Picture this, it’s the early 1980s and superhero comics are going through a bit of a grungy phase. In zooms Zot! with bright colours, 1960s-style futurism and a happy attitude. It’s little wonder that this would become a multi-award nominated comic seeing how much it stood out from the crowd. Especially as it was a very early example of a Western comic that took inspiration from manga.
At the centre is Zot and Jenny – two teenagers who live on Earth, but in different dimensions. Jenny, a typical schoolgirl, comes from our dimension; Zot is a hero from an Earth that feels like if Futurama had been created in the 1950s. There is a host of supporting characters including Jenny’s sister Butch (who gets turned into a monkey by devolution fanatics), a robot butler and a host of really cool villains.
Now, to talk about Zot! really feels like talking about three comics within the same universe. For the first third there’s a serialized ‘save the universe’ storyline that reminded me a bit of The Incal– this is also the only section of the comic that is in colour. You’d think that the switch to black-and-white would hurt a comic that relies on retro-futuristic visuals, but this also occurred with a real ramping up in the writing. It is in this section that we meet all the main characters from the other dimension (including 9-Jack-9, an expert assassin who travels around using electrical currents and machines).
The second section starts to introduce more of Jenny’s regular life including her school friends, but we still visit Zot’s dimension – such as a cool arc where he has to race to the bottom of a 99-floor building. Then there’s the final third, which takes place entirely in our world as Zot finds himself unable to return to his own.
It’s interesting to read through Zot! in quick succession as you can really watch how the creator is completely deconstructing the idea of a boy wonder superhero. In the beginning he is this immature and seemingly invincible guy who saves the universe and gets the girl. By the end, he is living a normal life on his own heroic terms and, through this group, we see different types of heroics (including blowing the whistle on homophobic bullies) play out within his peer group.
For me, I enjoyed the final third the most. The idea of bringing a character like Astro Boy and having him become a normal teenager (whilst keeping the powers and personality that makes him special) is an interesting one. This is especially so as, in the beginning Zot looks invincible, but by the end he is incredibly vulnerable. Bit of an interesting metaphor going on there.
There really is a lot more to this comic that meets the eye and it makes me interested to see some of his other works – especially Understanding Comics (which is non-fiction and very meta) and The Sculptor (whose key concept feels rather unique).