superhero, who simply happened to have the powers but only ever really used them to impress the groupies, certainly had my attention. This was The Face in comic form, image over substance. No, screw that … image over EVERYTHING.
I didn’t pick up 2000AD the comic for Zenith, I waited for the much talked about Titan Books collection to finally turn me onto the story, and onto Grant Morrison.
That first collection came out in 1988 and although I picked it up off the shelf straight away, I held off reading it, even though it excited my young mind far more than it had much right to. No, instead I kept it, ideal holiday reading, the delay merely increasing my anticipation.
Luckily, a holiday was on the cards fairly soon. The girl I was going out with at the time had invited me on her family holiday. Yes, slightly weird. Holiday at 17 with the girlfriend and her parents. Obviously I was sleeping on the couch downstairs.
And if I told you that all I can remember about that holiday is having a huge, relationship defining (or more likely ending) argument walking around a reservoir and that first volume of Zenith then maybe you get some idea of what a weird holiday it was, and how bloody impressive I thought Morrison and Yeowell’s Zenith was.
The first night of the holiday I retired to the sofa downstairs, switched on the lamp, settled back, opened up Zenith and immediately knew it was something I’d bloody well love forever. Maybe even then I knew my love for this comic would last longer than my love for this girlfriend (don’t judge – we were in the messy end part of the relationship, remember the argument we had round that bloody reservoir?).
It was amazing. A pop-star superhero, reluctant about the whole fighting the supervillains thing, far more at home with the groupies and the booze his pop-star life provided.
Morrison’s writing was young, fresh, fantastic. Yeowell’s artwork was young, fresh, fantastic, and bloody confusing. There are still panels where I actually have little idea what the young artist meant to draw. But I forgave him that, as most of it just looked and read wonderfully.
In volume 1 we met Zenith, his camp manager, his life, his songs, his bloody insufferable ego. And then we met the supporting cast. A supporting cast that would grow, and grow, and grow beyond imagining in subsequent volumes to create something absolutely epic, Morrison playing with the idea of Multiverses that he’d come back to again and again. But in Volume 1 it was still fairly controlled… with Zenith meeting a few of his mom and dad’s team-mates, realising that there’s a huge threat about to attack the earth from another dimension. Think Cthulu with more pointy bits.
And being Zenith, his first response is cowardice. This was brilliant to my 17-year old mind. In fact, it still is to my 41-year old mind. I can get the books out even now, and find myself back in a teen mind, loving every moment of Morrison’s weird storyline, loving Yeowell’s art, right back there with volume 1 to that sofa.
So here for you, is the first few pages of Zenith’s first appearance, phase one, part one …..
Sadly, unless you fancy buying the volumes or individual issues from ebay there’s little chance of you reading the series, as the copyright issues are legally tied up right now, with (allegedly) Morrison blocking all attempts at reprinting it.
There were four “phases” of the story in all, collected as Zenith books 1-5, plus the still uncollected phase IV. One day, one wonderful day, all of them will be on my shelf. But right now all I have is the first 5 volumes issued by Titan books, and the originals of phase IV, savagely torn from the individual 2000AD issues. I’m still holding out for a reprint collection of the lot, but I’m really not going to hold my breath.
And that’s a shame, a real shame, as it’s the book that finally convinced me that 2000AD, 35 this very day, was worth watching. It’s not my favourite Morrison work, but it’s up there amongst the very best. Partly because it was a damn good series, partly because it was the right comic at exactly the right time, partly because it rescued what was a really, really bloody horrible holiday.
And now… just because I found ’em earlier over at the 2000AD.org cover zone… here’s some of my favourite Zenith covers from 2000AD over the course of all 4 phases:
(Brendan McCarthy / Steve Yeowell)