Sunday, 8 March 2015

Zenith: Phase 2 (2000AD #589-606, 2000AD Winter Special 1988)


"Since when were superhumans a big threat?" - Zenith

I covered the first volume of Zenith here, but here's a quick recap of this Grant Morrison penned and Steve Yeowell drawn 2000AD superhero story.  In the 1960's the government created several superheroes as weapons who ended up turning against them, becoming counter-culture hippies instead in a group called "Cloud Nine".  They were based on a hero created during World War 2 called Maximan, who had been created to combat the German super being Masterman.  Masterman turned out to be much stronger than Maximan as he was the vessel for an extra dimensional entity, one of the Many-Angled-Ones or Lloigor.  They fight in Berlin but before Masterman can kill Maximan, the atomic bomb is dropped on the German city instead of Japan ending the war.  The "children of Maximan" known as "Cloud Nine" suffer various fates, but before most of them die off or disappear, two of them conceive a child together, a boy who grows up to be Zenith.  He's a callow young man, a pop star singing disposable hits, who can fly and has super strength depending on the time of the month.  The three superheroes left from the sixties who had all pretended to lose their powers, were alchoholic Siadwel "Red Dragon" Rhys, journalist Ruby "Voltage" Fox and Tory MP, Peter "Mandala" St.John.

 During the events of Phase One, a Many Angled One is reincarnated in the cloned body of Masterman.  The three ex-memembers of Cloud Nine who haven't really lost their powers band together with Zenith to beat him.  Rhys is killed in the battle, but Zenith destroys Masterman's body and Peter St.John using a post-hypnotic command kills the Many Angled One he was holding.  Omninously Peter detects that this is only the beginnings of the Many Angled Ones plans for humanity, and Phase One ends with Siadwel's funeral with Ruby telling Zenith she'll tell Zenith about his parents when she gets back from her holiday.  And it's from here that Phase Two begins.

The story begins with Ruby Fox on holiday in an art deco Sydney, Australia with a man called David and a woman called Penny. It's1987 and a parallel universe and the other two are superheroes discussing whether they should make their prescence known to Zenith.  They mention something called The Omnihedron, but Ruby says to leave Zenith to her and that they have a year to get ready.
Extreme Bullfighting.
The world they are on has never had superheroes so makes a great hiding place from the Lloigor. They end up in a stadium where Tyrranosaurus Rex's are being fought for the amusement of the audience, the last year it'll happen before animal rights people get it banned.  Ruby is horrified, but David says to think of it as a metaphor.

David: "Evolution takes no prisoners. The masters of the earth become simply monsters, condemned to extinction. Think about that and the plan we made in 1968.  If we survive the Alignment, 1990's going to be a red letter day of evolution.  Ring out the old.  Ring in the new".

We then jump forwards in time to February 1988.  Zenith has arrived home after a party and is listening to his phone messages.  One of them warns him to get out of there, but it is too late and he is attacked by a humanoid being with a rocket for a head.  We then cut to two men watching how Zenith fought "Warhead".  The older man is called Peyne, the younger, bearded one called Wallace.
Peyne and Wallace, Wallace is wearing a red nose for a UK charity event.
Back with Zenith, a woman who arrives who introduces herself as Phaedra Cale she uses a "stroboscope" on Warhead which temporarily disables it, leaving Zenith free to knock it out, she is also the one who left the warning message.  "CIA" asks Zenith and she answers in the affirmative, then asks if he wants to know what happened to his parents after all these years.  Peyne and Wallace discuss how to get a hold of Zenith now, Peyne says to wait, then muses:

Peyne: "Strange.  He has his mother's eyes."

Wallace: "Really.  I thought we had his mother's eyes."

And the next panel shows some eyeballs in a jar.  Zenith and Phaedra then visit Zenith's agent Eddie MacPhail.  Phaedra says she is part of a CIA division set up in the fifties to monitor superhuman activity.   There is only supposed to be three superhumans left on earth, Ruby Fox, Peter St. John and Zenith.   So what was that being who attacked Zenith in his flat?  Zenith decides to go to Scotland with her to investigate further, despite entreaties from his agent not to.
Zenith's agent tries to keep him out of trouble.
The next day Peter St.John is doing a TV interview where he answers criticisms that he has used his telepathic powers to influence votes taken in the House Of Commons, which he brushes off.  Meanwhile Wallace takes control of the computers on a nuclear sub and points the missles at London.

