Page 45 Review by Stephen
Socio-political pop satire with superpowers from 1989 of which we are so very fond.
"Zenith! Zenith! We still haven't had a chance to talk..."
"I know. Isn't it brilliant?"
(As they once proudly proclaimed on the back of 2000AD, above a picture of... Zenith's actual back!)
Yes, Zenith is back and his ego and quiff are bigger than ever. One of Britain's slickest black and white artists, Steve Yeowell, has now reached his apogee and he'll stay there for a very long time. Zenith's individual hair strands whooshing away in the wind now have a life of their own, often dangling down, segmented like fine crab's legs with two or three points of articulation.
Yeowell's deploying his shadows with increasingly instinctive confidence to maximum expressionistic effect. On the very third page there's a shot of speedster Jimmy Quick from the back, breaking the sound barrier and positively bursting the black background in his wake, shouting, "Go!" The exhortation is mirrored by a second "GO!" this time much, much larger, printed on the front of Jimmy's t-shirt as he charges towards us and almost out of the page. The two panels are divided by a third slim shot of two silhouetted miscreants hovering above him: "Oh, look. Let's kill it."
They're determined to stop the speedster dead in his tracks and prevent a message from Alternative Earth 666, devastated by conquest, from reaching another. We first see one of the possessed on the opening page, and dang if she doesn't look like a young Siouxsie Sioux.
Previously in ZENITH: Britain came under attack from the many-angled ones, the dark gods called the Lloigor, bent on possessing all and eradicating choice. They were prevented by the only active metahuman: an egomaniacal, perpetually preening pop star called Zenith. A rather reluctant hero, he thankfully found back-up in the form of the few surviving superheroes from the previous generation who'd been keeping their still-glowing lights hidden under their bushels. Also: Richard Branson tried to bomb London.
This time Zenith seems a little more keen on making an effort but only to avoid having to lip-synch on kids' TV.
"Miming in front of a crowd of brainless pre-school brats... Is this what my career's come to?"
"Well, get them while they're young."
"My last two singles have been total disasters, Eddie. I mean, what's it going to be next? Singing carols with the Blue Peter dog? Opening the new branch of Tesco in Hartlepool?"
Zenith stairs into the existential abyss...
That's when Archie, the "mad mental crazy" anarchist robot bursts through Zenith's front door screaming "ACCIIEEEEEED!" and you can almost hear the soundtrack.
Before we continue, there's another element of Steve Yeowell's art which shines through here (the reproduction on glossy, bleed-free paper is infinitely better than then last attempt at a reprint over twenty years ago): the erosion of form by light. Subtle things like only the shadows under Spring-Heeled Jack's boot laces showing, their tops remaining lineless. Oh, and Zenith's studded, black leather jacket.
Archie, Mantra, DJ Chill and Domino from Alternative Earth 68's Black Flag have been dispatched by Maximan to fetch as many superheroes from Earths not yet enslaved by the Lliogor to a base of operations on Alternative 23 called the Axis Mundi, a tower Maximan has created by the power of his will. This is not the Maximan you may have encountered before, but a hermit-like sage in a robe, his eyes blindfolded by cloth. His speech flutters, qualified with synonyms and "thank you"s. He declares that The Alignment is imminent: a precise arrangement of alternate worlds to form The Omnihedron. What will happen then he doesn't claim to know but the Lliogor seem keen so it's bound to be catastrophic. To prevent this the hundred or so heroes must destroy two Earths crucial to this Alignment which have already been conquered by the Lliogor. Their singularly powerful superheroes have been possessed, blasting the world into post-war ruins, leaving corpses cluttering up the streets and creating people farms - concentration camps. One of those two is Alternative 666, which is where we came in.
I don't want to take you much further, but Morrison lays the groundwork for so many of the twists very early on, then hides them under distractions, often comedic like Zenith encountering his own much more considerate counterpart, Vector (the only visual difference is the V rather than Z on his black t-shirt) and taking and instant, dismissive dislike to the poor chap's kindness.
"... That was horrible..."
With 25 chapters first published over a half-year period in 2000AD, it's longer than you might imagine and some of those chapters climax with such breath-taking timing you'd be left mind-blown for the whole seven days, desperate to know whether what you had seen was as final as it looked.