The Challenge of the Super-Friends:

Why Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority is One of the Sweetest Comics of the Modern Era

For a comic book characterised by its “intense graphic violence” (according to Wikipedia) and designed to be marked by an “attention to nasty little details, its appalling bad attitude, and the utter carnage the cast are capable of when working together” (according to the original series proposal by Warren Ellis), The Authority can read from the perspective of 2011 like a rather sweet and fundamentally traditional super-hero book.

1. “Oh! You Pretty Things”

In truth, I can’t help feeling that in some ways The Authority is closer in spirit to the likes of E. Nelson Bridwell’s Super-Friends than it is Brian Bendis’s Siege, and that Mr. Ellis’s statements (in “Writers On Comics Scriptwriting,” by Mark Salisbury; Titan Books, 1999) such as how his loathing for the super-hero genre ”comes out in me as pure, bloody hatred” somewhat obscure the truth. For all its satire, for all the occasional ferocity in some of the fight scenes, for all its non-traditional lifestyle choices, and for all the undeniable scenes of mass murder and wholesale property damage, this is, yes, a profoundly conservative take following the model of an early-Sixties super-hero comic book.

And by “profoundly conservative”, I do mean closer in spirit and execution to the form and content of the work of Broome and Fox and very-early-1960s Lee than any of the contemporary and dissenting creators usually yoked to The Authority when comparisons are proffered.

Now, it may be that a week spent studying John Forte’s work on the Legion of Super-heroes has in some way altered my perceptions, corrupted me with sexless, peaceful innocence, and left me seeing nothing but the beauty of the prom, the good clean fun of the gridiron, and the moral necessity of placing the morning newspaper in the letter box rather than throwing it on the lawn. But I don’t think that’s so. Rather, I really do believe that The Authority is as much the last true heir of the Silver Age as it is one of the radical daddies of the modern-era’s obsession with widescreen brutality.

2. “Violence. Violence. It’s the Only Thing That Will Make You See Sense”

But such is The Authority‘s association with violence that the issue has to be dealt with first before the occasionally unrecognized sweetness of the book can be engaged with. And, compared even to the most mainstream of books from the Big Two in 2010, there’s little of the famed “hyper-violence” commonly associated with The Authority on show when re-reading the book today. Jack Hawksmoor literally knocks off an opponent’s head with a very swift right hook at 1:22:2, dismembers an alien by leaping right through it at 8:15:4, and there’s some alien tentacle-penetration of innocent Japanese citizens on the streets of Tokyo at 10:6/7, but that’s about it where the less-typical extremes of force are concerned.

Compared to this, today’s mainstream is characterized by gods being torn literally in half and Teen Titans high on heroin attacking drug addicts with dead cats. (I know, I know, everybody’s referring to that, and I’ve done so myself, but I think the terrible truth of Speedy the one-armed cat-hammerer really needs to be kept in the forefront of the mind. Otherwise, we’ll all simply assume that it was an absurd joke or even that it never happened.). In this context, The Authority looks rather middle-of-the-road and restrained from the perspective of today.

Yes, Jenny Sparks does indeed electrocute large number of super-powered assassins, and the Authority do indeed commit appalling atrocities on Sliding Albion. But these murders aren’t shown in any prurient fashion, and the justification for the acts of terror is at least as good as any presented by the Western Democracies in defence of their 1000 bomber raids of World War II. (This isn’t meant to defends the Authority’s acts, only to point out that their atrocities are neither thrust in our faces or too different from essential components of our national myths concerning the last Moral War.) So, though we’re told that Gamorra’s superhuman clones are being electrocuted, the panel itself only shows a traditionally comic-book energy energy blast hitting some bad-guys. And the complete annihilation of Italy on an alternative earth is seen firstly from orbit, and then as a large panel mainly occupied by a tidal wave. There’s none of the kind of graphic horror that even an E.C. thriller of the early ’50s might have indulged in. Even the death of Kaizen Gamorra occurs off-screen; we do get to see the Carrier ripping through the city towards him, but his final end is left to our imagination.

If this is excessive violence, then it’s remarkably thin on the ground visually, if not in fact. And if these actions are all so morally unacceptable, then the question needs to be asked “What else could be done?” If it were Mr. Ellis’s intention to portray the Authority as Fascist brutes operating completely beyond the pale, then he ought to have provided scenarios in which other feasible options to “our” superhumans murdering “their” superhumans, and “their” people, were obvious and feasible. As it stands, unless you’re with the folks who see the A-Bomb attacks on Japan and the bomber raids on Germany as war crimes themselves, The Authority seem pretty much to be on the side of the angels. Brutes, mass-murderers, and vigilantes on a global scale, but strangely appropriate in their responses considering the threats they were facing down. (I’m not suggesting that such a stance is incorrect. I’m just saying that that seems to me to be the real moral parallel between the Authority and real-world events.)

