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 characters that originate from the UK.
As we have highlighted in previous entries from this series, comics take on a very diverse approach in Britain in comparison to their American counterparts, the anthology style is (and forever has been) ubiquitous in its form over here in blighty. Whereas most comic-books in the USA usually 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 easily the most popular and groundbreaking of these weekly digests being the phenomenal 2000AD.
We have posted in length about the other crazy characters that form 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 invariably made up of quirky non-conformist types or hard nosed, fascistic authoritarian figures with 2000AD’s leading export Judge Dredd being the ultimate example of the latter. Today’s guest star though belongs to the former camp and is somewhat closer to the American ideal of a comic-book stalwart, yet still retains the atypical Brit eccentricity and anti-establishmentarianism that pervades a majority of fictional British work.
Zenith was created by the great Grant Morrison and sensational Steve Yeowell in 1987, its debut appearance was in #535 of 2000AD, yet the story’s titular star didn’t actually appear until the second episode with the first instalment reserved for setting the scene for his introduction into this alternate fictional version of the UK.
Robert McDowell is the civilian name of the ’80s Pop star/Superhero Zenith, the son of two former members of the famed team of 1960’s British Superheroes known as Cloud 9, a group of super-humans initially formed by the military, who ultimately rebelled against authority becoming bohemian psychedelic fashion icons and rights activists. Zenith is possessed of bio-rythmic abilities that grant him the powers of flight, super strength, pyrokinesis and high physical durability. Yet rather than use these uncanny gifts to fight intolerance and crime he utilises them to further his music career. Zenith himself is a superficial, glib and self centred personality, overtly spoilt and extremely reluctant to be brought into any of the ongoing conflict that involves going up against the pernicious and malevolent antagonists – The Lloigor.
Reluctantly he is dragged into action by surviving members of Cloud 9 to help fight The Many Angled One (aka The Lloigor, beings from another dimension closely resembling Cthulhu mythos) Lok Sotot. It was during this violent encounter, after the unfortunate death of Welsh Superhero, Red Dragon, that Zenith began to realise the full extent of his incredible powers, and his ability to utilise them for the benefit of others rather than his own selfish needs.
Grant Morrison initially created Zenith as a “reaction against tormented Superheroes” you see, the 1980s was the decade for the anti-heroes’ ascendance, Batman became darker and grimmer than previous iterations and Watchmen (by fellow Brit creator Alan Moore) took the political dissonance and violent repercussions of masked vigilantism to a whole other stratospheric level. Zenith was Morrison’s way of railing against this methodology (that said, Morrison himself has gone on to become one of the most celebrated and longest running writers of Batman tales, with an extremely 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) Morrison described his creation as – “a dumb, sexy and disposable pop icon, Alan Moore by way of Stock, Aitken and Waterman”
Up until a few years ago Zenith was out of print due to ownership disputes between creators and publishers, causing previously released collected volumes to skyrocket in price, selling for up to an unbelievable ten times their original cover value! 2000AD owners Rebellion released a new set of collected editions late in 2014 that managed to sell out on pre-order in just 48 hours, cementing the fact that the UK’s love for the glibly shallow Superhero was (and still is) second to none.
A Guide To Speaking 2000AD…
Seminal British anthology series 2000AD not only brought fantastic characters and thrill-power to the universal masses but also introduced us to it’s iconic alien editor – Tharg the Mighty! Tharg has presided as its fictional Quaxxann leader since the first issue debuted in 1977, and alongside presenting stellar stories, he also brought his very own dialect, which most die hard 2000AD fans use on an almost daily basis (yup, guilty as charged!) So to those Terrans whom have never delved into Quaxxiann we proffer a list of his most popular catchphrases and their Terran translations…
Borag Thungg Earthlet – Greetings Human.
Zarjaz – Excellent
Krill Tro Thargo – Honoured By Tharg
Florix Grabundae – Many Thanks
Nonscrot – Someone Who Doesn’t Read 2000AD
Scrotnig – Exciting Or Amazing
Squaxx Dek Thargo – Friend Of Tharg
Splundig Vur Thrigg – Goodbye
And so, Florix Grabundae my fellow Squaxx Dek Thargo for visiting the Precinct and indulging in our Scrotnig post. Splundig Vur Thrigg!
Tharg the Mighty and Zenith are copyright: 2000AD and Rebellion.