Monday, 14 December 2015

Zenith: Phase 3 (2000AD #626-634, #650-662, #667-670)

"Come on Eddie.  What's a stupid kids programme compared to the end of the universe" - Zenith

This is it, this was the collection I was waiting for.  Although I own all the original progs, they are inaccessible to me right now so these lovely hardback reissues of Zenith have been wonderful nostalgia for me.  This twenty-six part epic ran during a period of time when The Galaxy's Greatest Comic was going out fortnightly rather than weekly, and there were two breaks in the run, the first being well over six months, meaning it took nearly two years to come to a conclusion.  It was agonising at the time because it is such a compellingly epic tale.  It's Crisis On Infinite Earths Morrison style, using expys and originals of a whole lot of old UK comic characters and telling a story of how they all came together to protect the multiverse from the Lovecraftian "Many Angled Ones" or the "Lloigor" as they are also known.  Phases One and Two explored the title character Zenith's life and background while building up the threat confronted in this volume.  The son of two government created superheroes in the sixties who were part of a counter-culture superteam called "Cloud Nine", he is a disposable late 1980's pop star, a teeny-bop idol who would rather use his powers of flight and superstrength to show off to girls than fight crime.  That said he still ended up defending Earth from a single Lloigor called Iok Sotot who was housed in the body of a superstrong Nazi engineered human alongside two others of the sixties superhumans, Peter "Mandala" St. John, now a Tory minister and Ruby "Voltage" Fox, now a journalist.  Phase Two saw him deal with his past and those who would seek to manipulate him as he put a stop to a meglomaniac's attempt to destroy London. Now the on-going plot threads have come together that will really put Zenith to the test as he becomes part of a superhuman army traversing parellel worlds to prevent the Lloigor taking advantage of a huge cosmic event.  On art duties once again is Steve Yeowell who is given the task of depicting masses of heroes and villains as well as apocalypses on a truly cosmic scale, which he does masterfully as per usual.

Before we continue, may I direct you to this excellent website which lists every hero that appears in the Phase (be warned, a couple of entries for the Cloud Nine members have spoilers for Phase Four).  Clicking on each image will tell you either which out of copyright UK character they are or which in-copyright hero they are expy's of.  Some fascinating stuff which even I didn't know (like Alternate 666 being the home of heroes based on rival publisher DC Thomson's characters, which is hilarious because they nearly all die!  Thanks Grant, stab me right in the childhood why don't you? Heee!).  Onwards.

Phase Two ended with the remainder of Cloud Nine (bar Peter St.John) hiding out on Alternative-303 when a  badly burned teenage boy came through a device for traversing parallel worlds called an "Einsten-Rosen Bridge".  The story begins in 1987, a little bit before that happened and shows us the what that resulted in that scene.
Billy Whiz, sorry, Jimmy Quick I mean.
It starts in 1987 on Alternative 666.  Two superhumans possessed by the Lloigor look down on a scene of devastation and one of them, Miss Wonderstarr comments, "what shall we do now?"  We then cut to a teenage boy called Jimmy Quick who finds two friends, Tiger Tom and an injured Tammy hiding out in a wrecked building.  Tiger Tom hands Jimmy a small disc and says despairingly "they killed my mum... what am I going to do?"

Jimmy Quick leaves and runs at high speed avoiding Miss Wonderstarr and her unamed companion.  He arrives at the Einstein-Rosen Bridge but one of his allies, "Mr.Why" has been taken over by the Lloigor too.  Jimmy Quick makes a rush for the bridge as Mr. Why blasts fire at him, it hits Jimmy just as he crosses over.  He was the terminally burned boy who arrived at Alternative 303 at the end of Phase Two.

It's now 1989 and Zenith is lamenting his failing career and that now being twenty-one he's over the hill.  Then a robot appears with "ARCHIE" painted on the front and it says "Aciieeeeeed!"  Meanwhile Peter St.John prepares to leave, the rest of Cloud Nine appear and he goes through the bridge with them.
Acid House will never die!
Archie tells Zenith he has to come to Alternative 23.  He has orders from Maximan, the "alignment" is soon so the are gathering all the superhumans from all the parallel worlds.

