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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Zenith Phase III...and More

To prove the point I made about Comic Geek Chic. 

I was watching a You Tube video about a "great comic haul" and the young woman (who seemed to know nothing about comics pre-2005) apologised for not having her "Chicster" spectacles "I dropped them, you know, right onto concrete and the glass broke. Lucky they are only fashion not vision required".

"Not vision required"? I was almost wondering but then I was told that "fake geek glasses are good earners if you sell them" and the same fellow, who works in comic distribution in the US, told me that some stores buy them in just for "the fake geeks"!

He was not joking:

The internet is full of these sites for "Geek style glasses".

See? Comics and geeks is a "fashion". 

Anyway, I was reading a trade hardback on the bus and this man, in his thirties, sees this "Oh, I'm into comics.  Like my friends.  Did you know they were making a comic of the Hulk after the movie success?" 

If I shat a concrete 1000 kg turd I'd be less surprised.

"See, it's one of those things the English never get credit for" Okay, I was wetting myself with curiosity.  "Sorry?" it comes. "Before Alan Moore created the Watchmen there weren't that many comics and his work heavily influenced cinema"

I twisted my spine trying not to break my promise never to kill again.  There was more crap and a puzzled look: "Don't you use gloves when you read your comics?"  My response was going to be: "I only wear gloves if I'm going to make love" but I bit my tongue.  Really badly, too.

When he told me that he and his friends had been "into the whole comics culture for a couple years now" I just could not believe it.  I never killed him.  No attempt to strangle, break a limb, poke and eye...I think I'm getting old.

But it did resist saying: "I've been reading comics almost fifty years" because, like, well, you know, Alan Moore only invented comics in the 1980s.

So what book was I reading?  Zenith Phase Three which I have to say was the best of the Zenith series.  Phase One and Two built up the character so that when it got to this story he was in his prime.

Now there is a CBO rule that I DO NOT break and that is: if I buy it I don't review it.  People want their books reviewed and for huge -I mean huge- numbers of people then they send me a copy.  hmm..."huge" just reminded me that I need to get my gloves out later.
Anyhow, everyone talks about how The Watchmen "like revolutionised comics" and in a way it did.  As a series, yes, geek chic-sters, before it was a Trade (not a graphic novel) it was a 12 issue series and that was selling out fast in shops.  In Forever People in Park street, it was a fight to get in and get your copy before they sold out because, as I was told to my face, if one of the big money (but NEVER reads) comic investors came in they got the book first.  Ditto with Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

If you look at Watchmen then, today, it does not seem great but at the time it was quite violent, had sex in it and a good old style sci fi twist-in-the-end which really was better than the movie's ending.  Yes, there were scenes that were taken from European movies and some of the ideas were also comic book standard but it was a cracking read (and, yes, I ignored that bloody pointless "there-to-be-arty" pirate story, Black Freighter!

And, if you were a Charlton Comics fan then you could guess which character was supposed to be Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt, etc.  If you weren't then those great fanzines gave you all the "skinny" -Arkensword (later Ark), Eat The Magic Batzine, etc..

I'm sure that Moore loved the pay cheque and the ego-boosting.  And I know people keep saying "he's ripped off this or that" but there are only so many story-lines/plots in any comics genre and it is how you write YOUR story -the twist you put on it or how the artistic team presents it and Dave Gibbons and John Higgins (colourist) did a fantastic job.   Comics are a vizual medium and if Watchmen was Moore's overly detailed script/notes would it have been as popular or been made into a film?  No.

But The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen have their places in comics history because they showed what a good creative team could do with comics as a medium.  Sadly, everyone after that began what they saw as "The next Watchmen" or "The next The Dark Knight Returns" which was, being honest, such a bore and did not help the industry.

Hey, it made money but then the "Big Two" lost all integrity when they found out you really could milk the fans for every cent by having one comic book universe crisis after another. 

First Marvel with Secret Wars....

Then DC with Crisis On Infinite Earths...

2000 AD had become the UK comic (and much talent was poached by DC from this) and in August, 1987, there appeared in its pages a new hero -Zenith.  Written by Grant Morrison the art by Steve Yeowell worked well with the story concept.  It very much had the feeling of an Indie comic.  Black and white was used to excellent effect.

I have so many sources with Morrison interviews but let's see what that fountain of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, has to say about it:

"Grant Morrison had been thinking along the lines of Zenith since 1982, but "[t]he original version had a more traditional superhero costume and was a little grimmer in tone," and the final concept came together as "... a reaction against torment superheroes." Despite liking both Dark Knight and Watchmen, he felt that "... both books felt pompous and concept albumy to me as a young man in the '80s."

