Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Megacity Undercover: Low Life - The Deal (#1750-1761)

"The alternative was reality which simply hurt too much" - Dirty Frank

Let's finish out this month of 2000AD flavoured goodness with another of my favourite characters, Dirty Frank.  Frank is a Judge who works in the "Wally Squad", the undercover Judges of the Megacity One judicial system.  Frank is also severely mentally ill, he refers to himself in the third person and often sees visions and hears voices, and yet he's one of the best and most incorruptible Judges there is.  In the previous Low Life arc - Hostile Takeover - that incorruptabiity was tested when he discovered that most of his fellow Wally Squad were in bed with the organised crime bosses of the area of the city the operated in, The Low Life. As the affair unravelled, another Wally Squad Judge Aimme Nixon, a somewhat troubled and conflicted woman was taken by the yakuza of Hondo Cit and it very much looked like she had handed the yakuza the Low Life on a plate as the rest of Frank's former friends and colleagues were either arrested because of his investigation or killed as the yakuza took over ousting the former crime bosses with some ruthlessness.  The storyline ended with Frank's career as a Judge hanging in the balance as the panel of Judges reviewing the events decide what to do with him now the Wally Squad has become so utterly compromised.  This story picks up from there as Frank makes the titular deal to keep his job if he alone can bring Aimee Nixon back from Hondo Cit a mission that is as surely as suicidal as take the "Long Walk".  This storyline is collected in Megacity Undercover Vol. 3.

Just a quick note, throughout this story Frank is being followed by a persistant hallucination of a Judge with "SJS"  (Special Judicial Squad) on his helmet.  They are the internal investigations department of the Judge system and you can find out more about them here.  Anyway, let's begin.  Frank is sleeping and suffering a nightmare which ends with him surrounded by samurai and a man say "We have taken everything from you... your home... your friends...your life. Come. Take it all back".  But all Frank can say is "I can't.. I'm scared" and the man stabs him while Dredd says to him "because it's not death... is it Frank?" and Frank smashes his way out of the sleeping tube he's in.

We then cut to Frank, clean and tidy in his Judges uniform listening to the assessment and judgement being passed upon him.  He is told that although his achievements in a highly dangerous arena are impressive, his "eccentricities" had made his superiors think it was time to end his tenure as an active Judge in the past and only the intervention of his Wally Squad handler had saved him.  However with his handler revealed as corrupt during the yakuza takeover of the Low Life  now it isn't the finest endorsment.
The Long Walk?
The speaker says it has now fallen to them to decide whether he should be allowed to return to his undercover duties.  Does he think that his eccentricities can be curbed to fight departmen standards of practice. 

Frank: "Dirty Frank - ahem - Judge Frank believes his actions as a Judge should speak for Dirty Frank."

Judgement is then passed. He will not be returned to undercover work, a "clean slate" is needed in the Low Life.  And as his more "esoteric character character traits" can't be ignored and he is found to no longer be "mentally competant to hold the badge."  His tenure as a Judge is now over and he has the option of taking the "Long Walk" if he wishes.  Frank intially does decide to do that and as he walks towards the gate leading out to the Cursed Earth, he stops right on the edge, turns and says "Dirty Frank has a deal for you".

We rejoin Dirty Frank sitting on a commercial flight to Japan's Hodo City aimably telling a terrified woman his theories about destiny and death and what might be the final thoughts of everyone if the plan crashed or extra-dimensional zombies ran amok inside, before thoughtfully confessing "Dirty Frank has never had sex."   As the plane reaches Hondo Cit we get a flashback to the deal he offered.
Arriving in Hondo-City, Japan.
He told the panel of Judges that he'd be dead in days after taking the Long Walk. He says although it is a noble end for a uniformed Judge, he is Wally Squad.  He deserves his own "unconquerable undercover challenge" and sending him to Hondo to infiltrate the yakuza's operations within their own Low Life and bringing back Aimee Nixon would be his.  What do they have to lose?  One Judge says it would be suicide, Frank says so is the Long Walk, so once again "what do you have to lose?" And so they accept.

He leaves the airport and is distracted by his first vision of the SJS Judge and a hover car runs him down. "This is all mildly disappointing" he thinks to himself as he lies in a pool of blood.   He sees angels in the sky and is about to "ascend" when a large man grabs him and a woman tells him to get Frank in the roadster before the Judges get there. Frank is chucked in the boot and as Frank contemplates the pain he feels in his legs and abdomen they drive off and he finally passes out.
Rescued by Yukiji and Mini-Inamoto.
He wakes briefly to see a masked surgeon standing over him "but mostly there is nothing... nothing but relief". Then he wakes again to the shouting of a the woman who abducted him saying "you just give up an lie there?  Their first move is enough to beat you?  You come here just to die?"  Things go dark for Frank again as he just thinks "yes."

Finally he wakes properly to find his shattered legs have been repaired and he is sporting bionic leg braces.  He stands and follows the woman out of the recovery room and she says that the yakuza have infiltrated every part of Hondo Cit life including the Judges.  If the ones at the airport had got to him he'd be dead by now.  They new he was coming and the hit-and-run was an assassination attempt.  She introduces herself as Yukiji:

Yukiji: "There is not a walk of life in this city where someone is not 'one of theirs'. No one can be trusted.  My name is Yukiji.  Ex Hondo-City Wally Squad. The yakuza tried to murder you with a drunk cab driver, Judge Frank. They didn't even bother sending  a hitman. What do you intend to do about it?"

When he explains why he is here, she can't believe that he is alone.  That they have sent just "one pungent, overweight, slow, mentally ill, one-eyed, pungent..."  She says that in Japanese, Frank imagines that the word she said twice was "handsome".
Yukiji lays it all out.
He then finds himself in a sumo wrestling ring with small balls attached to his body facing a sumo wrestler also covered in balls.  They start wrestling as Yukijo says they saved him because they think he can hurt the yakuza.  She tells the sumo wrestler to finish Frank in Japanese, while Frank says he's flattered by her romantic interest in him.  She furious yells, "Kill him! Shut him up for Buddha's sake!"  He says he hopes she doesn't mean it, she tells him the stakes are "bigger than your annoying little jokes Judge Frank."

We then see that their wrestling is being projected into huge kaiji monsters via the balls attached to them using futuristic motion capture. Yukiji then tells Frank a familiar story.  Her Wally Squad was infiltrated and taken over, honest Judges were betrayed and murdered, so she and her friends deserted and went underground in order to survive.

Yukiji: "The yakuza could not be fought.  They were simply everywhere.  They are this society.  We are no longer Judges. We are criminals to be shot on sight.  We are a resistance. And a pitiful one at that."

They here Mega-City One was sending a Wally Squad Judge to infiltrate the operation and they expected a "Super Judge". They knew he would be targeted the moment he arrived in Hondo, so they risked their lives to save what turned out to be a "useless, pathetic old fool."  He must prove he is worthy of their help or there'll be one more dead Judge on the streets of Hondo.  At that, Frank knocks down his opponent then waves his bum at him saying he's "hitting him with my giant atomic lizard tail".
This is awesome.  I want this to be real.
Later she and another ex-Wally Squad take Frank to the Kaiji wrestling arena, his job is to fight well enough that a Mr Kadokawa who is a patron and talent scout of the circuit, to select him for his personal kaiji wrestling team.  Down in the ring under where the monsters battle, Frank has the motion capture balls stuck on him again and faces off against his opponent.  The monster he chose was "one that encapsulates the heroic and noble heart of the pantheon- dwelling warrior that is Dirty Frank".  It's a six-eyed thing that exudes oily residue.
Frank's avatar.
He thinks to himself as the fight begins that if he does get picked he'll be entering the inner workings of the yakuza and his intial misson goal will be complete.  But the idea of impressing the man sickens him, the man is criminal scum that invaded his city, murdered his friends and tore his life apart then only sent a drunk driver to kill him because they didn't think he was worth anymore.  "And Dirty Frank is supposed to impress him?" he thinks angrily and he smashes his monster's fist down through the ring and through the ceiling of the room he is in.   And his monster takes ahold of Mr Kadokawa and then they run off through the streets, Frank closely followed by the monster he is still controlling.

Kadokawa: "You are still wearing the motion-capture balls, you fool!  The amorphous and gooey giant monster mimics your movements!"

Frank: "How often have we all heard that sentence before?"

Kadokawa threatens Dirty Frank saying he'll track down and kill Frank's family, even relatives he didn't know he had.  So Frank drops him and demands to know who headed up the yakuza invasion of Mega-City One's Low Life saying he'll use Kadokawa as a "kaiju monster enema" if he doesn't 'fess up where he is.