Phaedra and Zenith are on a plane up to Scotland, there is a hollowed out hill there that used to be an army base and is now owned by Wallace International.  Which in turn seems to be linked with the person who was the last to see Zenith parents alive, Doctor Peyne who created the postwar superhumans.  Later Peter St. John has a terrible nightmare where London is a wasteland and the sun has turned black, and somehow the Lloigor are behind it.
Peter's nightmare...
He wakes to see a glowing woman who he seems to know, floating in his bedroom.  She's one of Cloud Nine, who "fell through a mirror" many years ago and has stayed the same age ever since.  She mentions the plan made in 1968 and tells Peter that she'll be back because "in the end... you're still one of us."

Zenith and Phaedra arrive at the Wallace International base and fly over the fence to get inside the grounds.  Then they enter via an air duct, but things seem far to quiet inside.  No security or anything.  They come to a room where Zenith's parents costumes are on display and suddenly Zenith is hit by an electric bolt.  Peyne appears and helps him up, Wallace also appears saying "all you had to do was knock."

At Number Ten Downing Street, the Prime Minister and Peter St. John are discussing the missile crisis.  There have been no demands or ultimatums so they don't know what to do.  Back with Zenith, Wallance has Warhead back with him and is flanked by two superpowered women called Blaze and Shockwave.  And what is motivating Wallace?

Wallace: "I'm just sick of the way the world's going and I think I could do a better job.  Build a better world, that's all."

Phaedra accuses him of violating the superhuman test ban treaty, trying to "rustle up some superhumans and take over the world."  Walace declares her "Bo-ring" and shoots her dead, much to Zenith's shock and surprise.  Then Wallace says he'll launch the missiles on friday and goes to tell the Prime Minister.
Wallace is a petulant meglomaniac
Peyne seems unconcerned by Wallace's plan and that he has "learned not to stand in the way of history."  He says now is the time of the superhumans and that Zenith is "evolution's perfect child."  Zenith grumpily demands a televison so he won't miss the TV soap Neighbours.

Later Zenith is being taught by Peyne to do different things with his powers.  Peyne says he is special because he inherited his abilities rather than getting them via exposure to his super-serum.  Peyne goes on a mini-rant about how humanity doesn't deserve the earth.

Peyne: "The history of mankind is a catalogue of atrocity, brute ignorance and blind greed. It can only have one outcome."

He then says he wants Zenith, Shockwave and Blaze to breed and Zenith enthusiastically takes up the offer.  While he is getting busy, Peyne says to Wallace that tommorrow when the missiles fly, Zenith will lose his powers for a day and "that's when we'll kill him."
Sexy time!
The next day Peyne tells Zenith what happened to his parents.  Cloud 9 had a plan which involved his birth, his mum and dad disappeared for a few months in 1968 during which time Zenith was born and passed into the care of his grandparents. In spring 1968 his parents turned up in France.  But the CIA "Shadowmen" - people with crude psychic powers - surprised them and they drove their car off a cliff.  Peyne retrieved their bodies and cloned Blaze from his mother, which squicks Zenith out.

Shockwave is a clone of Ruby Fox, Peyne also thinks the CIA might have been behinds the death of anotehr member of Cloud 9 - Lux.  Although there was something fishy about the scene of his death.  Peyne then drops the bombshell that Zenith's father survived the crash, badly brain damaged and Peyne turned him into Warhead.  Peyne then locks Zenith in a room with Warhead saying today is the day Zenith loses his powers and Warhead is to kill him.

Zenith and Warhead fight and Zenith has NOT lost his powers.  He fights Warhead off temporarily, while Peyne starts to panic and tries to get through to Wallace that things are going wrong.  Wallace is locked up in a bunker room getting ready to launch the missiles and won't be distracted.
"Zenith, I am your father."
Zenith smashes the headpiece off Warhead's outfit and reveals his father's face inside.  He tries to reason with him, but Warhead is too damaged to understand.  Zenith finds the stroboscope inside Phaedra's bag that temporarily stuns Warhead, then Zenith punches his head off, killing him instantly.  A rage filled Zenith confronts Peyne who says he was surprised Zenith still had his powers, his biorhythm chart says he should have lost them today.  Zenith says the birthday he made public isn't his real one, so Peyne's calculations were off.

Zenith goes to stop Wallace blowing up London.  The code to Wallace's bunker is a riddle.  Zenith telepathically contacts Peter St. John, who is currently floating above London in the hope he can disable the missiles before they hit, and asks for help.  Peter solves the riddle for Zenith and Zenith enters Wallace's bunker.  "You've got four minutes" says Wallace.

Peter St.John speaks telepathically to Zenith saying he can shut Wallace down telepathically via Zenith.  But Zenith decides to reason with Wallace.