Archie: "Big trouble coming.  End of Universe.  Bad news.  Omnihedron.  Lloigor 'Bring Zenith.  Bring everyone!'"

Zentih shrugs and says "it should be a laugh" and leaves via the Bridge with Archie.  On Alternative 23 he finds himself in a huge building on a deserted world called "Axis Mundi". He bumps into Peter St.John and Ruby Fox and they are all greeted by a woman called "Mantra" who comes from Alternative 88, she belongs to "Black Flag" a group of "anarchist superhumans" who have basically organised this coming together.  Zenith walks out into the throng and starts mocking it:

Zenith: "I've never seen so many complete idiots in the same place before... all those pervy skin tight suits, it's brilliant."

Then Maximan, who on this world did not die in World War Two and has had "forty years to grow beyond us all", appears.  A hush descends as he introduces himself to them.
Ultimate Maximan.
Maximan has a strange way of speaking and garbles and adds odd words.  He starts to tell them why they are all here.  Zenith whispers "He's mad!" and that "he's got nothing on under that cloak!"  Then a man who is Zenith's counterpart from Alternative 300, called "Vertex", introduces himself.  He is pleasant and friendly and when he leaves Zenith mumbles "that was horrible."

We then return to Maximan.  The Lloigor have been waiting for thousands of years for the alignment.  All the parallel worlds will line up in a specific configuration.  When this happens,  "some terrible energy with be released."  He sees the various worlds from Axis Mundi and asked Black Flag to help.  They went to Alternative 257 but a superhuman called "Hotspur" was Lloigor possessed who started destroying and killing everyone including a member of their team "Smiley Sun", and they fled.  "257 is lost.  Lost to the Lloigor".

He then introduces a man called "Big Ben" who escaped Alternative 666.  Big Ben tries to tell them what happened but falters.  So Maximan plays the disc Jimmy Quick died to deliver.  It's an apocalyptic log narrated by "Prince Mamba" of the atrocities committed on his world. Buildings destroyed. People and animals strung up in barbed wire, still alive.

Prince Mamba: "That was what none of us could understand.  The cruelty.  The sheer cruelty of it all."
The Horror of the Lloigor in action.
He hands the recording over to Tiger Tom who will pass it on to Jimmy Quick.  We still hear his narration from it as we see how he met his end.  He says he plans on finding a place to hide and has pills to commit suicide if he is found, but we last see him being watched by Miss Wonderstarr so it's obvious he is now dead.  Maximan ejects the disc then says to the assembled that to defeat the Lloigor they have to totally destroy Alternatives 257 and 666.

As you might imagine this is met with some consternation amongst the heroes.  Then suddenly somebody comes through the Bridge.  It's Hotspur.  Meanwhile Ruby is having an encounter with Lux and Spook in their ethereal forms.  They say they can make her young again if she joins them, which she does.

Back with Hotspur, he gasps that he "burned them.. out" and he collapses.  Mantra takes his armour off to find a huge cross burned into his chest and stomach.  Later after he has recovered he gives a speech to the assembled crowd:

Hotspur: "I am living proof that the Lloigor can be subdued!  That we can cleanse my tortured world!"
Then he starts singing a hymn.  The heroes are assigned which Earth they will go to.  Zenith grumbles about being sent to Alternative 666.  A woman called "Meta Maid" says she will be fighting alongside him and that she really fancies Zenith.

The rejuvenated Ruby goes and talks to Peter saying if he joins them he can be young again. Peter brushes her off saying the thought of returning to a younger self fills him with "horror and embarrassment."  Ruby stomps off calling him a "stupid old man."

Hotspur is to lead the assault on Alternative 257, Big Ben the assault on Alternative 666.  Zenith puts Big Ben down and he agrees that he is "not much of a leader" he just wants to stop the Lloigor.  As the two groups depart and Maximan watches them and smiles.

On Alternative 666 a hero called "Tommy Trident" is battling Miss Wonderstarr in front of her concentration camp.  He gets the upper hand, but she pretends the Lloigor has left her and he falters, she repays him with a vicious attack that severely injured him.  Also there is "Spring Heeled Jock", he thinks this is it for him, then Big Ben's team arrives, "and everything changed again".
Lux takes care of Miss Wonderstarr.
Battle is joined.  A wooden hero called "Oakman" viciously punches Miss Wonderstarr.  She zaps him and sets him on fire, the "Blue Wizard" puts it out by turning it into butterflies. She escapes but Archie and Lux find her and Lux tears her head off.  "One down" he says laconically.  They pick up the badly injured Tonny Trident and Spring Heeled Jock accompanies them down to London.

