With the success of superhero dramas such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Arrow and The Flash, as well as the upcoming slate of comic book adaptations Daredevil, AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Titans, Supergirl… (the list goes on) many of you may be wondering “what should come next?” as well as “do we really need to see any more?”
Scott McCloud’s indie superhero adventure Zot! published in the late 80’s could well hold the answer to both those questions. Zachary T. Paleozogt alias Zot, is a teenage superhero living on an alternate Earth in the distant futuristic year of 1965. There in his retro-futuristic utopia he easily and joyfully fights of threat after threat. On Zot’s world, of course he’s going to win. Jenny Weaver, is a sensitive teenage girl who lives on our world, though like all teenagers, really wishes she didn’t.
That is the key to the brilliance of McCloud’s work. He juxtaposes the grim, harsh realities of our world with the golden age sci fi fantasy world that Zot resides upon. The comic is split into three distinct sections - issues 1-10 all published in colour and introduced Zot and Jenny to us and each other; issues 11-27 were the black and white reboot of the series, dropping us in on the action and were mostly set on Zot’s world; issues 28-36 which are simply referred to as the Earth Stories.
In modern day superhero television programming there is such a focus on the gritty retelling, something inspired by the Dark Age of Comics movement kickstarted by The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Twenty years after the Knightfall storyline Bane broke the Batman’s back on the big screen. Zot! in itself was a response to the violent excesses of 80’s comic books and it’s bright utopian vision for the future, I feel, would make a welcome change of pace today.
Also take note of the success of Arrow. When compared to it’s spin off show The Flash, a distinct formula appears involving the cast of supporting characters leading to the more soapy aspects of these programmes.
Ever noticed how in the middle of all the action, everyone present stops for a moment to talk about their feelings and emotions? In the Flash, Barry Allen takes little coaxing to get into a heart to heart. Arrow however, with Oliver Queen becoming ever more surrounded by masked vigilantes, poor John Diggle’s role within the team has been reduced to something more akin to an agony aunt.
Earth Stories. Zot is stranded on our world after he commits a slight faux pas. He has with him his powers and a small selection of gadgets. Can he survive?
Zot embraces the challenges he faces on our Earth but unfortunately has less success with his efforts. His world portrays what could be. What we would be if we were only the best parts of us existed. Fighting crime in our world, a little different.
During the Earth Stories section of Zot! we get to explore our teenage ensemble. Jenny, Woody, Terry, Ronnie, Brandy, George. All fascinating, all a little bit of all of us. Sexuality, bigotry, homophobia, loneliness, aspirations, all explored here. Growing up I’m sure all of us could relate to some of the stories contained in the last eight issues of Zot!. Some may even shed a tear.
While some shows may feel the need to shoehorn in human empathy in order to make the programme more relatable to a mainstream audience, if Zot! were adapted for television, Zot would not be the main character a show named after him. He’s not the main character in the comic book named after him. Jenny Weaver. Our avatar. Our proxy. Our point of view.
The fact is the message you take away from Zot! is yes, you want to escape, but you cannot give up on our world yet.
“Is it wrong for us to want this? I keep thinking, if there are so many worlds, who decided which one to put us on? No one asked us what we wanted. Don't we have the right to look for something more?
We'll be back; we know we can't stay away forever.
But just for a while...just for a while.”
Possibly just for a half hour/forty-five minute long drama aired weekly.