Page 45 Review by Stephen
"You don't understand what time can do to people."
"It can make them late."
Perpetually preening, drunk and incorrigibly egotistical, ignorant and easily bored, I basically was young Zenith 25 years ago. I even had the quiff and studded leather jacket. Unfortunately I had none of Zenith's powers nor musical prowess. Actually, I'm not sure Zenith had any musical prowess but as the first phase kicks off he is at number three in the pop charts.
This is even better than I remembered it to be, and I cherished it dearly back then.
On top of its horrific Neo-Nazi / Cthulu antagonists it boasted a strong socio-political context, a deft cultural awareness totally in touch with the zeitgeist (Zenith would reinvent himself during each phase depending on what was the musical movement du jour) and appeared on the page blessed by one of Britain's best-ever artists, Steve Yeowell. His was the shiniest-ever superhero art, bathed in bold black which benefits enormously for the infinitely improved production values, printed on the crispest of paper preventing any bleed.
Trapped in legal hell for 20 years, it's almost as surprising and wondrous to find it back on our shelves as STRAY BULLETS.
It kicks off during WWII with a broadcast of blinding hubris as Britain answers the German threat of Aryan meta-man Masterman with its own meta-human Maximan, himself a sort of blonde English Rose. By the very second page, however, it is clear that Britain has underestimated Masterman by misunderstanding his nature and Maximan lies broken in Berlin. At which point we drop The Bomb on them both. The Bomb, yes.
Cut straight to 1987 and pop star Zenith has been invited onto Good Morning Britain to discuss a book re-evaluating the reputation of Cloud 9 - "the group of British superhumans who were as much of the swinging '60s as The Beatles or Twiggy" - but he's really only interested in flogging his new single. Instead it's the more mature Ruby Fox, former model then known as Cloud 9's own Voltage, who refutes the allegations of self-indulgence by maintaining that they were all ill-prepared victims of an experimental drug, including Zenith's own parents, Dr. Beat and White Heat, who went missing in 1968.
Zenith is now the only known active superhuman and he's only active in ways which enhance his lock-jawed, pop-star, thicker-than-pig-shit career; and only when his fluctuating, monthly biorhythm cycle allows. At its peak he can fly, crush ball bearings and is virtually invulnerable. Well, every 19-year-old feels that way, don't they? Ruby Fox hasn't manifested her electrical energy abilities in years, Siadwell Rhys AKA Wales' pyrokinetic Red Dragon has put himself out with the demon drink and former turned-on, tuned-in and dropped-out Peter St. John AKA Mandala has become a high-rising Tory MP destined almost inevitably for leadership. I wonder if he still has those powers of persuasion? It's funny how former radicals become such reactionaries, isn't it?
I told you this had a socio-political punch.
Meanwhile, as I say, Britain's manufactured response to Nazi Germany's Masterman misunderstood his true nature and Germany had a reputation for using twins. Fräulein Haas and Doctor Driesch have just succeeded in reviving Masterman's twin and in summoning his true power from Overspace using the Ritual of Nine Angles: it has multiple eyes, many mouths, very sharp teeth and the sound of its wings flapping is something that would drive any man or woman insane.
Masterman has now flown to Great Britain, home to the National Front, and has his sights set first on Ruby Fox left all alone and defenceless in her flat
What is so extraordinary about this work - other than its thoroughly entertaining, bright social commentary, good humour and space - is that it was serialised in such short segments in the UK's iconic and enduring weekly comic 2000AD yet feels neither disjointed nor awkwardly compressed when read in this album-sized hardcover. It is as smooth as silk, as rich as Belgian chocolate and as beautiful to behold as anything offered more recently by the artistic masters of the superhero genre, Bryan Hitch, Steve Epting, Michael Larkin, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Deodato, John Romita Jr, Sara Pichelli or Steve Yeowell's contemporary John Byrne.
Eyes, teeth and hair, folks; eyes, teeth and hair. Also, a fine line in fashion.