They arrive at the underground station where the remnants of the resistance to the Lloigor are hiding.  Because they aren't superpowered they have remained hidden from the Lloigor but now the new arrivals are here, their auras will be detected, "we need to move out" says Lux.
Desperate Dan Big Ben.
Tiger Tom and Tammy are still alive although Tammy is still very sick.  They are pleased to see Big Ben and think they will be safe now.  Big Ben turns away and pops some pills.  When Zenith queries this, he says they are anti-depressants.  Zenith asks what his problem is?

Big Ben: "My problem?  My whole world in ruins!  I've let everyone down!"

Zenith comments snottily that they are lucky he came back, "I wouldn't have." Lux then explains the special bomb he has been given by Maximan.  The "Chaostructor".  It opens a hole into the "Chaoetheric" and the chaos energy will consume the entire world.  The heroes native to Alternative 666 are aghast, but Lux is adamant.

Lux: "It's essential that we destablise the Omnihedron.  There's simply no other option."

Before the argument can continue, the three other Lloigor possessed superhumans crash onto the scene.  A running battle ensues.  "The Steel Claw" has his arm ripped off, "Catgirl" is blown up.  Mr. Why confronts Zenith saying "remember me..?"  He is Iok Sotot the Lloigor who possessed Masterman in Phase One.  Meta Maid comes to Zenith's rescue.  The unamed Lloigor possessed superhuman who was impaled on a hand from the actual Big Ben is still alive and screams "Kill them all!"
Fighting the Lloigor.
Mr. Why attacks Spring Heeled Jock.  The dog "Bobbie" bites him and he slaps him away.  Jock goes running after the dog and both get crushed under a Weetabix lorry. Angered by this Big Ben hurls a crashed aeroplane at the unamed Lloigor and they manage to escape.

Lux says they have to set the bomb off now before there are more casualties.  But the timer mechanism doesn't work, someone will have to stay behind and activate the bomb manually.  Tammy offers to do it as she is dying and doesn't believe she'll get better.  She takes the bomb and the others leave via the Bridge.  Tiger Tom however returns to her saying he couldn't leave her alone, "you always were my favourite cousin" and they start to kiss.  The Lloigor arrive and Tammy activates the bomb and Alternative 666 goes boom.
The end of Alternative 666.
We then join the team on Alternative 257.  Hotspur's team seems to also have had trouble and suffered some losses.  "We're not doing too well are we?" says Peter St.John, whose group has become seperated from the main one.  After bickering with Mantra who is confused as to why Maximan didn't see Lloigor possessed superhumans coming from other Earths, we cut to Hotspur leading a charge.

They are battling two Lloigor called "Mr. Lion" and "Mr. Unicorn".  They decide not to risk their bodies further and call up a Bridge of their own to escape through and wait for the Alignment.  Mantra, Vertex and Peter's team meet up with Hotspur's.  But Hotspur gets pulled into the Bridge and finds himself in the "Many Angled Realm" where he seems to recognise someone off panel.

A hero called "Thunderbolt Jaxon" is having difficulties.  His magic belt only bestows power when in the service of right and justice, "and well, it's not working".  I am ashamed to say at the time I missed this honking big clue that things were not what they seemed despite my suspicions about Maximan.
Archie to the rescue!
Then a Lloigor possessed called "Wyvern" appears and kills Jaxon.  Things look bad until Archie suddenly appears through the Bridge riding a T-Rex from Alternate 303.  "Electroman", newly possessed attacks, but is taken down by the powered up Ruby.  They recover the paralysed body of Hotspur and arm the bomb timer.  They all escape through the Bridge and Alternative 257 is destroyed.

Both teams retreat to Alternative 303 to compare notes.  The "Black Archer" demands to know if the have saved the universe. Mantra says I guess so, then when pressed says:

Mantra: "So what? I don't know!  I'm not in charge here, you know!  Why does everyone keep looking at me?"

