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Comic Book / Zenith

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"I'm nineteen, I can fly, I can flatten ballbearings between my fingers and I'm practically invulnerable to damage. I mean, let's face it... what can possibly go wrong?"
Zenith, tempting fate

A Super Hero Deconstruction comic created by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. Zenith follows teen superhuman turned pop star Robert MacDowell, more popularly known as his stage name "Zenith" or "Superbrat" to the press. Superficial and spoilt rotten, Zenith is recruited by the previous generation of superhumans to fight against the Lloigor. Unfortunately, as cowardly and inept as he is, Zenith is mostly reduced to being a supporting character in his own comic.

The series was initially published in 2000 AD, spanning four "phases" between 1987 and 1992. Phase III is particularly notable, since it takes place across The Multiverse and featured a multitude of classic British superheroes, both named and ersatz. An incomplete list can be found here.

Zenith provides examples of:

  • The '60s: Referenced often and contrasted with The '80s and The '90s.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The epilogue to Phase II is punctuated by Zenith silently visiting the corpses of Phaedra and his parents before flying off back to London.
  • After the End: Phase IV's framing device is set during a period when the world has essentially been consumed by alien monsters, who are now gestating in the sun. One human being is still alive, writing a pointless memoir of the final days of the universe. Subverted, as it's not actually our universe.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Used twice. First breaking into Wallace International and again into the Antarctic base.
  • Alliterative Name: William Whitlock a.k.a. Maximan.
  • Alternate History: World War II ends when the atomic bomb is dropped on Berlin.
  • And This Is for...: "The name's Zenith. And this is for Siadwel Rhys."
  • An Ice Person: DJ Chill has cold powers and can reduce the temperature of his targets. As Slipstream finds out, force fields don't stop him from manipulating the temperature inside them.
  • Beware the Superman: A major theme. Zenith himself, while reviled by high-minded music critics for his shallow style and creative output, elicits no fear in the public and CIA agent Phaedra who originally hated him by virtue of being superhuman gradually forgets he is one because of how normal and personable he acts.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Phase III.
  • Blind Seer: Maximan of Alternative 23. He even has a raven perched on his shoulder.
  • Brains and Brawn: Zenith and St. John.
  • Break Them by Talking: How Zenith convinces Wallace to stop his missile strike. And without his telepathy, no less.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Zenith. He's pound for pound one of the strongest superhumans in the series in terms of raw power and his mental faculties aren't wanting either; Peter St John, the comic's master manipulator, outright praises Zenith for more or less foreseeing the social media scene and expresses some disquiet that he sees through his illusions and schemes that manage to fool people "smarter" than him.
  • British Rockstar: When he first appears, Zenith's the world's only active superhuman. And he's more interested in his pop career than being any sort of hero. It's implied that he's not actually that talented a musician, but the branding makes up for it.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Zenith's powers are tied to his biorhythms, meaning they wax and wane on a roughly monthly schedule. At certain times, he's essentially powerless.
    • Peyne and Wallace attempt to weaponize this against Zenith, by working out his biorhythm chart according to his birthdate and kidnapping him when he's at his weakest. Unfortunately for them, that isn't Zenith's actual birthdate. He told the press he was born on January 8th because it's Elvis Presley's birthday.
  • Callback: The two scenes of Masterman about to kill Maximan/Zenith are nearly identical. Even Masterman's dialogue is similar.
  • Car Fu: Grant Morrison superheroes love chucking vehicles at each other. A bus, a Weetabix van and even an aeroplane get this treatment.
  • Civvie Spandex: Zenith's ensemble. St. John doesn't even bother with a mask or logo, preferring a flight suit and combat boots combo.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The miniature universe of Chimera.
  • Chest Insignia: Zenith's lighting-bolt "Z". Vertex has a "V" in a similar style.
  • The Cracker: Scott Wallace leaves a back door in software he wrote for a nuclear submarine.
  • Curse Cut Short: The Wyvern's last words.
