Zenith: Phase One – The ‘What if’ side of WWII

511Q8QDrO2L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When the subject of World War II and Comic books are mentioned,  the popular images usually display racial caricatures of the Japanese and Germans, heroes delivering a right hook square in the jaw of Adolf Hitler or modern interpretations, such as retelling the holocaust with cats and mice. Comics during the second world war were in what we now consider the Golden Age. Multiple companies came into existence or grew in providence, including Timely, National and MLJ (Marvel, DC and Archie respectfully), waving multiple superhero comics, all ready to boost morality and join the fight by cheering on the tropes and encouraging those at home to help out were ever they could [Howe. 2012]. Chanting catchy slogans across their pages, stating that “each bond you buy, is a bullet in the barrel of your best mans gun” [Johnston. 2011]. The likes of Captain America, sporting the bold red white and blue of the American flag, leaped in to battle. The captain himself became a superhero in a laboratory, using the Super Soldier serum created by German scientist, Abraham Erskine, to transform the frail Steve Rodgers (a stand in for anyone who was unfit to enlist), into an Icon of hope and strength during the horrors of World War II. [Simon, Kirby. 1941][Stern, Byrne. 1981]

Zenith-Phase-One-8-64888The dark times the war brought became the fuel for the young medium to grow, In essence the Nazi threat created many of the heroes that shine across our screens and print today. Morrison has used this notion as literal, creating a reality in which the four colour comics of war time are a near reality. Through the prelude of Zenith, the idea is explored that the experiments run by Nazi scientists created the first superhero, the German Super-Soldier, MasterMan. Providing what Hitler would consider Arian perfection with the power to single handedly bring the world to its knees. Given this reality, the Allies must counter with their own breed of hero, created in partnership with defected German scientist, much in the same vain that defected Soviet and Nazi scientist assisted in the creation of weapons such as the atomic bomb.

The glorification and admiration of veterans in the days following the war playing a parallel to the celebrity status the superheroes (here dubbed the members of Cloud 9) are awarded. With the surviving heroes having seemingly lost their abilities in the passing years, fading away into the rest of the world, somewhat parallels the stagnation of comics in the days following the war. With the war over, heroes were seen as an overly patriotic reminder of what we had overcome and the depths that humanity could sink to. New Artwork-from-emZenith-Pha-001genres were developed, characters given new focus to eventually rise again in the 60s and 80’s. [PBS. 2013] With heroes both old and new regaining the spotlight in various forms, Zenith himself being in this vain. Not only displaying his ability as a super powered being but as an egotistical pop artist, caring little for the plights of the outside world, more interested in promoting his music than the war that helped to create him.

Through his brush with the ‘What if’ side of history, Morrison has created not only an intriguing story but a stark parallel to the mediums history in its own pages. Providing an example of using superheroes to explore not only our own post war culture but the history of the medium itself. With Phase One at its end and the threat having been seemingly defeated or at least biding its time, the anticipation to explore the continued possibilities is just over the horizon, as Phase Two begins.



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