The Black Archer rants that they lost too many people and don't know if it worked or not.  Big Ben is wallowing in self pity.  Zenith is not comforting, "cheer up.  It's only the end of the world".  Hotspur is still paralysed. The Black Archer says "he was the only one with any real guts."

He asks if anyone can telepathically read his mind to find out what happened to him.  Mantra says it could be a Lloigor trap. The Black Archer demands to know what happened to "Ace Heart" and "Captain Miracle" who went back to Maximan for help.  The Black Archer thinks they got blown up, Mantra keeps saying it's not her fault.
Hotspur communicates the awful truth.
Big Ben sits by Hotspur and says, "I think he's dead".  He then takes Zenith to one side and says before he passed Hotspur blinked at him in morse code and told him who did this to him:

Big Ben: "And it's Maximan.  Maximan is one of them.  It's Maximan."

Zenith goes and tells Peter who then says he believes someone amongst them is working for the Lloigor.  He gets Zenith to call Mantra over then the two of them confront a superhuman called "Streamline".  They telepathically lift him in the air and one of the others starts reducing his body temperature.  They have blocked his ability to call the Lloigor for help so he better start talking.

Streamline cracks and says Maximan lied about the alignment.  It's happening now.  Destroying the two worlds actually removed a flaw in the Omnihedron, "you did the Lloigor's work for them".  The Lloigor plan to she the whole structure vibrating at a certain pitch and need to destroy one more world to make it happen.

Streamline: "But when the Omnihedron begins to resonate they plan to ascend along its ge-ge-geometry towards something called Point Zenith."
Streamline cracks.
This will allow them to unfold and become part of everything that exists, able to change anything with just a thought.  The final world to be destroyed is Alternatibe 230, where the Cult Of The Black Sun (the Lloigor cult from Phase One) have a bomb in the Antartic.  It's the central point of the Omnihedron and also Zenith's homeworld.  Streamline is then frozen to death and a resolute Peter says he's going after Maximan.

We cut to Alternative 230.  A cult member talks to Ace Hart and Captain Miracle who were betrayed and possessed by the Lloigor.  The cultist says:

Cultist: "It's hard to believe that we stand on the threshold of a new heaven, a new earth. A universe of order."

The cultists goes on to say that all they have to do is arm the bomb and "Auf Weidersehen world".  He walks through the Nazi decorated base with Ace Heart and Captain Miracle and asks if the cult will survive, that they have served and venerated the Lloigor for twenty thousand years.  They reach the bomb, "the end of all things.  The Chaostructor."
At the Antarctic base on Alternative 230.
Outside, Mr. Lion and Mr. Unicorn go to investigate a mysterious tree alone in the snowy landscape.  It turns out to be Oakman and he impales Mr. Unicorn on his branches while the others who were hidden by the Blue Wizard deal with Mr. Lion.  They find a ventilation shaft and enter the base:

Vertex: "All right.  Let's kick bottom".

There is another battle and one of the cultists tries to arm the bomb.  Big Ben stops him.  Meanwhile Peter and Mantra have gone to confront Maximan.  He admits that he destroyed his world and killed all three billion people so he could be alone.  Then the Lloigor came:

Maximan: "They offered me a place in their ranks.  A test of faith was required.  Rrrrr.  So I tore, that is to say.  Rrrripped out my eyes.  My own eyes.  And for the first time I saw.  Thank you."
Mantra and Peter take on Maximan.
Then he asks if he really believes they can stop him.  Back in the Antartic Big Ben is confronted by Ace Hart, who zaps him to prevent him disarming the bomb.  He conjures up a bridge to escape through, but a terminally wounded Big Ben manages to grab ahold of him until the others arrive and deal with him.  They all decide to go through the Bridge and Vertex takes the bomb with them.

Mantra is trying to reason with Maximan.  She says the Lloigor want to abolish freewill and run the universe like clockwork.  She gets close to him and he jams his fingers in her eyes and tosses her to one side. Now only Peter is left to fight him.  Peter and maximan start an epic battle.  Peter manages to get Maximan mad and Maximan responds by starting to take him apart on the molecular level.
The cavalry arrive.
Then the rest of the heroes arrive through the Bridge.  A huge energy beam starts shooting up through the floor.  Peter yells at the others to not let Maximan step inside it.  But they fail and Maximan floats inside the column of energy.  Even with Alternative 230 saved the Lloigor can still ascend through "sheer force of will".