  • Dangerous Drowsiness: Dr Michael Peyne is cursed with an accelerating case of Merlin Sickness by the victorious Lloigor, and though he initially feels energized by his newfound youth, his Apocalyptic Log soon mentions how tired he's started to feel as he re-enters his childhood. Eventually reduced to scrawling badly-spelled notes in a barely-legible scrawl, a very young Peyne admits that he's too tired to write anymore and needs to lie down. When Ruby finally arrives to say goodbye, he's little more than a baby sleeping under his adult-sized shirt, and soon succumbs to Death by De-aging.
  • Demonic Possession: Superhumans possessed by the Lloigor.
  • Death by De-aging: The ultimate fate of Dr. Payne's Merlin Sickness: deaging until he's reduced to a baby, then fetus, then embryo, then nothing.
  • De-power: Cloud 9 claim to have lost their powers. They're lying, though they are a bit rusty.
  • Defector from Decadence: Peter St John refuses to abandon London like the royal family and the rest of the government to avoid the coming nuclear strike they've condemned the rest of the city to, opting to stay behind on the slimmest of chances that he'll be powerful enough to stop the missiles.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Always "superhumans", never "superheroes".
  • Domino Mask: Part of Zenith's costume. He doesn't actually have a secret identity; it's just for the aesthetics.
  • Dreadful Musician: Much of Zenith's music has been described as "cynically marketed, mass-market pap without an ounce of credibility or invention" by his detractors.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Peter St John's prophetic dream of the black sun.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Chaostructor. A bomb powerful enough to annihilate a world, yet small enough to fit in your pocket. The timer mechanism breaks easily, though.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Lloigor.
  • Eldritch Location: Four-dimensional space.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Zenith's first feat of superhuman might? Protecting his grandmother from a brutish CIA operative when he was just a lad.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Peter St John is a manipulative, pragmatic scoundrel, but no matter the era or incarnation, he is most definitely not on board with the plan his Cloud 9 colleagues cooked up despite how advantageous it would be for him personally.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Hotspur, paralysed by the Lloigor, blinks in Morse Code to communicate with Big Ben.
  • Evil Twin: Zenith's counterpart Vertex from Alternative 300. Of course, since Zenith is shallow and unpleasant while Vertex is amicable and well-mannered, this means Vertex is the good twin.
  • Eye Beams: Quite a few of the superhumans use these, including Masterman, the Lion, the Unicorn and Mr. Why.
  • Fate Worse than Death: This happened to Dr Beat, Zenith's father. He barely survived an assassination attempt but was left critically injured, and was turned into the nearly mindless cyborg Warhead
  • Fetus Terrible:
    Dr. Peyne: I was forced to shoot the sixth baby. It was an appalling, skinless creature with a dozen mouths that whimpered and bit the midwives.
  • Flying Brick: Lux and Zenith are two of the clearest examples. While there are other superhumans with the strength, toughness and flight to qualify (including some of the Lloigor hosts on alternate worlds), most prefer to rely on some sort of energy attack.
  • Ghost Planet: Any of the Lloigor's alternative worlds.
  • Going Commando: Maximan 23 isn't wearing anything under that robe of his, flashing everyone below him as he addresses the room, but Zenith seems to be the only one that cares.
  • Government Conspiracy: Peter St John is one of these all by himself.
  • Guile Hero: Zenith and Peter St John. They're more about the guile than the hero aspect of this trope though.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Tammy and Vertex both detonate chaostructors to destroy the universes they’re in, annihilating themselves along with their foes.
  • How We Got Here: Phase IV as narrated by Dr. Peyne.
  • Human Popsicle: Masterman's twin was kept frozen from the end of World War II until the start of the first arc.
  • Idiot Savant: Zenith may have the attention span of a sparrow but he demonstrates good business sense.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Zenith can pluck the metal studs from his jacket and flick them at enemies at high speeds.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Many of Zenith's most notable companions are of a much older pedigree than his including Acid Archie, Peter St. John, Eddie Mcphail, and Big Ben. On his part, St. John liked Zenith enough to speak warmly about him in his posthumously published memories, even going so far as to declassify that it was Zenith who prevented nuclear armageddon in Phase Two.
