Review by Ian Keogh
Zenith was introduced as a self-centred nineteen year old with super powers inherited from his parents who’d only ever used those powers to promote his recording career. Now, he’s not only met some superheroes who fought alongside his parents back in the day, but experienced a sharp learning curve when an other dimensional demon arrived on Earth. Still, apart from a curiosity about his disappeared parents, he assumes he’s done his bit and life will resume as before. He’s due a shock.
While still readable, Zenith Phase One was a more or less straight superhero story, bright and new in 1987, but magpie-picked for a decade after, meaning it’s no longer as fresh and original. It’s more difficult to do that with Phase Two as Morrison invests more of himself, from dry, witty comments to a greater focus on the supporting cast, although look to Mark Millar’s later Kingsman for a similar villain. Accompanying that are interesting methods of storytelling, such as an entire chapter with Zenith absent from his weekly serialised series, replaced by four pages looking in on three simultaneous events. Morrison’s also feeding Steve Yeowell clever visual cues, which Yeowell interprets well, such as the flying figures on the sample art. They’re there, but placed so that they don’t draw great attention.
When reprinted in trades in the late 1980s, Phase Two was split over Zenith Book Two and Zenith Book Three, and this edition uses copied art from these books without any restoration. It’s a poor decision, never mind for a £20 hardcover, as it muddies Yeowell’s art, and he’s a gloriously precise artist. Some lines drop out and others merge, so it does him no favours.
Morrison keeps a bigger plot boiling with prologue and epilogue chapters while filling the middle ground with the threat of nuclear missiles aimed at London, a very 1980s fear. As that’s returned, perhaps there’ll be a Smiths revival as well. 2000AD covers from the original serialisation are supplied alongside those from American reprints, these not by Yeowell and nowhere near his quality. There’s also a strip giving information about Zenith growing up. As drawn by Spanish artist Manuel Carmona, it’s very old fashioned, and as titled, just an interlude.
Phase Two doesn’t push the boundaries too far, but still effectively distances the strip from Phase One in what’s still a smart, fun extrapolation of 1980s fears and culture. Zenith Phase Three introduces the multiverse.