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The (In)Complete Zenith - A Review

posted 30 Aug 2013 18:33 by Ben Hansom   [ updated 16 Sep 2013 05:21 ]
So, Rebellion were kind enough to send me a review PDF of their upcoming The Complete Zenith book and I'm going to take a look at it, warts and all, and let you know what I think.  Before I do though it's probably worth mentioning that I'm not really going to talk about the well-publicized and ongoing ownership issue at all.  There are plenty of other places around the internet where you can read interpretations of the ongoing legal issues - I'd particularly recommend Laura Sneddon's 'MAD MENTAL CRAZY! The True Life of the Fabulous Zenith' series over at The Beat for a comprehensive take on one side of the argument.  A very different reading of the same set of facts can be had over at the 2000 AD Forums, where I think it's fair to say Morrison's claim of ownership is seen by the collective in a much murkier light.

Did I buy the book?  Yes.  Do I feel guilty about it?  A little bit, though Rebellion have confirmed that they will be paying royalties to both Steve Yeowell and Grant Morrison (should the book actually make it to publication).  I bought a copy of the one that was stashed in a warehouse and intended never to see the light of day as well, and nobody got paid any royalties on that. 

"No shame that one, no shame at all..."

Anyway, enough of the preamble.  Let's look at the book (or a close digital approximation of it) shall we?
THE GOOD

Obviously, the best thing about the book is that it reprints in full all four Phases and the accompanying interludes, almost all of which have been (officially) unavailable for the best part of 20 years.  The two colour pages in Phase I (printed on the back pages of the original Progs) are printed in full colour rather than the muddy greyscale reproduction that's been par for the course in previous collections.  These pages and the first page of 'Interlude 3: Maximan' (originally printed in the 1988 Winter Special) are the only colour story pages for the first 300-plus pages of this 480 page book, which is a little jarring, though I think Rebellion should be applauded for sticking with the original versions throughout, rather than tinker in the name of 'consistency'. 

Phase IV - the only Phase from the original run that was printed in full colour - has genuinely never looked better.  Gina Hart's colouring looks magnificent - better even than the original Progs.  I assume Rebellion have some sort of colour plates that they've cleaned up and scanned this Phase from as it really does look the business. 

I don't think any of the reproduction is from the original art - Phase II has a 'continued in Zenith Book 3' flash at the halfway point so presumably at least the first half of it was scanned from the old Titan collection.  Phase I is purely black and white line-art and the reproduction there is absolutely fine, though in places the contrast could be sharper.  Steve Yeowell starts using greyscale in the art for Phases II and III and the reproduction there is not so hot, though the moire effects visible in the PDF could very well be an issue confined to the digital version.  Let's give Rebellion the benefit of the doubt on that one eh?

The extras included run to a good chunk of pages, with cover galleries, Star Scans, a double-page Sean Phillips pin-up I've never seen before and samples of Steve Yeowell's preliminary designs (though I suspect the unused Warhead design might be Grant's work rather than Steve's).  I don't know for sure but I think all of the Yeowell designs are from the Titan trades. I don't know if there's much (or any) new sketch material that hasn't been seen before in previous collections.

Design wise, the book looks great.  Each Phase is separated by a filler page that mirrors the design of the endpapers - plain black with a ghosted figure taken from the interior artwork of that Phase. And the text-free cover looks pretty hot as well.



THE BAD

It's not all hearts and flowers though.  Probably the most glaringly 'bad' thing about The Complete Zenith is that it's not complete.  Here's a brief run through of the few bits that are missing, ranging from "I can imagine why they didn't put that in" to "Wahh?!?" -

  • Grant's introduction, giving a little context to the creation of Zenith (and a huge tip of the hat to Brendan McCarthy), previously printed in both the original Titan Phase I collection and the ill-fated 2001 reprint.  Curiously, there's no sign of Steve Yeowell's more process/design-based introductions from the other Titan books either.
  • The original Brendan McCarthy Zenith designs (though you can see those Marvels of the Age over at Steve Cook's blog)
  • 'A Midsummer Night's Scene', a one page Zenith strip from the 1988 2000AD Sci-Fi Special.  Why on earth would you omit this?  It's one page!
  • The full page 'Next Prog' advert from Prog 534
  • The Robot Archie Star Scan from Prog 647 (which was included previously in Titan's Zenith Book 4)
  • The printed covers for Prog 627 and The Best of 2000AD #110.  Both the reproductions here are work in progress versions (627 is all washed out colours and #110 has no background)
  • There's also none of Steve Yeowell's Zenith work from outside of 2000 AD - convention programs, artwork for interviews, fanzine covers etc. - or any of the fabulous commissions he's done over the last few years.