Kadokawa tells him it's a mansion called "The Espers" in Otomo province.   Dirty Frank thanks him, the shoves him up the monster's bottom anyway for threatening his Uncle Heinrich.  Then the monster is fired on and lots more sumo wrestlers with their own monsters come chasing after him.  Frank runs, "Dirty Frank robo-legs don't fail him now!"  As he runs the SJS Judge tells him he can't run forever, sooner or later he's going to have to do "the deal."
Aimee Nixon.
Frank runs into a blockade of Judges and scrapes the balls off himself which causes his monster to collapse on them and allow Frank to make his getaway.  We then cut to Aimee Nixon she is being congratulated for integrating so well into the yakuza's business.  The man asks if she is content, "I do not need to concern myself with your loyalties?"  Aimee says he doesn't, "would I lie?"

We then join Frank with Yukiji and Mini-Inamoto, the huge guy who bunged him in the boot of the hovercar, buying tickets for Otomo province.  Yukiji is somewhat annoyed with Frank's rather direct approach to gathering information as well as grudgingly congratulating him on his swift grasp of Japanese.  Frank says, "Dirty Frank rides the daffodil ointment with great aplomb".

Yukiji: "You play the insane buffoon very well so others underestimate you. It's an excellent Wally Squad tactic. I respect that.  But you can still be hugely stupid it seems."

She tells him that she and Mini-Inamoto are risking their lives for him, then gets annoyed that Frank doesn't seem to be listening.  Actually he is seeing the SJS Judge again and it's distracting him.  She asks if when he boarded the flight to Hondo did he honestly expect to survive.  "Good question" responds Frank.

They arrive and recon the mansion, it is heavily guarded.  Yukiji asks Frank if the person he is after is worth it even though he must know she is dead "in one form or another."  Frank says they came to his home, killed his friends and "took away the only thing Dirty Frank knew or could ever be good at."  Mini-Inamoto finally speaks, saying Frank is there for revenge.
Frank with a hard choice to make.
As the others sleep for a bit. Frank then has a talk with the SJS Judge hallucination.  It encourages him to do a deal, Yukiji and Mini-Inamoto are on the yakuza's Most Wanted list.  If he sacrifices them he could get into the house that way.  He tells Frank he knows he's be thinking it, it's the way the world works.  If anyone wants something badly they have to make sacrifices, it's just the way the world works.

SJS Judge: "Corrupt Judges.  Turncoat Judges.  Wally Squad pretending to be something they're not.  Breathing lies like air. There's no idealists in this world.  Not right or wrong.  Just what you are willing to give up to get what you want."

The SJS Judge goes on to tell him to walk up to the gate and tell them where the other two are, it'll be the only way he gets past the gaurd.  Frank takes the "Long Walk" to the front and tells them he has something important to tell them.  But instead of giving up the two ex-Judges he says it's about Aimee Nixon.

Inside the mansion, while several guns are pointed at him, Aimee says it's good to see Frank again. The man in charge is Masahisa Yamaguchi, the man in charge of the Mega-City One Low Life, "albeit from a considerable distance."  Masahisa says how did he find them and what is he doing to Aimee.  She doesn't answer right away until a large man holds a knife to her throat.

She then spins an epic yarn about Frank being the Low Life's secret crime boss.  Masahisa tells the man to let Aimee go and the guards to put their guns down, he says any Mega-City One operation would have to be cleared with the Hondo Judges and as they aren't aware of the reasons Frank is here, Aimee might be telling the truth. She goes on to say that Frank took her under his wing when she joined saying anger could be her cover like madness was for him.
Aimee bluffs on a lethal hand.
One day she was shown that Frank and his crew were so good at pretending to be organised crime they became the organised crime of the Low Life.  She agreed to his terms of joining his team with extra creds in their pockets until his ideas became too eccentric. He was breaking his own first rule and bringing down too much noise and had to go, so she contacted the yakuza to suggest a "buyout of our very profitable organisation".  She was taking Frank to a hit when the yakuza stepped up their aggression and interupted her plan for him.

The large man, Daichi, demands to know why she didn't tell them before, she had said that she was the "big man".  Aimee yells at him that she gave them the Low Life didn't she?  She sold them every connection they had. Masahisa tells them to stop:

Masahisa: "Aimee Nixon has been an exemplary pragmatic and driven ally... after our intial somewhat unpleasant disagreement on terms. Her knowledge of the inner workings of the Low Life has been vital to our operations in Mega-City One."

He says it is an intriguing story, then shoots Frank in the leg.  Aimee babbles that Frank could work with them, he has connections she could only dream of.  He'll make the Low Life more profitable for them.  Masahina shoots Frank again saying "I believe that is a lie."

As Frank writhes on the floor in pain the SJS Judge taunts him, saying that his whole "wacky insane-for-laughs act goes out of the window when you're about to die."

SJS Judge: "That is. If it is an act. Strange Frank. Here you are about to check out and you look terrified it's true. But not because you're about to take a bullet between the eyes. I asked you once what you were scared of.  So what are you scared of Frank?"

Aimee starts sweating profusely, Masahina says this is a pivotal moment for her.  He says she has impressed him and excelled in the yakuza the way she has.  Frank is part of a past, "and your past is dead and gone."
Aimee has to choose.
He says that she needs to embrace her future and commit to it.  So her choice, ask him to spare Frank and their business relationship will be at an end.  Tell him to fire and she will have his total respect as a peer and her star will continue to rise within the yakuza.  He says he is freeing her of a life of conflict, "peace can only be achieved by coming to terms with who we truly are."  He says she knows the answer and has always known, so who is she really?

As the SJS Judge looks on with a bowl of popcorn, Frank pleads with Aimee to save his life, not for him but for her.  She turns away saying "drokk you Frank. Drokk you for coming here. Kill him".   Before Masahina can fire though there is a barrage of gunfire which takes out all the guards and Daichi.  Masahina gets up and sees who it was and finds the dead bodies of Yukiji and Mini-Inamoto who launched the suicidal attack.
Aw, I liked those two.
Frank stands thanks to his robo-leg braces and grabs Masahina saying their names and how they thought he could hurt the yakuza. Yukiji told him to prove that he was worthy of their help.  He then declares Masahina under arrest and for all those he killed in the Low Life and all he killed here, "the sentence is death" and he breaks Masahina's neck. He goes over to Aimee who has sustained a wound to her side and has passed out and he picks her up and carries her out of the mansion and into the countryside.

The SJS Judge tells him he's on his very own Long Walk. Also he looked like a "cold-blooded, super-assassin badass back there".  He could have arrested the guy, but what he did looks awfully like "revenge".  Frank says he'd never had made it out with him as a prisoner, "so Dirty Frank delivered judgement within the statutes of the law." The SJS Judge then says he thinks he knows why Frank didn't go into the Cursed Earth.

SJS Judge: "That place is chaos - and you've got enough of that rattling around in yer smelly head, right? You claim you're an idealist.  But really you bought into the law because you need it. It's what tethers you.  Because you know, without it..."

Frank silences him and says the pandas he can see are trying to communicate using the power of pointing. There is a yakuza hovercar racing behind him.  He puts down Aimee and faces down the car with a gun.  His legs are riddled with bullets but he manages to take the car out. Unfortunately another one is approaching and he is out of bullets.  Then Aimee stands up and takes it out with a rocket fired from one of her bionic arms.  She starts dragging him saying she misses the Low Life.
Aimee wants to go home.
We then get a description of what happened next from Dirty Frank's case notes.  They had found a roadster by trading with a local farmer "in return for some magic beans" and were trying to figure out how to get out of Hondo, Aimee knew too much and could not be allowed to leave. The airports were under heavy guard. Frank was in shock from the pain in his legs and hallucinating, although he managed to tie up and gag the SJS Judge hallucination. Actually the roadster was probably stolen by Aimee, for a greater good, "yet another deal." 

Frank: "For a second Dirty Frank wonders if he wants to live on in a world where idealism is either extinct or never truly existed.  Then he started giggling.  And Aimee passes out".

The roadster goes out of control, they roll and spin off the edge of the freeway as Frank contemplates that in such a postion humans beings will desperately grip onto something, anything "for Dirty Frank it was the purity and clarity of the law.  That was, and remains his totem.  Without them he would simply be... well... insane."