In fact, if we’re being honest about the degree of the so-called violence over the 12 issues that make up the Ellis / Hitch run, a quick re-visit to 7.19.3/4 will put any excessively Whitehousian concerns at rest. For there, as the Engineer slaughters large number of alternative-Earth cavalry, you can note how none of the horses are shown being hurt in any noticeable, let alone gruesome, fashion whatever. In fact, this might as well be, where the shooting of horses are concerned, a mid-Sixties, pre-Jonah Hex comic-book Western, where horses get hit, and horses fall over, but horses are never shown shattering limbs and feeling pain in those moments between bullet-penetration and brain-death. (And, in fact, Mr. Hitch even avoids showing the terrible force of a charging horse tumbling over here.) And though the fate of these cavalry horses is hardly kind, the reader is spared their mutilation, murder and disposal. This principle of unexpected restraint tends to hold true for all of the Ellis / Hitch issues, and though it’s obviously expected that the reader grasps the “collateral damage” the Authority are wracking up, the overwhelming majority of it goes quite unseen.

Yes, the Authority are an arrogant gang of super-human terrorists, redeemed in some small part by the fact that their enemies are so much worse than they are. Yes, they operate according to their own whim and conscience, and yes, they kill a great deal of people. But we don’t see most of it, and of that we do see, well; it isn’t so different from that on display in the latter-day X-Men, and it’s a great deal less morally worrying than recent runs of Daredevil and Justice League: Cry For Justice. In the best traditions of Bomber Harris, the Authority only strike back when war is declared and the end is, or has been, nigh. It’s hardly unproblematic, this habit of wiping out millions in the name of survival, but it’s presented in such a way as Jenny Sparks and her men have at least a case for the horrors they’ve been hauled in the direction of perpetrating.

So, the Authority only attack when innocents are slaughtered in great numbers, their opponents are always possessed of such power that nobody else can resist them, and most of the violence they are compelled under terrible pressure to unleash goes unseen by the reader. This isn’t the cess-pit of blood and bowels it’s been so often sold as, and the truth is surely that the most obvious moral to be drawn from The Authority is not that superhumanswould behave without conscience, but rather that a necessary war of self-defence by superhumans attacked by superhumanswould be a very bloody business aindeed. That’s not a challenge to the values of the super-hero genre, it’s just a comment on the degree of realism common to cape-’n'-costume adventures where the consequences of violence are concerned.

Coming a decade and more after Scott McCloud’s ”Destroy!”, in which two supermen destroy an entire city before the victorious protagonist, knee-deep in rubble, declares that it’s good how nobody had been hurt, The Authority is hardly a radical statement even where super-heroes are concerned. It’s exceptionally well-executed fun, but it’s neither innovative or revolutionary, and I can’t believe that it was ever intended as such. It’s in truth a very traditional statement of defiance against the absurdities of the super-hero genre, tweaked just a touch, with a splendid tongue in its splendid cheek, for the late 1990s.

3. “The Sounds of a Switchblade and a Motorbike”

But if the scale of the violence, and the presentation of some small portion of it, can be pushed away for the while, the remainder of The Authority is charmingly conservative, if not conventional, fare. It now reads as if Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hitch had decided to serve up some fiercely traditional and two-dimensional fare sweetened with a few dollops of large-scale mayhem and artistic dynamism, as if the joke was less on the super-hero as such and more on the deeply stuck-in-the-mud mainstream consumer of the genre. Consider the villainous Kaizen Gamorra, a blatant Fu Manchu/Ming The Merciless knock-off for whom the term “two-dimensional” would be vastly overstating the case. ”But now… now, HAHAHA, Stormwatch no longer exists. There is no one on this planet who can place shackles on my anger.”he declares as part of a three page soliloquy which, for all its endearing play-it-to-the-gallery exuberance, only succeeds in making the early portrayals of Victor Von Doom seem Shakespearean by comparison. It’s thin gruel, this business of villains in The Authority. Having the alien warlord Regis heralding the invasion of our planet by an alternative Earth by declaring that “There’s a German word I’m fond of. Lebensraum” does show he grasps a concept which many GCSE History students can use with some precision, but beyond that he’s completely without a character which couldn’t be summed up with a hearty “gggrrrrr.” He’s a brute, a rapist, an imperialist, a genocidalist, he probably feeds children their own fingers after sawing them off himself, and without anaesthetic too, but he’s nothing more, or less, than a very bad boy indeed. And the final great challenge for the Authority after Gamorra and Regis is, tellingly, God’s brain travelling in a pyramid-shaped spacecraft, a concept as potentially exciting as Galactus was back in, oh, 1966, Indeed, it’s a concept pretty much the same as Galactus except that Ellis’s take on the type doesn’t talk, or have a herald that talks, or, sadly, possess any purple shorts with a big “G” on his belt-bubble. Ellis’s God says nothing at all, which is certainly a metaphorically interesting concept, but pretty uninvolving in a super-hero comic, and succeeds in the unlikely business of presenting an antagonist for the Authority that’s even less interesting than Gamorra and Regis. As a statement of how ridiculous the anthropomorphic tendency is in super-hero-land, this God’s an interesting concept, but as avillain, he’s only as scary as any really big rock with lots of violent worms in it can be.