Maximan: "I see it.  The crystal Omnihedron. Planes and lines.  Continuums intersecting.  We arise.  We arise to Godhead. To Point Zenith!"

The heroes start panicking about what to do, and Vertex says he has the bomb from Alternative 230.  They decide to set it off to destroy this world, and they start to run for the Bridge which is disintergrating.  It closes completely before Vertex can go through.  "Oh well" he says, and sets the bomb off destroying Maximan and his world.
NOT Zenith.
Back in the Antartic, The Blue Wizard erects a monument to the fallen.  The assembled start organising going back to their own worlds.  The ones who have had their worlds destroyed are invited to join them.  The assembled think it was Zenith who made the ultimate sacrifice.  But then he saunters out and says:

Zenith: "It must have been Vertex.  Sounds like the sort of stupid thing he'd do.  I've been here the whole time."

The Black Archer snaps that he hopes Zenith's name will be taken off the memorial.  The Blue Wizard just says "let's go home."  Meta maid invites Zenith for a quicky before she goes, but after she has gone, one of the unamed heroes says to Zenith that she's really a man.  Zenith then calls over "TNT Tom" and points him in the direction of where Meta Maid is saying "this could be your lucky day".  Zenith really is a prick.
Some of the survivors get ready to depart.
Everyone bar the heroes indigenous to Alternative 230 have left.  Peter St. John is looking thoughtful and Zenith says to him:

Zenith: "So we saved the universe then? How do you follow that?...what happens now?"

Peter: "What now? What now indeed?"

And that brings Phase Three to a close.  I'm so pleased this series lived up to my memories of reading it fortnightly the first time around.  It's a thrilling ride from beginning to end and discovering who the various heroes were or who they were based on thanks to the excellent website I linked at the start meant that twenty five odd years later I learnt something new about it and got a whole other layer of enjoyment about it.  Zenith has his obnoxiousness turned up to eleven in this adventure, but he's really just a small part of a huge story which feels like a fine ending to all the build-up in the previous two Phases.  So I must say, having stopped reading 2000AD by then I am curious how this epic story was followed up in Phase Four.  I mean how do you top saving the universe?  You'll have to wait until my next UK comics month for the fourth and final Phase which will be just as much a voyage of discovery for me as it will be for many of you. For now though, Zenith Phase Three remains one of my favourite series to run in 2000AD and you can see a lot of cosmic stuff that Grant Morrison will go onto explore further in his later career here as well. So, Zenith Phase Three. An excellent series which I probably haven't done justice to. The end.


  1. two years?! thats a long time to wait, glad it was worth it. I think i need to buy these zenith collections, they look really good. are you going to cover phase 4?

  2. Yes it was a very long wait, and then another twenty-five years for the collections! I do plan on doing Phase Four during my next UK comics month, which shall be interesting as I quit reading 2000AD just before it ran originally and so know very little about it. Though I have been warned it's not all that good compared to the rest of the series, we shall see...

  3. I think you like Zenith a lot more than I do, and your admiration of it shines through, so from that point of view you probably have done justice to it.

  4. Thanks Lucy, maybe you had to be there at the time but Phases 1-3 for some reason really clicked for me. Finding out that for me, they still hold up after all these years has been a gratifying experience. And that website I linked to with the "real" identities of the Phase 3 heroes was a real eye-opener.

  5. I probably did have to be there at the time. It's just that any series one can only fully appreciate if one looks at the annotations doesn't really hold water for me...

  6. Well I didn't really know at the time who anyone was meant to be based on (I knew nothing about pre-2000AD UK comics), finding out feels like "Added Value". It's interesting but the story for me works even if they were just all made up.

  7. That's good :) Sir Terry Pratchett's stories worked for me when I was seven even though I didn't get any of the references.

  8. I was like that with Monty Python. I enjoyed the slapstick humour as a young teen as I got older and more interested in 20th century history all the satire suddenly got funny for me too.