  • Internal Reformist: It is hinted at times that Peter St. John hasn't renounced his former 1960s hippy ideals as much as he might protest, but has simply decided that the best way to truly implement them is to become the establishment and make it work better from within.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Zenith might be a jerk, but he's not a bad guy and has been known to comfort people in distress in his own rough way.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: As the story moved from the 80s to the 90s, and 2000AD introduced colour printing, Steve Yowell's evocative monochrome artwork of Phases I-III suddenly became colour in Phase IV.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Phase III, populated with classic British superheroes.
  • Merlin Sickness: Chimera!Peyne's fate. The last human, aging backwards in a strange and desolate world reshaped by his creations.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Peyne. Zenith likens the name to a James Bond villain.
  • New Era Speech: Several, all by villains. Zenith lampshades the latest one to occur in Phase IV.
  • The Night That Never Ends: The black sun.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Evil hippie millionaire Scott Wallace is a blatant caricature of Richard Branson.
  • Number of the Beast: Alternative 666 is the first world to fall to the Lloigor.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Zenith. Word of God says that he masks his actual intelligence level so people won't demand so much of him and on the off chance he'll have to outfox those people sometime down the line. Case in point, when Peyne catches him reading a book, he flippantly throws it away and acts like nothing had happened.
  • Offing the Offspring: What's left of Zenith's father tries to kill him as Warhead in Phase II. Zenith unknowingly helps defeat his son Iok Sotot in Phase I.
  • Old Shame: In-Universe: Peter St John seems genuinely ashamed of having been the super-hippy Mandala in the '60s; Being such a prominent anti-establishment figure would indeed have been a very unusual history for a Conservative minister in the Margaret Thatcher era of Real Life, but given that absolutely everybody knows he was Mandala, and that the press never seem to mention him without pointing it out, it goes far beyond fear of public embarrassment, becoming something much more personal, as if he can't quite believe he ever behaved that way.
  • Older and Wiser: Zenith circa 2017 in the Permission to Land epilogue. Although his interviewer (read: writer) is skeptical as to how authentic this is as he's feigned maturity and introspection before.
  • One-Winged Angel: Iok Sotot.
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: Thunderbolt Jaxon's belt only works "for the purposes of right and justice". It doesn't work because of the Unwitting Pawn plan.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: Zenith doesn't care much for the polite and friendly Vertex, describing the experience of their first meeting as "horrible."
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Prime Minister Peter St John is definitely a President Action willing to get his hands dirty, with a bit of President Evil mixed in.
  • Parental Incest: Sort of. Zenith is "bred" with a clone of his mother but takes it surprisingly well.
  • Posthuman Nudism: Phase IV belatedly reveals that the Lloigor were once human, more specifically, the superhero team Cloud 9. When the newly-ascended Lloigor are first witnessed emerging from the Black Sun, they the form of stark naked, glowing, angelic recreations of their human selves, albeit with no hair, no pupils, no nipples and no genitals; however, they soon take on their Lovecraftian forms. In the aftermath, their representative Ruby Fox will occasionally revert to humanoid form in order to give the doomed Michael Peyne a comprehensible face to talk to in his final days - but even then, that doesn't extend to wearing clothes.
  • Psychic Powers: Peter St John at first. By Phase IV, all the superhumans have them as well as some humans.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Zenith is forced to kill what's left of his braindead father to protect himself at the end of Book II.
  • Shooting Superman: A man driven insane by grief shoots Zenith at point-blank range with a bazooka. It doesn't even muss his hair.
  • Sigil Spam: Robert blitzes many of his clothes and furnishings with his trademark lighting bolt "Z".
  • Silver Vixen: When Ruby's youth is restored early in Book III, Zenith takes a moment to tastefully admire the change.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Zenith flies Red Dragon above the clouds and drops him in the hope that he will remember how to fly before he hits the ground.