Now if that was not a pompous statement  in itself then I have no idea what is!

Brendan McCarthy provided the original designs though he never drew any of the strips.  Morrison is no fan of Zenith Phase I but modestly says of  Phase III: "I think it is one of the greatest superhero crossover events ever."

 Well, when I saw this book on the shelf I grabbed it.  Over the years there was much arguing about who owned Zenith. In 2007 Morrison stated: "Morrison said, "Fleetway have no paperwork to confirm their ownership of Zenith, so I'm currently involved in legal proceedings to clear things up."

In fact, no one ever signed a contract for Amalgamated Press/Fleetway/IPC/Maxwell Pergamon Publishing/Fleetway/Egmont. The company and titles were sold off so many times and in none of those sales was any creator ever mentioned or consulted.  You did your work, got your pay cheque and that was it.

I have written enough about UK comics copyright so I'm ignoring it here!

But Morrison owned the characters/story and Yeowell the art. It is that simple.

Moore could well have written a Zenith style Phase III strip but the Yankee dollar beckoned and writing was his career and as such you go where the money is.  We all have the pay bills and eat.

But how does this parallel Earths cross-over read today, decades on?  Well.  Seriously, the characters work well, there are those 1980s references as well as characters we were all familiar with as kids "but with their names changed to protect from legal action" as one Fleetway editor put it.  Of course some, such as Robot Archie and The Black Archer keep their names.

Having had to read the strips in their original not good quality printing in 2000 AD for years and the newsprint paper becoming far more delicate over time, I thought going to the box, getting all the relevant issues together and reading them would be the only way to enjoy the series.  But this book...lovely cover and production and superb quality black and white printing it is 112 pages of lovely, lovely art.

"One of the greatest superhero crossover events ever"?  Yes, I think it is up there and if I had a choice of Zenith Phase III or Watchmen to read I would certainly go for Zenith.

I have not read Phase I nor Phase II because at £20 they'll have to wait -unless the publisher wants to send copies along for review?

Always worth a try.

I know there are people who absolutely hate The Dark Knight Returns and those who feel the same about Watchmen.  And I am quite sure the same may apply to Zenith Phase III.  But each is a landmark in its own right and in the UK we had never had a big cross-over event like this.  Yes, the Spider had met Robot Archie.  Captain Hurricane had met The Steel Commando but Zenith was unique.

For feck's sake -I paid £20 for this and that makes in good.


  1. You know, I have thought a few times about getting this but I didn´t know if it´s any good.

    As for WATCHMEN I always felt that Alan Moore fell prey to all the brownnoses around him - he believes his own press releases. It´s a good comic but for my taste Dave Gibbons´ art is always underappreciated. I doubt it had been such a big success if somebody like Kevin Nolan had drawn it.

    For my taste I always prefered the SQUADRON SUPREME miniseries by the late Mark Gruenwald. As good as WATCHMEN is it all takes place in a world that was created especially for the story so you didn´t have to work in continuity nor keep in mind that there neede to be more stories to be told with the characters. In that regard Moore had it eaqsy because he got to break all the toys if he wanted. Gruenwald on the other hand had all of the aforementioned restrictions and still wrote one of the best stories. And the characters are still around. Even if the current writers at Marvel have no idea who Hyperion is. Or Thor.

    P.S. You showed a lot more restraint than I would have. I would at least have made a remark about how old I was when I started reading comics. Psst, there was no internet back then and tv only had three channels. Chupate esto, principiante !

  2. Well, Phase I is good as it sets up the whole Lloigor/Many Angled Ones premiss. Phase II is also a good read but Phase III I was reading again at 0400 hrs this morning and it is great. Miss Wonder is based on Punk Goddess Siouxsie Sioux while our 'hero' is a pain in the ass -the typical UK weekly comics anti-hero with a pop star twist! After Phase III I think it fell apart as Morrison was on his full blown hippy-psychedelic ego trip.
    Squadron Supreme I think is just as important as Dark Knight or Watchmen because in that the heroes did what DC and Marvel later tried several times and it got boring -super heroes running the world (Avengers Annual 5 ....and I think a much later What If..? issue. But the Death of Tom Thumb was very well written. Series needs a bigger boost!
    Ahhh. TV "in the day. Usually closed down after a movie but then we got episodes of Derrick, Shimanski, etc (dubbed of course).Nostalgia!