COMIC BOOK REVIEW: ZENITH PHASE 3 / AUTHOR: GRANT MORRISON / ARTIST: STEVE YEOWELL / PUBLISHER: 2000AD GRAPHIC NOVELS / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 9TH
The latest collection of Zenith strips from 2000AD collects together episodes published between 1989 and 1990. In this Phase 3, the plot is stripped back to a simple but epic story: a multi-dimensional war between a vast collection of superheroes from across reality fighting a battle against the Lloigor. The Lloigor are waiting for a conjunction of worlds, an opportunity to transcend to an even higher level of reality. The only way the heroes can save the whole of reality is to disturb the alignment at the cost of the total destruction of several worlds. This, then, is a large, morally complex story, and not something Zenith has had to face before.
The action covers a range of worlds, a set of characters too large to remember and much violence, philosophising, death, destruction and betrayal. It is also, at 144 pages, somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Where Zenith Phase 1 was brilliant, and Phase 2 compact yet took the character in a new, credible direction, this is at times a rambling soap opera of a tale without a clear narrative core.
In the main, comic strips are designed to be self-contained, entertaining and occasionally thought provoking. Any larger narrative is kept away from the weekly bursts of adventure, peeking round the corners at appropriate times. Collected together, these stories don’t work well as a single piece. There is a lot of exposition oft repeated – something needed in a strip read over many months but less satisfying when consumed over a few days.
There is too much to look at, too many characters. Like a soap opera, Zenith Phase 3 has become a set of instalments in a much-loved universe, making sense piece by piece but failing as a larger ensemble. Zenith himself gets lost in the mix, and frequently confused with a lookalike from another reality. It isn’t until the final few episodes that a story emerges, and once again it is the St John figure who is pivotal in events.
It’s not all bad, and there is plenty to enjoy along the way, including a flower-power robot riding on a dinosaur – an unforgettable image. The prose is sharp and there are many moments of wit and well-observed incidents. Sadly the central plot is flimsy, the betrayals obvious and the ending can’t come soon enough. The moral dilemma of destroying worlds to save others isn’t tackled head-on, another failing.
The book ends with the light relief of a short, full-colour set of pages very much in the style of a psychedelic experience in Alice’s Wonderland. It puts the rest of the book in sharp relief.
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