Aimee crawls out of the crashed roadster which as landed on top of a train followed by Frank.  She starts to walk away saying she can't come back with him, "we both know what I am.  They'll send me to Titan".   He crawls after he as she says she hopes he'll make it.  He manages to grab her ankle and dangles her over the edge saying "You.. Are... Under arrest!"
Oh shit Frank...
She points one of her arm guns at him saying she'll do anything to survive, "That's who I am!  I'm the Big Man, remember?"  Frank points out that if she shoots him she'll go under the tracks.  He pulls her up and as they face each other, she shoots him in the chest.  This enrages him and he lunges at her and begins choking her.

Frank: "You!  You betrayed Thora and Mortal! You betrayed the Low Life! Dirty Frank was your friend!  Dirty Frank trusted you!"

The life starts to drain out of Aimee and the SJS Judge reappears and tells Frank he actually likes him and so just this once "I'm going to do you a solid.  Look up".  And Frank, in a spash of vivid colour sees his badge shining in the sky, "oh.  Thank you." he says tearfully.
*angelic chorus*
He lets go of Aimee and when the Hondo Judges try to arrest them, he dives off the train with her saying "corruption has no authority over idealism... not today at least".  And they land in the sea.

The story wraps up with a taxi driver delivering Frank and Aimee to the Mega-City One embassy.  After urgent medical treatment he and Aimee were snuck out of Hondo-City before news of them still being alive could reach Hondo ears. Aimee did a deal to avoid Titan for an Iso-Cube instead.  She was able to give information on the yakuza in Hondo and the Low Life.

Dirty Frank thinks how he felt no accomplishment or joy at returning successfully.  He'd lost another friend and Yukiji and Mini-Inamoto's death weighed heavily, also bullet holes "really bloody hurt, it turns out".

Frank: "He also had no idea if he would be welcomed back into the Justice Department upon returning home.  Beloved justice, that which saved him.  But he was alive, and he was Dirty Frank.  He knew this.  Not many of us can say the same"
Anothre deal and Frank returns home to an uncertain future.
And that brings this arc to an end.  There is a downbeat one-shot set at Christmas which sees Frank back at work but suffering insomnia and PTSD on top of everything else, and losing yet another friend on top of all he's lost before.  The rest of Mega-City Undercover volume 03 is a Lenny Zero story, someone I haven't talked about before because I skipped the first collection.  Check out a future UK comics month to catch that one.  Anyway, this arc is superb.  It manages to juggle a lot of gags and surreal situations with genuine pathos and in-depth character study.  I've said before that Dirty Frank is one of my favourite characters and it's because he is mentally ill.  To often mental illness is treated as something that equals evil, check out Batman's rogue gallery for many examples. But Frank is rigidly moral, cares deeply about his friends, idealistically devoted to the principal of the law and although his condition results in some amusing jokes and situations you never feel like he's the butt of the joke.  You're always pulling for Frank to succeed and despite being the most unlikely hero ever, that's exactly what he is, a mentally ill hero.  Speaking as someone who suffers from mental illness, it's a breath of fresh air to see it being shown that if you find the right niche in life you can survive and thrive even under the often debilitating symptoms of whatever mental illness that is afflicting you.  Of course the whole thing with the visions of the SJS Judge is Frank arguing with himself, recent events have shaken him but just when he is about to kill Aimee in a furious rage his own pysche comes to his rescue and reminds him what's important.  He is Dirty Frank, that's all he needs to know.  I also enjoyed the fun Japanese stuff, all the various cities of the Dreddverse are a mish-mash of current cultural stereotypes and satirise them mercilessly. The art by D'Israeli is amazing, full of warmth and humanity, he is able to draw daft stuff like kaiji wrestling as well as the minutiae of facial expressions and body language beautifully and writer Rob Williams also deserves praise for his continuing work in exploring Dirty Frank's character as part of a fast paced and exciting story.  Highly recommended stuff.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Strontium Dog: The Life And Death Of Johnny Alpha (2000AD #1689-1699)

"Help him! In the name o'all that's merciful, end his torment.  I'm begging youse - give him his life back!" - Middenface McNulty

Created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, for the comic Starlord then transferred to 2000AD when Starlord folded, mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha is probably the most famous character from 2000AD after Judge Dredd.  Born a society that is very prejudiced against mutants the only jobs open to them is being members of the Search/Destroy agency whose distinctive S/D badges has led to them being nicknamed "Strontium Dogs". Johnny Alpha has mutated eyes which allow him to see through walls and read minds.  His stories ran through the eighties, but then in 1990, John Wagner decided to kill him off.  Johnny sacrificed himself saving mutants from extermination in a storyline called "The Final Solution".  Ezquerra refused to draw the story and later Wagner said it was "one of the big regrets of my career. Probably the biggest".  However, after nearly twenty years of further adventures set before his death, Wagner teamed up with Ezquerra to bring Johnny back to life with this story set not long after his presumed death.  This story explicitly retcons the fact that in the original Johnny's remains were destroyed, while in this storyline his body was recovered intact. So it's up to Precious Matson a reporter, and Middenface McNulty who was Johnny's best friend to discover the real truth of what has happened to Johnny Alpha since.  This story is collected in Strontium Dog: The Life And Death of Johnny Alpha - The Project.
Precious finds McNulty.
We begin with Precious arriving at the "Desolation of Paisley" years after Lord Sagan initiated the events that led to Johnny's death.   She walks into a rowdy mutie pub and finds McNulty hanging out with his drinking buddies.  She tells him she's researching a book about Johnny Alpha's life and death.  McNulty says that Johnny was a very private person. She says he's not around to object, she wants someone on the record who cared for him because a lot of lies have been written about him.

Precious: "So much of Johnny's life is shrouded in mystery.  Sometimes I wonder if I can ever penetrate it, ever get to the real Johnny Alpha".

McNulty was his closest friend so she'd be grateful for his help.  So McNulty gets rid of his drinking buddies and they sit together and talk.  "The Final Solution" turned out to be a portal set up at Stonehenge by Lord Sagan's boys. They were sending mutants through to another dimension, it was a slaughterhouse.

McNulty managed to escape before he got forced though the portal but Johnny and another mutant called Feral weren't so lucky, "they were set upon by weird beasties".  The supernatural mumbo jumbo is over his head.  Precious says the story goes that Jphnny was blinded but he didn't give up. McNulty says he couldn't quit fighting, and it needed a blood sacrifice to open the portal and Johnny made that sacrifice so the others could get back out.
McNulty recounts what he heard about Johnny's death.
Precious asks why the left Johnny there. McNulty says there was just a pile of scorched bones.  Precious asks how he knows all this.  McNulty says Feral told him.  Precious looks him in the eye and says, "what if I was to tell you that's not the way it happened?  Feral lied.  They brought Johnny's body back with them."

McNulty doesn't believe her, he insists Johnny was burned to a frazzle.  He then asks her why Feral would lie to him.  Precious says she doesn't know but she does know what a man called "Barry Roberts" told her.  She wanted to interview the Churchers who forced Johnny and the others through the portal, and managed to find one of the few who hadn't been killed.

We flashback to her at Barry's house.  He is a paraplegic and sneers that there is a smell when she comes in.  But Precious butters him up and he decides to tell her his side of the story. He tells her he doesn't know who ordered Johnny through the portal, "he was a mutant, that's all we needed to know."  He says he found Johhny and Feral and pushed them through, best thing for their kind.

When the muties started coming back through and started attacking the Churchers.  It was a slaughter, "they wanted their revenge and they got it".  Johnny didn't come through then, it was later. He was hiding under one of the caravans when he saw Feral and a fish headed mutant carry Johnny's intact body out.  And then Johnny Alpha sat up.
The Churcher reveals the truth.
But after he witnessed that, the fish headed one spotted him, dragged him out and shot him twice in the back.  He was found and treated but never told anyone he saw Johnny Alpha, by the time he got out of hospital history had been written by the apologists and the mutie lovers were in charge.

Back with McNulty he is stunned that Johnny sat up.  Precious says that can be a common post mortem reaction so not to get too excited.  They sit and think about what they can do next to confirm this story. Feral is missing presumed dead.  Precious says if he comes with her he'll pay all his expenses and a generous fee at the end.  But McNulty says he won't take money if it's for Johnny.  They decide to seek out the fish faced mutant and McNulty has a friend who might be some help.  They speak to a fellow S/D agent and he tells them they are looking for "Fish Wilson" who comes from the Chelmsford ghetto.  So off Precious and McNulty go.