Less obvious from the digital version of the book is concerns over the size of it.  If the dimensions given by Rebellion are for the book itself and not the artwork inside (which would be the standard - advertising a book's dimensions less the gutters surrounding the artwork would be deeply weird) then this is by some margin the smallest reprint of Zenith we've ever had.  It's pretty difficult to gauge this one accurately - the actual artwork (not including the gutters) at 100% magnification of the PDF is roughly the size that the book is listed at, so it may well have been a misprint.  If the advertised dimensions are right, this is how the book compares to the old Titan version -

(Also firmly in the 'Bad' camp is, of course, Mark Millar's dreadful Zenith: Tales of the Alternate Earths, which should be forbidden by law from sharing a binding with Zenith proper)




THE UGLY

Flattered as I am, you need to lose my name printed in 96 point type as a watermark on every page.  I just don't think the general audience will get as much as a kick out of it as me guys...

But seriously, there is one minor complaint on the ugly front.  All of the 'Next Prog' boxes have been either cropped or Photoshopped out of the last page of each episode of Phase I (where they were all song titles that bore no relation to the actual name of the following episode), Phase III (ditto but TV shows rather than songs) and Phase IV (though they were slightly less exciting there, matching up to what the following episode was actually called).  Why?  I have no idea.  They're there in all the previous reprintings, why get rid of them now?  And if you're absolutely adamant you're going to get rid of them, why leave them in Phase II??



So, there you have it.  Hopefully that's given you a better idea of what is (and isn't) actually in the book and you can now make a fully informed decision on whether to buy it or,,,  Oh yeah, sorry.  Bit late for that now isn't it?  I suppose the only question that matters at this point is whether I think it's worth £100 or not (based purely on the contents rather than the physical object of course).  Unfortunately the answer to that one is "No, I don't think it's worth £100.  For a book?  Are you insane??".

After dropping the cash on the book - despite the fact that I have all of the Progs and at least 5 other collected versions of Phase I, I thought it might be interesting/heartbreaking/soul-destroying to visit a few other sites and see what other Morrison goodness I could have bought for my £106 (including postage).  Here's what I could have won -

(These are all genuine eBay auctions or Amazon prices I spotted in 2 weeks at the start of July this year.  If I wasn't so lazy, I'd link to the finished auctions and stuff)
  • The Invisibles Omnibus (£56) AND Absolute Final Crisis (£48)
  • All 4 Deluxe JLA hardcovers (£56) AND both Seven Soldiers hardcovers (£40)
  • All of Grant Morrison's Batman run collected in the best format currently available, including Absolute Batman and Robin and the second, yet to be released Batman Inc. v2 hardcover (£104)
  • Every single installment of Zenith in the original progs (or Phase I and II in the old Best of 2000 ADs) and probably another 200 issues of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic on top.
So when you look at it like that... No, this is absolutely not good value for money, unless the book itself is printed on gold leaf, or made out of high-grade cocaine, or something.

I'd have liked to have seen Rebellion put just a tiny bit more thought/care/consideration into the book and maybe gone an extra mile to find some stuff that no-one's seen before; or at least make a comprehensive volume of all of the stuff we have seen before.  It looks like a quality collection they've put together, but the vastly inflated price unfortunately demands that every nit that can be picked is clawed over and over until only the bare bones remain.  In some ways I kind of understand Rebellion's reticence to throw too much into this; after all, there's still a possibility this book will never reach the printing press, let alone my doorstep (though if even one copy makes it off the presses I'll be hunting it down like a wild dog...)

I'll leave you with a hastily prepared Spotify playlist, in loving memory of the Next Prog boxes from Phase I.  R.I.P...


(According to a brief note from Tharg in a later issue (sorry, don't have the Prog number to hand) 'Hole In My Soul' should have been 'Hole In Your Soul' by ABBA (!). And, even more so than Elton John or Michael Jackson,  I'd highly recommend skipping Zappa's 'City Of Tiny Lites'; it's truly awful)



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