2000 AD Prog Slog

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Prog 806 24/10/92

Well it turns out that the many angled one from Zenith Phase I, the Lloigor, the terrifying presence that occupies all space and all time or something, was the next evolutionary step for Doctor Peyne’s superhumans, I think. In Zenith Phase IV, the superhumans of Earth, except for Zenith himself and Prime Minister Peter St. John, decide that it’s their right to take over the world and, ultimately, the universe. They kill St. John, they kill Zenith, they reshape the world then reshape it again, they fly through the black sun into another dimension and when they return they are beings of pure consciousness. The only surviving witness to it all is their creator, Doctor Michael Peyne, who tries to make sense of events by writing a journal, starting out as an old man, he gets younger the more he writes, ends up as a twinkle in an eye and then as nothing.

I think Zenith Phase IV might be one of the best strips to ever appear in 2000 AD and I’m not just saying this to piss those of you off that have never read it and can’t because it remains out of print due to a dispute between writer Grant Morison and Tharg over ownership. It’s a culmination of all the themes and ideas established by Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell in the previous books so eloquently and confidently told. The ideas are big and mind bending but the humanity remains thanks to methods like extracts from Peyne’s diary appearing throughout. It’s weird and very affecting. Yeowell’s art is great, the best it’s been. He renders the characters and the ideas with absolute clarity and distinction. Morrison’s writing is assured, brilliantly paced, poetic and leaves me in awe.

When I re-read Phase I for The Slog, I thought of it as a tribute to the first Marvel Man book by Alan Moore, Gary Leach and Alan Davis. By the end of Phase IV, Zenith has transcended its source, becoming an altogether more imaginative and satisfying reading experience. Where Moore in his superhero comics of the eighties seemed self conscious of his association with the genre Morrison wants everyone to know that he loves them. When Morrison writes them, I do.

(A couple of observations; in the epilogue, Labour Party leader John Smith dies of a heart attack which, eerily, actually happens less than eighteen months after publication. Okay, I think he might have had a history of heart trouble and so foreseeing such a thing might not have been entirely ridiculous but still, it’s made me wary of Morrison whenever I read in interviews about his interest in magic. It’s made me think that the ex-hippy, suave and success hungry St. John might have been better represented as a member of New Labour instead of a Tory.)

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  • I thought the ending to Phase IV was pure genius but I recall some letter page fury about it.

    By Blogger Derek, at 6:38 pm  

  • Steve Yeowell's art on this series was fantastic. Incredibly graphic and broken down to it's bare bones; I think it would have even brought a smile to Alex Toth's lips!

    Your making me want to dig out all my old 2000AD's Paul!

    By Blogger Lubbert Das, at 9:15 pm  

  • And of course when the Slog reaches Prog 2001 you'll realise how prescient that last comment was...

    By Blogger Dr Robert Willis, Phd, at 12:46 am  

  • Regarding what you were saying in the previous entry, Zenith mentioning 'This is like dodgy E' was a suggestion that 2000 AD's readership was getting a bit older. Although Zenith was always slightly ahead of that curve, what with its transexuals, incest and (implied) very bad language.

    It's a shame phase 4 was coloured though, since the way Steve Yeowell was using black and white during phase 3 was in the same league as V for Vendetta and I'd like to have seen more of his work done in that style. It was nevertheless a fine end to the series from both creators.

    By Blogger Tam, at 12:51 pm  

  • Derek, I'll look for the letter page fury in The Slog... Although I find the letters hard work these days...

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:29 pm  

  • Hi Lubbert. Yeah, Yeowell's art is great. The best he has done up to that point.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:31 pm  

  • Doctor, I don't think The Slog goes as far as 2001.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:32 pm  

  • Tam, I would say that Zenith's maturity is is exactly that; mature. A lot of strips at this time and later feature "grown up" content that is patronising, contentless and gratuitous. Ignoring it being a superhero strip, I would say that Zenith would need little alteration to fit inside the first decade of 2000 AD. Halo Jones is another good example of a mature strip that a twelve year old could like that doesn't offend a right minded parent and that appeared in the first ten years.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:38 pm  

  • I've recently reread the whole of Zenith and, as a whole, it's a fantastic series but I found the Phase IV the weakest of the bunch by quite a distance.

    The actual ending, the way the Lloigor are dealt with, is brilliant and I really can't imagine anyone taking issue with it. However, I think this Phase suffers heavily from too much expository text, too many overlong excerpts from Peyne's book and not enough actual story. It feels like Grant has always had the ending in mind and simply feels pressurised to get it down on paper so the story can be complete. I don't know if there's any significance, but it's interesting that Zenith was barely out of the comic for two years up to the end Phase 3 then there's a two year wait for this conclusion.

    The art I also feel is a step backwards from the monochrome magic that Yeowell had developed by Phase 3. Even discounting the incomprehensible decision to colour it (seriously, who thought that would make it better?) it seems to me that the inks are less expressive and lose a lot of the variation they had in earlier parts.

    Ultimately, below par Zenith is still better than 99% of all other comics that have ever been published. I'm just surprised that you enjoyed this part so much more than I did.

    By Blogger Peter, at 12:28 pm  

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