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Zenith the Albino. Zenith the Albino was created by “Anthony Skene,” the pseudonym of George Norman Phillips (Sexton Blake, Dixon Hawke), and appeared in eighty-two Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee stories and one novel from 1919 to 1941, beginning with “A Duel to the Death” (Union Jack #837, Nov. 21 1919).

Zenith the Albino is Blake’s arch-enemy. Monsieur Zenith is a world-weary albino gentleman thief, elegant, sophisticated, and quite lethal. He is variously described as being cast-off Romanian nobility and the last descendant of a famous old English family. Zenith has a first-rate education, is an expert violinist and an Olympic-level fencer, but his background and attainments did not prevent him from turning bad. He is not wicked by temperament, but is afflicted by ennui and is an adrenaline junkie: “Danger gave him a thrill which he failed to obtain even from opium.” He smokes prodigious amounts of opium, uses his inventions for criminal ends, and in general leaves a trail of broken minds, bodies, and fortunes behind him. Zenith is the model for Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné, and uttered one of the best villainous lines of all time: while speaking to the rude henchman of another villain, Zenith said, "I would treat you as you deserve, but the blood would get on my cuffs."

* I'm including Zenith the Albino in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because of his archetypal status, because his stories were well-written, and because they are great fun to read. Monsieur Zenith the Albino's influence on Moorcock's Elric of Melinbone is a stated fact, and via Elric Zenith's influence on every moody "doomed" goth villain following him is hard to argue with. Anthony Skene was, by general admission, the best writer of the regular Sexton Blake stories; he did characterization and dialogue better than anyone else. Skene's Zenith stories are the best of the Blake stories, for Zenith brought out the best in Skene and the dialogue, characterization, and mystery plots are stronger in the Zenith issues than in other Blake issues. Skene was convincing in his injection of hardboiled adventure and otherworldly albino noblemen gentlemen thieves into the very English Sexton Blake stories. And the Zenith stories are fun because Zenith is both a badass (and so produces good action and adventure) and because Zenith's characterization is strong and his dialogue full of menace and near-Wildean epigrams. Highly recommended. 

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