Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lovecraftian Thing a Day No.210: Zenith

Grant Morrison's Zenith is not only one of my favourite Lovecaftian comic-strips, but one of my favourite comic series of all time. First appearing in 2000AD in 1987, Zenith commences with a remarkable scene depicting Nazi superhero Masterman about to defeat his British counterpart in the ruins of 1945 Berlin - moments before the Americans drop the first atomic bomb on the city. This sets the scene for a decades-long Nazi conspiracy - about to reach fruition in late 1980s London - involving an occult programme underpinning Nazi racial policy to create superhuman meatsuits for the Lloigor or 'Many-Angled Ones' of Lovecraft's tales (I've always felt it was something of a shame that Morrison didn't push the race issue here, given the source material...)

In any case, the focal point of all this is the eponymous Zenith: a young and hip 80s popstar with inherited superpowers who is far more interested in being photographed by the paparazzi at high profile media events than saving the world. As such, the series is as much a commentary on the superficiality of celebrity culture and the MTV generation, as well as on the social and economic erosion instigated by the neoliberal policies of the Reagan-Thatcher era (one of the key characters is a retired superhero who has become a high-ranking minister in the Conservative Party), as it is about superheroes battling interdimensional horrors. In this regard Zenith Hasn't aged that well: the kind of neo-con/neoliberal ideology presented in its pages seems rather quaint and nostalgic in comparison to the truely monstrously Lovecaftian standards of today's neoliberal right-wingers...but I digress. It is, indeed, very much a product of its time: as with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (both of which also appeared in '86/'87), Zenith subverts typical superhero tropes to re-examine the moral relationship between power and responsibility - but on this occasion via a morally-disorienting encounter with Lovecraftian nihilsm. To my mind this is where Zenith as a series really shines, veering as it does into some very dark and horrifying territory as the truely cosmic scope of the Lloigor's plans are revealed, and (in its later phases) protaganists are forced into monstrous undertakings to defeat them - including (SPOILER ALERT) the destruction of entire universes. Quite literally, the moral distiction between gods and monsters - between superheroes and the quasi-divine cosmic awfulness of the Many-Angled Ones - is called into question. Great stuff.

Zenith is now available in multi-volume graphic novel form both in hardcopy and in ebook format from the usual suspects (Amazon, iTunes, etc.).

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