They arrive at his house and his mother answers the door. As he climbs out of the back window his mum says he's been gone for months. McNulty spots him though and goes chasing after him.  Wilson manages to elude him, so Precious tells his mum that they just want to talk to her son and that she'd be willing to pay.  Back at their hotel Precious says "in my experience Middenface, the carrot usually works better than the stick".
Fish Wilson and mum.
And indeed it works, Wilson shows up being strongarmed into it by his mum.  Wilson is very nervous, but Precious tries to put him at ease.   They ask about what happened to Johnny and Wilson lies saying he saw one of the alien creatures burn his flesh away until he was only bone.  McNulty buts in saying that he knows they brought back Johnny's body.  Wilson stutters that it's not true, McNulty says he has four witnesses who say so.  Wilson says that can't be right there was only one.  Whoops.

He then says he made a promise not to tell to Feral, and if he finds out he'll come and get him, "there's something abnormal about him".   McNulty says if he doesn't start telling the truth, Feral will be the last thing he has to worry about.  Wilson's mum also threatens to put him over her knee, so he spills the truth.

He was one of the last to get to the portal when it was reopened. He saw Feral bending over Johnny's body.  Feral asks him to help getting him back through and hurry because the portal is closing.  They took him into one of the caravans and it looked to Wilson that Johnny was dead, he wasn't breathing. He did sit up and lie down again, but Wilson still swears he wasn't breathing.
Fish also spills the truth.
Feral said he was going to take the body away, if Lord Sagan's lot got ahold of it they'd do terrible things to it.  He then says that an old magic man he knows said that eating a dead man's heart will transfer all his powers to you.  "He said WHIT?" McNulty interjects. Wilson says he's just reporting what was said.  He drove them he doesn't know where and Feral made him promise not to say a word and that was the last he saw of Feral and Johnny's body.

Realising they won't get anymore information out of him, Precious pays his mum and after they leave Precious has some questions now.

Precious: "I don't understand - the story about Johnny being burnt to a cinder and left in that dimension - how did that become accepted history".

McNulty says he might be at fault, he did lots of interviews.  Feral told him what happened and he told the world.  He didn't want Johnny's sacrifice to be forgotten, "hoo wuz I tae know it wuz a pack o'lies?"  Their next move should be to find Feral and get some straight answers out of him.

They catch a shuttle to the Eezy Space Station and McNulty starts telling Precious about Feral.  Apparently he was last seen talking about "makin' wan big score, then giein' the heave".  Most S/D agents say that but maybe there was more to it this time. He took a transgalactic flight bound for Eros, he disembarked at a transport hub on the Kam-Karmam Rim and there is no record of him leaving.

Precious asks if he might be dead, McNulty can't say for sure. The station is a favourite place for people to disappear, freighters will take passengers for the right amount of cash, "an' Feral had reason tae throw a wee swerve - there were Stronty Dogs on his trail".  Precious says "there were?" And McNulty says it was a pair of chancers called Jammy Hendrix and Pooch Bickersby.

Apparently about the time Feral disappeared there was a big warrant out for Namu, daughter of the Mutator. It was for five million dead or alive which would be enough to retire with a pension.  She wasn't dangerous but she was hard to find.  The two Strontium Dogs figured Feral had a lead on her. He'd been mouthing off in the Doghouse bar and getting into fights.  Nobody liked him much.

Feral was banned from the place, as he was shown out he made some claims that he'd soon be rich enough to buy the place.  So when he left he was followed to the hub where he then vanished.  McNulty says his bet is that of the freighters that left, Feral was on the one to Min'Ul'-Q-Uurl which was where Namu had pulled a big sting. Precious says that's where they go next.

McNulty protests that it's no job for a lady, but she retorts that she's accompanied Johnny on a hunt, and as she is financing this expedition her involvement is non-negotiable. As they travel, McNulty reminisces.

McNulty: "Y'know whit gets me is aw them lies.  Me an' Feral met up at Stonehenge maybe a week efter.  I can still see him standing there - I swear there wuz tears in his eyes".

He remembers Feral saying Johnny's blood opened the way back and how unfair it is that everyone else gets a happy ending except for Johhny. He wonders what he was really up to, Precious says they need to find him first.
McNulty, very diplomatic.
McNulty admits he's always felt guilty about abandoning Johnny, and if he'd been wih him maybe things woud have been different, "I let him doon.  We were pals an' I let him doon". Precious gets up saying she's going to sleep now, leaving McNulty alone with his bottle.

They disembark and McNulty uses his Search/Destroy identity to get stamped through customs.  We then get a note which tells us that they spent thirty-nine days questioning official, law enforcement agencies, hoteliers and other likely contacts.  Their enquiries proved exhausting and fruitless.  During this time McNulty remained in control of his alchohol habit.

They sit in a bar and finally have to admit that no one has seen Feral there, humans aren't exactly common there and someone should have remembered him.  McNulty says he'll check out the other ships crews which could take years.  He tells her to leave things to him and he'll keep her informed.  So Precious returns to Freedonia to work on her book while McNulty sent her updates which at first were frequent, then later less so.

Sometime later Precious returns to Paisley and finds a drunken and miserable McNulty who has given up the search. Precious then tells him that she has found Feral, at least she knows what he was doing three months ago.   She put out an offer of a large reward for information about him and the other day was contacted by 1/9870590, a Robocian who definitely saw Feral on Garn. McNulty says he's probably a chancer, but Precious says Robocian's are genetically incapable of any form of deception. Now is McNulty going to come with her or will he stay and wallow in booze.
Precious's contact.
As they travel there, they speak to Precious's contact.  His ship delivers supplies to the alien prison on Garn.  While unloading those supplies he spotted Feral who was being moved to the "feeding cells".  He has perfect recall so are almost never mistaken. They finish speaking to him and Precious says she's arranged a meeting with the immigration assessor on Garn.  They are so close now and McNulty decides to go for a drink, Precious tells him not to get drunk.

Later Precious has to go and get him out of the brig, she pays off his tab but agrees with keeping McNulty there for the rest of the trip.  Finally they reach their destination and will find out what has happened to Feral.  Before we get to that, the following has been inserted into the narrative:

Author's Note: "Much has been written about Feral, principally by the notorious fantasist Ho Gan, little of it bearing any resemblance to actual events. As previously stated I rely solely upon the accounts of Precious Matson, who was intimately involved in events and whose veracity has been established."

And if you are wondering what that's all about, please be aware that Peter Hogan wrote spin-off stories in the nineties starring Feral after Johnny Alpha was killed off.  This explicitly writes those out of canon in a somewhat mean-spirited way.

They speak to the alien representative over video communications. It seems Feral is in prison for the destruction of a Garn spaceship and the slaughter of its crew, "Feral is now in the fattening cells being prepared for ritual immolation" They ask to speak to him but are told they cannot enter Garn because they have noses and thus are "unclean".

They plead with the alien saying they want to ask Feral about where the body of Johhny Alpha is.  This sways the alien as Johnny was instrumental in saving their Grand Inquisitor from the clutches of the Durran and is regarded as a hero. So they are allowed access to the prison alone, and when they get there they find he is extremely obese now and being force fed by the Garners.  They leave them alone with Feral and McNulty expresses his sympathy at seeing Feral like this.
Feral in the feeding cell.
Feral says that in a few days him and six others will be taken out, tied to stakes and ritually immolated which they believe will give their Grand Inquisitor continued good health.  Tommorrow they are coming to cut off his nose. He asks if there is anything they can do to help him, McNulty asks if he did the things they said and Feral says he did.  Precious says that there is nothing they can do for him.

They ask him about Johnny's body and Feral says he knows nothing, which enrages McNulty who shouts at him saying he wants the truth. Feral says "So you want the truth?  Funny, lies are usually enough for most people."  He says he won't tell them unless they bust him out.  This angers McNulty again, but Feral calls the guards to come take them away.

Next day the Garners come to cut off his nose.  Feral screams that it isn't right.  Two hooded priests come in and turn out to be McNulty and Precious in disguise.  They train weapons on the surgical team and tell them to get lost and end up alone with Feral again, this time he is willing to tell them everything that happened with Johnny.
Feral gives them the truth.
He says that Johnny had been struck blind when he went to face the creature on the other side of the portal.  He had a theory that the creature that was killing them could be split apart and that would reverse the direction of the portal, "just a flare, that's all he had.  The Churchers had missed it on the way in".