  • Sistine Steal: Dr. Peyne and Zenith. From the shape of the hands, Peyne is the Creator, but the panel is flipped horizontally, putting Zenith in God's position.
  • Something Person: Masterman, Maximan, Cat Girl, Fishboy, Tri-man, Oakman and Electroman.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: While he does go through a truly staggering amount of superhuman abuse over the course of his series, besieged by troubles that would send a typical superhero (both his contemporaries and those who would come after him) into an existential crisis, Zenith manages to walk away with his sanity, principles, and life intact.
  • The Stoner: Archie. Robot Archie.
  • Straight Gay: Eddie, Zenith's agent.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: This is what makes Zenith unique compared to other superhumans, he was born with his powers rather than being given them through the Maximan serum.
  • Super Serum: The Maximan serum.
  • Take Over the World: Scott Wallace's plan. He relents when asked the obvious question. This was also the original plan of Cloud 9 before they decided to take it even further.
  • Take That!: Morisson loves to take jabs at the British Conservative Party.
    • Scott Wallace and the Lloigor are fairly transparent thematic stand-ins for Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen. Zenith manages to find a way to beat them both.
  • Tell Me About My Father: Zenith's only motivation in Phase I. He gets an answer in Phase II.
  • Training Montage: Red Dragon's rehabilitation.
  • Troll: Zenith lives up to his moniker of "Superbrat", but most of his gross acts of flippant rudeness are meant to either throw people off balance or make them think less of him so they'll lower their guard.
  • Übermensch: Masterman, the Nazi superhuman.
  • Unnervingly Heartwarming: In his final moments before his Death By De Aging, Dr Peyne visited by Ruby Fox, Mouth of Sauron to the Lloigor; she apparently wanted to say goodbye, and even appears to comfort the baby that he's become. This might seem heartwarming at first... but even if this moment wasn't delivered by a stark-naked Humanoid Abomination, it swiftly becomes clear that she's just gloating over a dying victim, her tone swinging from condescendingly soothing to smugly sadistic. The scene ends with Ruby throwing baby Payne into the air, where he shrinks into a fetus and vanishes.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Surprisingly for a Grant Morrison comic. In volume 3, Zenith is propositioned by Metamaid, an attractive superheroine. After Zenith finds out, he passes the buck to the naive young superhero TNT Tom by suggesting that he and Metamaid might like to get acquainted. At least it apparently ends happily for both parties.
    Zenith: TNT Tom left with a smile on his face, mind...
  • Unwitting Pawn: Phase III, where the Lloigor pose as Maximan to trick the superhumans into doing their dirty work.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Peter St John, who abuses his powers to gain - and keep - the position of Prime Minister.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Chimera.
  • Wandering Walk of Madness: During Phase IV, Dr Michael Peyne is left as the last survivor of the Lloigors' conquest of Earth, condemned to live out the rest of his days stranded in their hellish capital city with an accelerating case of Merlin Sickness. With nothing else to do but wait to die, Peyne fills his days with meaningless obsessions: apart from writing an Apocalyptic Log that he knows that nobody will ever read, he also begins compulsively walking through the city, a nightmarish experience - but one that he can't bear to stop because it's all he has left. The younger he gets, the walks get progressively easier, but he draws progressively closer to losing his adult mind.
  • Weak, but Skilled: All of St. John's fellow superhuman had telepathic powers like he did, but he worked the hardest to master them best.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Peter St John doesn't. The other surviving members of Cloud 9 would like to very much.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Peyne thinks that Zenith is secretly an inhuman superpowered sociopath, but in spite of all he goes through across the various "Phases", Robert remains a fairly shallow and harmless (if intelligent and superpowered) musician with a basic moral compass.
  • You Are Too Late: Phase IV has the fourth kind. The Lloigor unwittingly take over the Chimera universe after Peter St John traps them there.
  • You Have Failed Me: Greta Haas.