Zenith: "You know, I don't really envy you trying to take over the world.  I mean the world's a big place.  All that crime and starvation and wars and drugs.  Everyone would expect you to have all the answers."
Wallace finally listens to reason.
Zenith keeps asking hard questions about what Wallace would do about all the worlds problems.  He compares him to Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler.  Wallace mumbles he could be a "nice Hitler."  Finally he decides to stop the missiles.  "No harm done, eh?"  Zenith leaves, and once he is gone the power goes off, trapping Wallace inside his bunker, though it is not clear if Zenith or Peter St.John through Zenith did that. Sadly Zenith contemplates the remains of Warhead, then flies off.

Once home, before he can relax, he is confronted by a strange, shape shifting being called "Chimera".  The mysterious being keeps transforming:

Chimera: "One shape is not enough.  I crave the sensation of all shapes."

It keeps changing, finally ending up as a nebula before fading away, leaving a very bemused Zenith behind.
The Chimera.
Back on the Alt-Australia, Ruby, David and Penny are out by Ayers Rock.  There is a small floating sphere called an "Einstein-Rosen Bridge" which allows travel between parallel earths.  Three superhumans called Black Flag from Alternative 6 arrive.  They compare notes saying they lost Alternative 257 to the Lloigor.  They also think they may have miscalculated the alignment.  Suddenly a horribly burned human comes through the bridge.  One of the new superhumans helps him or her pass on.  Penny remarks:

Penny: "A love letter from the Lloigor.  They've found us.  Happy Valentines Day."
The superhumans start to gather.
And after a short interlude chapter (not drawn by Yeowell) set on yet another earth introducing a blindfolded superhuman who is an Alternate Maximan and who will go on to play a major part in Phase Three and just recaps Zenith adventures so far while calling him the last hope, we come to the end of this Phase. One of the great things about Morrison as a writer is he isn't afraid to throw up a lot of questions in his writing, but crucially he will answer those questions rather than doing the equivalent of LOST and throwing in more mysteries just for the sake of it.  This Phase answers many of the questions asked in Phase One around Zenith's existence and keeps several plotlines in the air ready for the apocalyptic, multi-universe spanning events of the seminal Phase Three, which keeps appearing and disappearing off Amazon's coming soon listings and I swear if it falls into rights hell again after waiting all this time I will set myself on fire outside of Rebellion's publishing headquarters. Steve Yeowell's sparse yet hi-energy art continues to impress and the whole thing is once again gorgeously presented, with the original paper dimensions kept and reproduced on thick shiny paper with a minimalist hardback cover and all the cover's and promotional art collected at the end of the book.  Zenith remains one of Morrison's truly great creations that only increases in scope and complexity as it goes along.  If you are a fan of Morrison you have no reason not to own both this and Phase One, and be looking forward to Phase Three as we speak.

4 comments:

  1. is... is wallace meant to be richard branson?? if so lololololol!!1

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  2. G. you've made me look at something I first read nearly 30 years ago with fresh eyes. It does look very like him doesn't it? It's the balloons on the jumper that prove it for me. I don't think Branson would blow up London though.

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  3. Howard Quartz in Savage in 2000 AD is definitely Richard Branson, and he's horrible. His robots murder Londoners.The artist, Patrick Goddard, has made him look just like Branson.

    LOL, Zenith has super strength depending on whether or not he has PMT.

    Phaedra was the sister of Ariadne. She ended up with Theseus after he abandoned Ariadne on an island, where she was found by Bacchus. Phaedra met a sticky end after falling in love with her stepson Hippolytus.

    Of course, Peter St. John can just use his telepathic powers to influence the journalists too. Telepaths are scary because they can do anything and you wouldn't know that they were doing it. So they make your life like mental illness, because you can't trust your brain.

    I always had a soft spot for mirror-girl.

    Probably not a good idea to try and breed superhumans by having a male breed with its mother.

    Chimera is basically Zenith's uncle-aunt.

    Altstralia! :-D

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  4. Altstralia, I love it! I hadn't thought of Zenith's limitations being like PMT. This amuses me.

    Peter St. John is scary simply because he's a superpowered guy in UK politics. In Phase Four, he kills Labour Shadow Leader John Smith by making it look like he has a heart attack. This happened just before John Smith died of a heart attack in real life. Spooky.

    It's a shame Phaedra wasn't around longer, she was an interesting person from what little we saw of her. Still her death helped establish Wallace as a genuine threat, rather than just a goofy guy. I wonder if him being made to look like Richard Branson was Morrison one-upping Mark Millar's first published comic which starred the anti-Christ who looked awfully like Jonathan Ross. Hmmm.

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