We then see the creature blown apart and Johnny lying there with Feral and Fish Wilson coming to his aid.  They took him through and tried to revive him but he wasn't breathing. But it was weird, he wasn't like a normal dead body, "all the life had drained out of him and yet... yet it was like there was some little ember burning inside."  He never went cold, he stayed warm to the touch, Feral had never seen anything like it.

He decided he couldn't take the chance of the Churchers getting hold of his body and using it as a trophy so he decided to take him to a healer he knew in the Badlands.  McNulty asks if he didn't stop to take a nibble of Johnny's heart. Feral laughs and says he just told that to Fish Wilson to frighten him.

Precious asks why he didn't tell McNulty about this when he met him a week later.  Feral says he couldn't trust anyone, he was suspicious of McNulty because while he and Johnny got caught and sent through the portal, McNulty got away.  This angers McNulty again who starts throttling Feral, but Precious tells him off and he stops.

Feral continues with his story, he took Johnny to the hermit healer who wasn't able to bring him back but told Feral that there was those out there who had powers greater than he, "have you ever heard of the Stone Wizards?"

Hermit: "They say they can create life itself.  Some believe they are the god that man has worshipped since he crawled from the swamp - the ones who seeded this planet.  Of course that's all tosh, but it's true that the Stone Wizards have powers beyond the ken of mere grubs like us."

Feral says the journey there would be long and difficult as the Stone Wizards are on Zen, the far side of the galaxy.  McNulty is disbelieving, saying that a mutant from the Milton Keynes ghetto with no cash wouldn't suddenly be able to speed across the galaxy, he's making the Stone Wizards up.  But Precious says they Wizards do exist she has read accounts from very reliable sources.

Feral says the hermit had a lot of contacts, including several Spacers and he travelled off Earth on a mutant crewed freighter. He has Johnny's body with him in a box, and he was barely out of the system when the crew opened the box and demanded to know what he was playing at.  Feral told them the truth and they believed him.  They passed him onto another freighter, then aboard an asteroid miner whose crew he didn't trust so he jumped ship at a way station near the Gargoniles.
Feral travelling across Zen.
To make the final leg of the journey he met an older woman "of sorts"on the way station.  She was very rich and took a shine to him, "oh the things we did together, it would make your stomach turn.  But I didn't have a choice.  I had to do it for Johnny".  She took him to Zen and waited for him while he went off to see the Wizards.  Precious asks if he found them and Feral says "in the end".

Zen was a strange place, the land itself was in a state of flux. He wandered for days and just as he was about to give up, he found them, "they just looked like... well, like pillars of stone." There was another pilgrim there who wanted the gift of invisibilty.  The wizards granted it but made him insubstantial as well and when the alien complains they tell him he should have been more specific.

Feral then stepped into the stone circle holding Johnny's body. He shouts that he has come to them whose magic is greater than the Lyrian sorcerers who did this to Johnny.  The Wizards examine Johnny and say that "soul-sucking is so passe... they really haven't progressed, have they?"

Feral says he pleaded and begged with the Wizards but they wouldn't help.  McNulty says he might be a "drunken bam" but he's experienced enough to know when he's not getting the full story. Feral admits that they would only bring Johnny back in exchange for Feral's life.  And of course Feral didn't agree to that. He left Johhny buried underneath a tree in a forest that had appeared overnight and carved a memorial to him on the tree and left him there on Zen.
Feral unable to make the final sacrifice.
McNulty asks him why he didn't come and tell him the truth, Feral says "you and the people had your legend.  Why should I spoil it?" McNulty says maybe the truth was more important and he's still not sure they're getting it all.  "Take it or leave it" shrugs Feral. He then says he's given them what they wanted, and he owes them for pulling his fat out of the fire with the Garners.

Precious knocks on the door saying actually "I'm afraid that was something we were not able to do". They had colluded with the Garners to pretend they were saving him so he'd talk.  As Feral rages, the head Garner says they did it for Johnny's benefit and McNulty thanks them.

Next day they are still on Garn waiting to get transport off planet. As Precious types up her notes, McNulty witnesses the execution of Feral - now minus his nose - through the window.  He is lead to a stake, tied to it, slathered in fat then flaming arrows are fired into him and he goes up like a torch.  Upset McNulty says Johnny would have found a way to rescue Feral and make things right with the Garners, "I'm no' half the he wuz. No' half the man".  Precious comforts him saying Feral paid for his crime, but McNulty is still miserable.
Later on a spaceship, Precious tells McNulty she'll finance a trip to Zen and accompany him as long as his excessive drinking stops.  McNulty agrees although he just wants one good bender to forget the Feral execution.  On the long journey to Zen, Precious finds more time to work on her book and the time spent with McNulty provided her with valuable stories of their adventures together.

Finally they reach Zen and ask how to get to the great forest.  They are told that it was last seen "upways" last, so they should head "sideways" to catch it when it swirls round. Precious is a bit dubious but McNulty says he's being told "nothing is certain oan Zen, but there's a good chance this time of year.  Maybe eighty percent.  Mak O' that what ye will".

They set out with some Zenian guides and rations for months of travel.  On the evening of the sixth day their guide sniffs the air and tastes the soil and predicts the forest would appear there so they make camp and wait.   That night the ground is in heavy flux and suddenly the forest appears not far away and they travel to it.

They hunt around and find the memorial carved on one of the trees, they dig and find the box that Johnny's body is inside.  McNulty stops and tells Precious he's brooded a lot about the bad things he's done and how he believes that if he'd gone through the portal he might have been able to save Johnny, "but I know I'd just huv chickened oot.  Because that's the kind o'man I am." And he takes a swig of some booze to fortify himself.
Johnny's grave discovered.
Precious says he's too hard on himself. She says it's the same reason he calls himself "Middenface" instead of "Archibald", for some reason he hates himself.  She says she spoken to people who have fought alongside him and have nothing but good to say about him. She wouldn't have enlisted his help if she had doubts about the kind of man he was.  McNulty says it's nice of her to say all that but it doesn't change the truth and they continue digging Johnny up.

They drag the box out of the ground and tentatively open it and find Johnny's body still in perfect condition. He's even still warm to the touch, Precious asks McNulty what it means.

McNulty: "He's no deid. He cannae be.  I know deid. I've seen deid mair than I care to remember.  An' that's - no - deid!"

They decide to take Johnny back to the Stone Wizards, he thinks he can talk them round.  Their guide seems to have buggered off so they set out to find the Wizards themselves or make it back to Port Hopeless to hire another one. They had brough solar generators to recharge the skimmers so they had plenty of time to look and finally after a lot of travel get back to the Port.

They rest up, then something unexpected happens.  A crowd forms and tells them the Stone Wizards are due the day after tommorrow and they are going to come with them. And so Precious, McNulty and Johnny's body travel out to the Wizards with the rest of the crowd who are coming to petition them for favours despite the capriciousness of the stony ones.

Finally it's McNulty's turn and he stands in the middle and after the Stone Wizards adjust to his dialect they ask if he thinks they got it wrong about Johnny, is he "crusin' fer a brusin'?"  McNulty says that he thinks Feral didn't give them the full story about Johnny.
McNulty pleads his case with the Wizards.
He tells them that as a teenager Johnny came to joing the fight for freedom, he had funny eyes and could see into a man's soul.  Oh and part of the deal is Johnny gets his sight back.  The Stone Wizards make a note. McNulty goes on to say Johnny fought like a lion, "he couldny stand injustice and cruelty", he never walked away from it, he'd always fight it and that's what brought him to this "sorry pass".

McNulty continues that after the war Johnny became a bounty hunter, but he never "shoot naebody who wouldny be the better fer a wee hole in the heid".

McNulty: "He a'ways took the side of the underdog.  Always tried tae protect folk who couldny stand up fer themsel's.  An' the whole o'mutantkind looked up tae him as a true hero.  An' when the end came - when the end came... sniff"

He tells the Stone Wizards that Johnny saved hundreds from Lyrian sorcery and that's how he ended up dead but not dead. He says there's something still alive in him and doesn't know if Johnny has been aware of what's been going on all this time and please could they help him?

The Stone Wizards say they get the picture, but the deal is the same the offered Feral, his life in exchange for Johnny's.  McNulty says as long as Johnny gets his eyes back he will take the deal, "Johnny Alpha's worth ten o'me and ye'd still get change". 

