First Review: The Complete Zenith Hardcover

zenith

Dave Wallace writes;

A complete Zenith collection has long been one of the Holy Grails for comic readers. One of superstar-writer Grant Morrison’s earliest creations, the celebrity-pop-star-wunderkind-cum-superhero saga has of late been endlessly dogged by disputes over who owns the rights to republish the stories originally printed in the pages of 2000AD – meaning that TPB printings of some of the earlier Zenith stories have long been out of print (and commanded ridiculously high prices in the second-hand market), whilst other, later material has never been collected at all.

Well, that’s all changed now, because Rebellion has seen fit to push ahead with printing an elaborate hardcover edition, limited to just 1,000 copies and available for order through the 2000AD shop. At the time of writing, they were down to their last few copies, but by the time you read this they will have likely sold out.

With a projected publication date of December this year (although Rebellion say it could come along a little earlier than that) it’s going to be a long wait before those of us who have put our money down are able to finally read this weighty tome. But Tharg himself has seen fit to offer BleedingCool an early look at the book’s contents. And you don’t say no to Tharg.

First impressions are that this is a pretty substantial book: 480 pages, the vast majority of which are taken up by Morrison’s story, as drawn by his artistic collaborator Steve Yeowell. And as reproductions of nigh-on 30-year-old comics go, Rebellion certainly hasn’t done a shabby job in presenting this material.

With the caveat that I don’t know exactly how the final product will fare in terms of paper stock and physical production values (I’m working from an electronic proof of the final product), Yeowell’s black-and-white linework looks very crisp and clean here, with none of the fuzziness that can sometimes afflict older material. And the format of the book is equally straightforward and unfussy, with each “Phase” of Zenith run as a contiguous story made up of the individual instalments from the original 2000AD progs.

It’s perhaps unnecessary for me to delve too deeply into the story itself at this point, as anyone reading this will either have read it for themselves (in which case you’ll already know how good it is) or will be eagerly awaiting their chance to finally do so in this collection (and if so, I’m not about to spoil it for you here). However, suffice it to say that the book deserves its reputation, both as a story in its own right and as an early entry in Morrison’s superhero canon.

In fact, it’s particularly interesting to look at this series from a historical perspective, as the DNA of countless subsequent Morrison stories is evident here. Whether it’s the other-dimensional evil beings that we’d later see in The Invisibles, the superhero deconstruction that he’d revisit in Animal Man, the misfit sensibilities of Doom Patrol, the teen rebellion of Kill Your Boyfriend or even the 1980s Thatcherite satire of St. Swithin’s Day, it’s easy to see how Zenith prefigured them all.

Aside from the strip itself – all of which is reproduced here, including a couple of one-off appearances in later 2000AD issues that were published long after the main series concluded – there’s a substantial selection of extra material. These involve a text story by Mark Millar, a comprehensive collection of covers from the original 2000AD progs and from various reprint editions (all of which are reproduced in full colour – as are all of the pages of the main strip that appeared in colour when originally printed), a host of pin-ups, and some concept art and sketch material from Yeowell.

Rebellion have clearly made an effort to put together as comprehensive a package as possible for this deluxe collection, and they’ve done a pretty good job – all the way down to the smart black-and-yellow production design that continues throughout the book, in its endpapers and in the breaks between ‘Phases’.

But before I conclude this review, I’d better address one of the elephants still lurking in the room: the price. Is it expensive? Yes. At £100 plus postage – or $150-ish for our American cousins – it’s about as much as I’d ever be prepared to pay for a 480-page book. But as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own such a deluxe presentation of the complete series (Rebellion promise that this book will never be reprinted), it’s impossible for a Morrison fan like me to turn it down.

As for the other elephant in the room – that of creators’ rights, and Morrison dispute with Rebellion over the terms of his contract when he created Zenith – that’s something I’ll leave for individual readers to decide. Personally, though, I’m not going to pass up the chance to own and enjoy this book. And judging by the brisk trade that Rebellion have reported, around nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine other Morrison fans aren’t either.

[Rich adds: I may have to run a The Ethics Of Zenith article to accompany this one. And, you know, if there is no legal challenge, we can probably expect a $30 Zenith paperback at some point...]