I’m old enough to remember Zenith from the pages of 2000AD when it was first published in 1987. Superheroes were still largely played straight, though both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had been published. According to Wikipedia, Grant Morrison has been quoted as suggesting that he wanted to do something different to these comparatively po-faced takes on superheroes, though there’s undoubtedly influences from both in here, with heroes coming out of retirement to face down an old evil.
Initially it seems like this old evil might simply be a Nazi ubermensch (and the there are comparisons to be made with the background story of Zenith and the much more recently published Uber). However, this soon turns out to be a bigger, darker, more Lovecraftian enemy; a concept that will continue to appear in Morrison’s stories over the years to come. Old superheroes are dragged up and the new generation (Zenith himself) is an unwilling participant, because he’s more interested in carrying on with his pop-star career than risking his life fighting baddies.
For 2000AD, Zenith was a brave move. It doesn’t particularly fall into its science fiction remit and takes the superhero genre head-on, which the comic had previously shied away from given the relative saturation of the market.
Zenith‘s plot is familiar now, because so many other stories have gone down the same path in the relentless pursuit of new things to do with superheroes. As one of the first to dig a bit deeper into the superhero psyche and experiment with it, it should be applauded. However, nearly thirty years on, this hasn’t stood the test of time in the same way that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns have.