And Stone Wizards cause lightning to flicker round McNulty and also around Johnny while removing the remnants of the Lyrian sorcery inside him.  There is a huge flash of light and we end with Jonny kneeling outside the circle and Precious running up to him calling his name.  Cliffhanger!
He's back! But what of McNulty?
This was actually a pretty clever way of bringing Johnny Alpha back. It gives Feral a reason to lie about the state of Johnny's remains because he couldn't trust anyone with the secret bar one easily frightened fellow mutie. Of course if you were a reader who was at all invested in the nineties Feral stories you might feel hard done by as they are retconned out of existence and Feral himself subjected to an epic humilation conga.  Something makes me think John Wagner didn't think much of the character somehow.  The twists and turns of the investigation is exciting to read and the pairing of Precious as the sensible one and McNulty as the volatile one works very well.  It's sad to see how much self hatred consumes McNulty and it was obvious as soon as the fact it would take a sacrifice of another life to bring Johnny back that he'd offer himself up.  Some great sci-fi ideas with the planet of Zen and its shifting geography and of course I have to compliment Carlos Ezquerra's art and Hector Ezquerra's exquisite colouring job.  Carlos's art is as wonderful as it's ever been.  When he half arsed his arc of The Boys I worried that maybe he'd got worse over the years, but fortunately he hasn't and it feels very right seeing him drawing Strontium Dog again.  He'd already done some pre-Johnny Alpha's death stories with John Wagner prior to this, but drawing the events leading up to Johnny Alpha's return must have been very satisfying as he cared enough about the character not to draw his death back in 1990.  So how has being "dead" all this time affected Johnny? And is McNulty really dead himself?  Find out in the next UK comics month when I look at the next book in the series "The Project".

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Zenith Phase 4 (2000AD #791-808)

"The real New Age starts here..." - David Cambridge

Time for the final part of the story of Zenith.  This collection always had a bit of a reputation seeing as how it never got a trade paperback release until this one a couple of years back, and progs that told the story could fetch quite a high price.  The story wraps up the tale of Zenith, a pop star and cocky young prick of a British superhero who was the son of a pair of sixties superheroes created by a man called Michael Peyne.  After creating a super soldier for World War 2 to combat Germany's one who was playing host to a Lovecraftian entity called the a Lloigor which ended up being nuked, he made a group that ended up rebelling and calling themselves "Cloud Nine".  Zenith's parents were killed not long after he was born, while the rest disappeared, leaving only three, which included Peter "Mandala" St.John, now Tory Prime Minister.  Ruby "Voltage" Fox a journalist and Siadwel "Red Dragon" Rhys a sad drunk who was killed when the four of them took on the Lloigor again in Phase 1.  After Phase 2 saw Zenith take on a meglomaniac, meet his parents maker, and have a threesome with two of Peyne's more recent experiments, we came to Phase 3.  This was a multiversal epic once again taking on the Lloigor as heroes from many universes banded together to defeat them and is probably one of my very favourite stories to run in 2000AD.  On the way, they pick up a robotic hero called Archie who returns to Zenith's universe.  A thread running through all these volumes was a mysterious plan Cloud Nine keep referring to as the missing ones also return to Zenith's reality.  In this book we'll finally see what that plan was and what it meant for the whole of humanity. Words by Grant Morrison, pictures by Steve Yeowell.

We begin with Peyne writing a book called "Seizing The Fire", a book that will remain unpublished because he is the only human left in the world.  He supposes that writing it is a way to "somehow wrest order from this present chaos".  Each day he rises in darkness, he dresses, he misses music, "they" have music but it is scarcely recognisable as such. "That dreadful unending scream: that I think, is their music".

Peyne: "What have I done?  That is the question I must now answer.  I have loosed the Tygers upon the world.  I have swept away the old order.  I have cast down the towers of the cities of men.  And laid the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem".

He conteplates the huge black sun that is now in the sky.  Then Ruby, now a being of pure energy comes to visit him. She exhorts him to turn around, he says the last time he looked he was sick for a week.  But he turns anyway and is OK.  Ruby asks why he is working on a book. Peyne says it keeps him busy, organises thoughts.  Ruby says they'll be completely abolishing his past, "you're writing on the wind Michael".
Michael Peyne, last human alive.
She tells him he's getting younger, their gift to him for the part he played and she disintergrates his cane.  This upsets Peyne as it's another link with the world that was now gone.   She knew he would feel like that, his thoughts are as transparent as glass to them, paradoxically the lack of privacy is its own brand of freedom.

Peyne goes for a walk and sees they've erected a new building, a featureless cube, "to them this bloody eyesore must appear beautiful".  Every day he walks down the transformed streets and it seems the world has always been this way. 

Peyne: "It must be only a year or two since they killed Zenith and Peter St. John, but it feels like forever".

Each day the city is restructured it's map "redrawn by restless hands".  The citizens have hands for faces now and walk but go nowhere.   Every so often one of the Lloigor pass overhead and they applaud, "otherwise they remain silent".

Peyne misses conversation, the Lloigor speak to him of course but they are so beyond the merely human he feels like a child.  He walks all day but whatever direction he goes in he finds himself back home.  His house is one of the few constants in the world.  He rises and walks and works and grows younger day by day.  So in the time that remains he will tell the story of the end of the world that was.

He ponders the aphorism "be careful what you wish for, it may come true" but for him it did come true and summarises his whole lifes achievement.

Peyne: "I wished for a world uncontaminated by the greed and brutality of man.  I wished for a world that was the perfect playground of superhuman minds. And see!  It has all come to pass! And here I stand in this dreadful city of endless night. The last man.  The last human being, his wishes fulfilled.  Watching a black sunset."

We then flashback to July, 1992 so we can find out how things have ended up the way they have. Zenith on the TV being interviewed by Melvyn Bragg on the South Bank Show about his new musical direction, saying it was important to express himself. 
|Zenith and manager Eddie.
We then pull back to see Zenith is watching the interview on TV in the company of his manager Eddie.  He's feeling pretty pleased, his latest single is at number one as is his album. His new album is a hardcore mix of dance rhythms, psychedelic guitars and passionate lyrics, showing a maturity that has surprised Zenith's critics.  Zenith then turns the TV off.

They turn over to another channel as one of the superhumans, David "Lux" Cambridge is giving a speech about the problems fascing the world today, they are offering something called "The Labours of Hercules" to give humanity a chance "to drag itself out of the evolutionary mud" as helped by them of the "Horus Project".  Zenith dismisses it as "once a hippie, always a hippie" and goes out.
PM Peter St. John contemplates the Chimera.
We cut to him in the office of Prime Minister Peter St. John (I think we can assume Maggie fell in 1990 same as reality but Peter won the leadership election), Peter is sitting cross legged contemplating a pyramid.  Zenith asks him if this Horus programme is part of the mysterious plan.  Peter ignores his question and asks him if he really saw the "Chimera" transform into the pyramid in front of him.  Zenith says "it wasn't as good as a Kylie video".

Peter: "A whole tiny universe.  A microcosm which duplicates our own, scaled-down infintesimally.  Did I tell you I made contact with Chimera?  I think we may be able to use it but there are risks involved. That's why I've asked you here Zenith".

Zenith asks him what he plans to do with Lux and Spook and the rest of that lot.  Peter says he's invited them over for a chat and asks him to hide the pyramid in his desk.   Lux, Ruby and Spook arrive, Peter is surprised they used the door, "they've never shown that kind of courtesy before".  And he lets them in.

David says he doesn't want to waste time on small talk, "a new age is dawning" and Peter is wasting his time playing human power games.   They think it's time "to start playing God games".  They are offering Peter one last chance to join them.  Penny says he doesn't owe humanity anything, "why do you have to be so opposed to the plan?"

Peter says why don't they just call The Plan the Final Solution?  David says he can't believe Peter wants to stand in the way of evolution.

David: "We're not monsters, we're the next stage.  We can't afford to be dragged down into the mire by creatures whose time has come and gone."

Peter says he doesn't mind ascending but he doesn't want to kick the ladder away behind them.  Ruby then says she can sense some kind of power source and opens Peter's desk to find the Chimera.  Peter says it's nothing by an ornament and tells her to put it down.  She turns it into dust much to Zenith's horror.  Peter says they will stop them somehow, David says "you're welcome to try".
Ruby destroys the Chimera.
We return to Peyne and his book, he is younger now, his hair is growing back. He thinks his writing when he was older was very rigid, missing "obvious connections and possibilities".  He decides there is something to be said for being forced to grow younger.   He looks out across the mad rooftops and feels not guilt but pride... "God help me I feel pride".

