Great British Comic Book Characters: Zenith
Borag Thungg fellow Squaxx Dek Thargo, and welcome back to another instalment of ‘Great British Comic Book Characters’ our occasional series that aims to acquaint you with some of the classic dramatis personae that originate from this small island known as the United Kingdom.
As we have mentioned in previous posts, comics take on a very different approach in Britain in comparison to their American counterparts, the anthology style is (and always has been) ubiquitous in its form over here. Whereas most comics from the USA centre themselves on a single character or story arc, British comics have almost always delivered a compendium of characters and stories in each issue, with by far the most popular and best selling of these weekly digests being the phenomenal ‘2000AD’.
We have already posted in length about some of the crazy characters that make up the UK’s favourite comic anthology, but where they mostly differ from their American brethren is with their distinct lack of capes, cowls and secret identities. Brit comic persona are usually made up of quirky, non conformist types or hard nosed, and extremely fascistic authoritarian figures, Judge Dredd being the ultimate example of the latter. Today’s guest star though belongs to the former camp, and is a definitely a lot closer to the American ideal of a comic book stalwart, yet still retains a very British feel.
Zenith was created by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell in 1987, its debut appearance was in Prog #535 of 2000AD, yet the story’s star didn’t actually appear until the second episode, with the first instalment reserved for setting the scene for his introduction into the fictional alternative version of Britain.
Robert McDowell is the civilian name of the 80’s Pop-Star/Superhero Zenith, the son of two members of the famed team of 1960’s British Superheroes Cloud 9, a group of super humans formed by the military, who ultimately rebelled against authority becoming hippies and psychedelic fashion icons. Zenith is possessed of bio-rhythmic abilities that grant him the powers of flight, super strength, telepathy, pyrokinesis and high durability, yet rather than use these uncanny gifts to fight crime, he utilises them to further his music career. Zenith is a superficial, glib and self centred personality, overly spoilt and extremely reluctant to be brought into any ongoing conflict that involves fighting against pernicious and malevolent villains – The Lloigor.
Reluctantly he is dragged into action by surviving members of Cloud 9 to fight the Many Angled One (aka The Lloigor, beings from alternate dimensions closely resembling Cthulhu mythos) Lok Sotot. It was during this violent encounter, after the death of Welsh Superhero Red Dragon that Zenith began to realise the extent of his powers, and his ability to use them for the benefit of others rather than his ultimately selfish needs.
Grant Morrison initially created Zenith as a “reaction against tormented Superheroes”, the 1980’s was the decade for the anti-hero’s ascendance, Batman became darker and grimmer than previous iterations, and Watchmen took the political dissonance and violent repercussions of masked vigilantism to a whole new level, Zenith was Morrison’s way of railing against this methodology (though Morrison has gone on to become one of the most celebrated and longest running writers of Batman tales, with a very dark take on the character that is in stark contrast to Zenith’s raison d’etre.)
Zenith is a satirical and sardonic look at 1980’s British culture and politics (a favoured scenario for many Brit comic creators of the day) Morrison described his creation as – “A dumb, sexy and disposable pop icon, Alan Moore by way of Stock, Aitken and Waterman”.
Up until very recently Zenith had been out of print due to ownership diputes between the creators and publishers, causing previously released collected volumes to skyrocket in price, selling for up to ten times their cover value on E-Bay. 2000AD owners Rebellion finally released a new set of collected editions in 2014 that managed to sell out on pre-order in just two days, cementing the fact that the UK’s love for the glibly shallow Superhero was (and still is) second to none.