He remembers very clearly sitting with Shockwave and Blaze watching David saying that politics will become obselete in their new world which will obliterate national boundaries.  It was the "last day of the world that was".  The girls change channel with their minds to Top of the Pops.  Performing tonight is "Yahoo Crew Plus Two Featuring MC Acid Archie".  As they sing he recalls how these jingles and tunes engraved themselves on his mind and "these silly poignant memories will die with me."

Suddenly Ruby appears on screen and starts singing and creating a light show.  Peyne finds himself regretting the loss of such vulgar music, "what would I give now for just five minutes of Top of the Pops". The DJ says something about Zenith and the two girls blast a single thought about the child.

Zenith backstage says Ruby can't sing to save her life.  Eddie his manager is fussing saying people are looking for a new revival and he thinks it'll be Punk next. Zenith picks up his guitar and goes to perform, meanwhile the two girls with Peyne have fetched a small child.  When Zenith appears on screen it points and says "Dad! Dad! Dad!"

Peyne: "I still cannot think of the child without shuddering.  If only I had known.  If I had even suspected what was to happen I would have killed the child. Or so I like to think."

We then cut to Washington DC, the President is asking if the superhumans can be killed.  He's told their Shadowmen killed to of them, "all we need is the element of surprise.  Just say the word." The President authorises the hit as Peyne thinks back as to what word it was that began the war, "I wonder what word opened the door to hell."
Trust the Americans to stick their oar in.
David is trying to convince another superhuman called Domino to be ready to play his part when the time comes.  Domino is a somewhat reluctant, David says it'll be hard enough dealing with Peter and Zenith without worrying about him as well.  He also tells Domino to wear more appropriate clothing when they talk to the press. Domino says he's a Punk, "they'll bury me a Punk".  David says that'll be sooner than he thinks, the humans are working to get rid of them, "we have to act now."  But Domino says there must be another way.

Outside Domino's building are the Shadowmen, they are told to go in through the limbic system, knock out the visuals then proceed into the autonomic nervous system as per training.  A man and woman then go inside the building, the man called Cameron is nervous.  The woman calls him a wimp. 

Domino is alone sorting his CDs when suddenly the Shadowmen attack his mind and render him blind.  He retaliates and blasts through the woman's defences and fries her body to a crisp.  Cameron warns Domino he's not alone, then David appears behind him and drops the charred remains of his colleagues who were out in the car, "just who did you think you were dealing with, you ridiculous little creature?"

Cameron fearfully blabs that he was just obeying orders and is working for the U.S. government.  David says he knows everything and the woman was right to call him a wimp, "are you very afraid now?" Cameron says he is and David squashes him in a wet splat.  Domino still can't see and pleads with David for help.  David takes his head and says "it's all working out beautifully" and crushes Domino's head.
David helps kickstart the war.
Peyne is now a young man, he has to deal with feeling randy again, plenty of old showers and inspirational texts.  He's finding what he's already written to be somewhat dry. But he keeps on with it.   He remembers back to the first images from Washington, they were shocking.  The city was levelled by the superhumans.  David tells the news that the U.S. government killed their friend Domino, "murdered by human ignorance and fear. We refuse to tolerate this or any further acts of aggression which the governments of the world may have planned.  As of today everything has changed".

They destroyed the Whitehouse, the Pentagon and the Fort Knox gold reserve, "within a very short time, the United States of America as a concept will only exist in the history books".

David: "We are now going to have to take more direct charge of human affairs.  You simply cannot be trusted. As of today we are assuming guardianship of the planet. That is our final judgement and we would ask that you refrain from any attempts to resist us.  You've seen what we can do."

Inside the House of Commons there is pandemonium with Peter the still centre.  The opposition leader demands to know which side he is on.  Peter brushes him off then we cut to the superhumans inside their base discussing how the President made it easy for them and now they should begin the next phase.  But in walk Peter, Zenith and Archie.  Peter says it's time to stop "before this situation goes entirely out of control".  Zenith also complains his records are being burned because of them.
Battle commences.
Peter asks David if they are going to start throwing buildings at each other.  David says they're not sadists, "we'll try and make this quick."  And a psychedelic dome of many colours springs up round the building as lights shine from David's eyes.

Peyne: "The end of the world had arrived.  Wearing a quite unexpected face".

We rejoin the now forty year old Peyne running through the ever-changing streets of London.  He thinks about how he later discovered the conflict took place in one room and took the form of an exchange of psychic energies between Peter St. John on one side and David Cambridge, Ruby Fox and Penelope Moon on the other.

Four people in one room, and the psychic fallout had ordinary people seeing fiery skies, apocalyptic clashes of angels, flying saucers and nightmarish bomber aircraft, "everyone saw his or her own vision of the end of the world." 

We join that battle, Zenith says it feels like being on dodgy E. Peter says they are in his hyperthalmus, he needs to increase his serotonin.  Zenith says it feels like it's been going on for years, Archie says it's actually been three point two-five seconds. Peter counter-attacks striking all three in their minds.  Then Archie declares "mind stuff dull.  Archie needs action".  Archie then rips the seating up and smashes it over Penelope's head.  Then he punches David in the head.  He starts trying to crush Ruby's head, but she fights back and blows his head clean off, putting him out of action.
Archie is taken out.
Outside now and London has been flattened.  Peter is siting trying to recover, another superhuman - DJ Chill attacks Zenith who sets him on fire.  David, with Ruby and Spook in their energy forms reappear.  Zenith desperately asks "why don't they just stop and leave us alone?"  Peter grabs him and pulls him through a hole in space. "He ran away" says David, "It doesn't matter.  It's all over now.  It's all ours".

Elsewhere Zenith asks Peter what he did.  Peter says he shoved them forwards in time or rather he shifted them in space and let time catch up while they were in suspension.  Zenith asks how much time has passed, and Peter says "weeks. Perhaps months.  I'm afraid it was rather a leap in the dark".  Then they look up and see the sun. It is a huge black circle, "oh no" says Zenith "what have they done? What have they done to the sun?" Peter can only recall a premonition he had:

Peter: "(I've been here before) Freezing. Things that used to be human drag themselves in the perpetual shadows, sobbing with shame.  A skyful of frozen cinders.  A child's doll driven mad by the horrors it has witnessed stares up at me.  What have they done?  What have they done to the world? I wish the sun would only rise.  And then I realise it has risen.  And the sun is black."

Zenith snaps him out of his reverie, he asks if the whole world is like this and Peter says it's probably safe to assume the worst.  We then return to Peyne and his book of the events, now he's reached his twenties.  Now he is backtracking and introducing himself back into the narrative again.
The Black Sun.
He remembers being in the bunker with Shockwave and Blaze and Peter turned up and showed him something... or did he imagine Peter's visit?  Then there was the war.  And then he was brought into the presence of the superhumans he oversaw the creation of forty-six years ago.  David tells him:

David: "We made it happen just the way you told us to when we were young.  The age of humanity is now a closed chapter in the history books.  Except there won't be any history books."

Peyne says he hopes they aren't ready to consign him to history, he has protection.  David says he was like a father to them, he doesn't need protection from them.

Then Shockwave, Blaze and their kid cross over to the side of the rest of the superhumans, leaving him feeling like "an abandoned pet.  I wanted to cry. The last man in a world no longer human... nothing can describe how it feels when one's heart dies."  David is holding Zenith's kid and says it's time they shared something with Peyne.
Zenith's son.
At the start of World War 2, Nazi scientists created the first superhuman "Masterman".  Some of those experts defected to the allies bringing with them the "Masterman serum" to create "Maximan" and then later the rest of them.  David goes on to say, "that serum originated with extradimensional entities called the Lloigor.  These entities exist beyond space and time..."  And suddenly Peyne realise what's coming next and just what he had done.

David: "...We even fought the Lloigor without realising just what they were.  Beyond time and space, existing simultaneously at every moment in history.  It was us you see.  It was us all along.  We are.  We were. We will be, The Lloigor".

We then return to Zenith and Peter as they fly around seeing how the whole world is now in ruins.   They arrive back in London and Zenith wants to hide somewhere.  Peter says they'd find them sooner or later, "they've finally done what they intended to do a long time ago". Zenith says maybe it's time he tells him what the plan was.

In the sixties they found the government was trying to sterlise them to prevent them breeding.  It was then they formulated the so-called plan.  Peyne had instilled in them that they were to be mankinds evolutionary successors, "as far beyond humanity and humanity was beyond the first air-breathing fish.  That was his dream and it split us apart".  Peter wanted to lift humanity up to their level, he really thought it was possible back then in the sixties.

The others had a more clean slate approach, Zenith parents were to produce the first child, Peter and Ruby Fox the second.  But Peter refused to particpate as did Siadwel Rhys.  The others said it didn't matter, they told them how they planned to cleanse the planet by wrenching the Earth of it's axis and killing ninety percent of terrestrial life in the process, "a clean slate".  Looks like shifting the axis wasn't enough, "now look what they've done."
Peyne still getting younger.
We return to Peyne, a fit young man in his early twenties now.  He thinks a lot about Shockwave and Blaze, Blaze is a Lloigor now.  Shockwave however was cloned from Ruby's DNA and Ruby wanted it back, disintergrating Shockwave in the process.   After that they all became energy forms and flew into the Black Sun, "and I dreaded their return".

He thought that after the superhuman war and rise of the Black Sun the worst was over, but he was completely wrong.  He imagined there were still a few people alive in the world and that included Peter and Zenith.  They must have heard the shriek filling the world of "terror and triumph and disgust and joy." The others had been incubating in the sun and now they were returning:

Peyne: "The Black Sun wasn't a sun you see.  It was a door.  It was an egg. It was the physical extrusion of a realm beyond our own. It was a gateway into the world of the Lloigor. The Many-Angled Ones.  And on that day, the gateway was finally opened."

The Lloigor were finally free to invade the phsycial universe and for Peyne it was infinitely worse because it was his superhumans that were the Lloigor.   Time had become meaningless, he thinks on how it would take ages to work out what really happened. "I just can't be bothered" he thinks, "I seem to be forgetting things now."

He doesn't understand the early parts of the book he's been writing, "in fact it's really boring."  All he remembers is that it started with a scream and Earth went into spasm.  We then see Zenith and Peter getting ready to confront the Lloigor who stand before them as golden energy forms.  The one who was David asks if they are really sure they want to face them who have given up flesh and have a conciousness extending across a multitude of dimensions. Peter says they're ready.  "Speak for yourself" whispers Zenith.

Peyne remembers he didn't see any of that final battle until it was over. He felt sorry for them, what did they think they were going up against?

Peyne: "And yet, it doesn't seem right, somehow.  Peter was never  so reckless.  He used to think like a chess player.  Why did he confront them so directly?"

We see Peter wrestling with the everchanging forms of the Lloigor, he's brain friend and tossed down onto the statue of Maximan, the steel fist going through his chest.  Still clinging to life he mentally attacks but ends up being immolated. Now only Zenith is left.
Peter is killed.
Peyne is now a child, and he writes that he "can't seem to write what's in my head.  Can't remember the words."  He writes about how he can't remember why Peter came to see him and what he was carrying in his hand. Then he goes skipping off.  Meanwhile we see what became of Zenith.  He is putting up a good fight when his child suddenly appears floating in front of him. 

The boy asks if Zenith remembers him, then suddenly turns into a mouth full of teeth saying "maybe you remember me now.  Iok Sokot".  Zenith stammers something, but to no avail.  A flash and he is a charred skeleton lying on the ground close by where Peter was killed.
And so is Zenith.
Peynes writing is childish now and he recalls how when he was an old man the Lloigor brought him to view what was left of the bodies of Zenith and Peter, "I liked Peter Sant John the best of all the superhumans I made."  The Lloigor set about changing the world. The people outside now have hands for heads. The sea that washes up to his window is sometimes gold, sometimes faeces.  He thinks they are bored of Earth and doesn't know what they will do next.

The now young child Peyne puts down his pencil and goes to sleep on his bed.  Ruby comes in to say goodbye and finds him now a baby.  She picks him up and holds him saying she wonders what's left of his brilliant mind?  She looks inside and sees Peter St. John in there.  She tells him to forget about that and takes him onto the balcony. She lets go of him and he floats and regresses back to a foetus then out of phsycial existence.

Ruby: "Look! Look what you made!  You're the last of the human race!  Your dream has eaten you whole!  Look what you made!"

The Lloigor come together and look at Peynes book.  They call it "as interesting as ant tracks in the dirt" and destroy it.  Then they leave Earth, "the lunatic spires of London catching fire as they ascended."

Their ascent is described by Peyne, he does not feel, he only narrates and has no opinion. They had grown too vast for Earth's horizon to contain them, but before they left "they stamped their mark on the very subsistence of the planet"  Then they streamed off into space, past all the planets in the system, "outstripping light as they left the solar system behind".
The Lloigor leave Earth.
They went faster and faster racing along the galactic edge and out into the ocean of darkness. Growing vaster than galaxies, annihilating spacetime with their velocity.  Faster and more huge, "catching sight of the ultimate horizon of our universe".  There is the curve of spacetime, the outer limit of possibility approaching the "intangible walls of creation".

Peyne: "And I can't wait to see what's there.  I can't wait for them to see and finally understand.  I can feel them!  I can feel the sudden terror as they reach the threshold of being and catch a glimpse there of something vast beyond all imagining.  Something greater by far than them.  I can feel their shock as they reach that last great uncrossable barrier and realise they're trapped forever.  And beyond the prison universe, there's a hand. And I finally see what it's holding"

The hand is Peter St. John, safe in his office, holding the Chimera pyramid which the Lloigor are all now trapped inside.  He puts it down and says "Ha" as he walks off.
The Lloigor, stuck in a universe of their own.
Later he is talking with Zenith who says they must be pissed off in there.  Peter says he thinks it was a fairly "elegant" way of dealing with them, "they got what they wanted - a universe to rule."  Zenith changes the subject saying it looks like Labour will win the next election, unlike our world where Neil Kinnock was party leader then, this time it's John Smith.

Peter: "Oh, I don't know Zenith. I rather like Downing Street.  And if I move it'll be to... a bigger place".

We cut to couple of weeks later, Zenith and Archie are hanging out driving Zenith's manager Eddie mad.  Eddie puts the news on to discover John Smith has died of a heart attack (spookily when he became party leader post 1992 electoral defeat, the real John Smith died of a heart attack in 1994 paving the way for Tony Blair) and his party is disarray this close to the election on July 23rd. Peter gives his condolences but says the election will go ahead as scheduled. Eddie thinks there is something fishy about all this. "Don't look at me, Eddie" says Zenith, "I've never voted for him".
|Zenith considers new possibilities.
On July 24th Zenith is attending a party while Eddie fusses about his next change of direction, he's changed his mind, it won't be punk it'll be all the "gender-bender" nonsense.  Zenith says Eddie just wants to see him in a bra then drunkenly hugs him. He then leaves the party saying he's fed up with pop music, "it's time for something new I reckon".  He gets into a cab and the cabbie tells him the Tories are in for another five years. "Yeah thought so" says Zenith, "home James."

We end this final Zenith story with a reporter at the Tory election celebrations. Peter St. John has been given his first vote of confidence by the British people.  He's promising a radical new direction for the party and the country and teh electorate has given him the go ahead.  It's been a long road from superhuman flower-power activist to respected member of Thatcher's cabinet.  "But one wonders if, in his wildest dreams, he could ever have imagined this?" says the reporter.  And we end on a close up of Peter's face, his eyes completely white...
A superpowered Tory PM.  Worrying.
And, bar a collosally misjudged one-off for prog 2001 (included in this collection along with a terrible text story by Mark Millar) that was it for Zenith.  I've always had a bit of an ambivalent relationship with this story and most of it sadly can be boiled down to really not liking the art.  Steve Yeowell here is somewhere between his high energy, loose manga style he used for the first three Zenith storylines and his more delicate and precise work on Devlin Waugh.  At this mid-point it looks clumsy and is not helped by a poor coloring job too.  There is plenty I do like, from all the hints dropped that Peyne and the Lloigor are inside the Chimera which stops the ending feeling like a deus ex machina.   I like Peyne's writing style changing as he gets younger, even though he ends up the main character in the story where part of me thinks Zenith should have a more forefront role.  The revelation that the superhumans are also the Lloigor does feel a bit like it comes from leftfield, but does just about work.  There have been enough premonitions that in retrospect fit now.  The plan has always been there too, and turns out that would have been just as bad for humanity even if the superhumans hadn't become the Lloigor.  I think the main problem is that this is The Godfather 3 to the previous Zenith storylines Godfather 2.  A fine story in its own right, but suffers from having one of the best 2000AD storylines ever as its predeccessor.  Overall though, Zenith is well worth checking out if you haven't already. The four volumes have been released in sumptious hardbacks with all the extra material included.  You really have no excuse for not checking out 2000AD's only superhero now.