But that’s all perfectly acceptable, and actually perfectly charming, when taken at face value. This isn’t a comic book that’s trying to achieve psychological realism, or any cod-approximation of it, not certainly where the villains are concerned. This is acomic-book comic-book. And if the key super-villains of The Authority are without menace because they’re of such familiar types and without any involving character, then so too are their henchmen (and they are all men) similarly unengaging.

Oh, they’re certainly bad guys, and we know this because they all look the same and they all kill people. Indeed, it’s the fact that every single one of the antagonists fighting on the various fields of war look the same — clones, cavalrymen, tentacles — that helps to take the Authority clean out of 1999 back to 1960. These opponents of the true and the just aren’t real people with individual natures, they’re bioreactored clones, all dressed in black, all set infiendishness, or they’re identical horsemen from a perverse Britain.

The biggest threat these identical enemies can pose is in their numbers, and we know (as we’ll discuss later) that sheer numbers won’t hold back the Authority. As far as threats go, they’re no threat at all. They’re just off-the-assembly-line copies of generic, thinly-constructed, all-purpose opponents, which, as we’ll discuss later on, helps to lower the sense of jeopardy even when the punch-ups get a touch explicit and intense.

Nothing can stop the Authority, and we know that because we’re never told that anyone who stands against the Authority is of any importance at all; if these enemies were of consequence and dangerous, they’d exist as more than the broadest and tinniest of stereotypes. And so, these huge confrontations against apparently overwhelming odds are actually rather comforting. Good is good, and bad is hardly there on the page at all. It’s as if the Justice League were back fighting old toothless Kanjar Ro, long ago in the days when insect eyes and a little wand qualified as markers of evil.

4. “Now Hurry Up, He’s Scratching at Your Throat”

Given that the antagonists don’t threaten, and the heroes can’t be beaten, The Authority is wonderfully free of jeopardy. All the traditions of modern popcorn entertainment, so nefariously encoded in Robert McKee’s “Story”, all the expectations of three plot reversals and fates more terrible than the expected terrible fates, are out of the window here. There’s never any doubt that the Authority will win. In fact, a rule of thumb is that even any secondary character given a speaking role of just a few words will survive without harm too. Only strangers, marked by no individual characteristics, suffer, or the faceless ranks of the protagonist armies. We never need worry who’ll live, because we certainly know who’ll never die right from the off.

This lack of jeopardy is so untypical in a post-1968 super-hero book that it’s at first quite confusing. Where are the torture scenes, the separation, the angst? Why, when Apollo falls from the Carrier far above Earth, isn’t there some plot confection that pretends that he not might find his solar-powered abilities rekindled on the way down? (Apollo’s so apparently confident, and The Midnighter so in love with him, that there’s never any doubt he’ll survive. We know Mr. Ellis wouldn’t do such a bad thing to the Authority’s Superman, because nowhere else in his scripts is Mr. Ellis that cruel. Whedon is cruel, Claremont and Bendis too, but not Mr. Ellis. He’s untypically, for a super-hero writer of the modern era, disinterested in upsetting his audience in The Authority for the emotional sake of it.) And when Apollo is flying at full pelt towards an invisible force field, impact against which will squash him flat, there’s no pretense that he may really be squashed against that immovable object; there’s no cross-cutting of panels between worried comrades and nonchalant hero until a last minute, quite unbelievable, save arrives. In fact, Apollo is removed quite undramatically to safely by being magiked into a ”broken universe… [where] travelling over a hundred miles an hour gets converted into music,” without the reader even seeing him closing in on the city and its forcefield.

Indeed, Mr. Ellis must have a fierce aversion to permitting his super-heroes to suffer the emasculation typical to most acts 2 and 3 of the typical cape-’n'-costume narrative. The Authority always have a plan, or at least they have a very solid defence while they hold the line and wait for a very big idea to occur. They neverloose control. They’re never separated, picked off, turned against each other, or even any more hurt than exhausted. Wherever they are is the safest environment that can be imagined, the members of supervillain armies notwithstanding. And even when Jenny Sparks dies, after the very simple matter of electrifying God’s brain, she does so without a great deal of telling foreshadowing or indeed any blood or suffering. Not even death’s too dangerous in The Authority, if you’re on the right side, and, look!, isn’t that Ms Sparks returned immediately to life as a baby, ready to save the 21st century as she did the 20th?

Aaahhh. Isn’t she lovely? No, seriously. Isn’t she?

5. “Sailors Fighting on the Dancefloor”

With the exception of the first year or so of Grant Morrison’s re-invention of the Justice League in 1997, I can think of no other comic which was so free of character conflict as The Authority. Since the first appearance of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, a fair dose of at least serious irritation between super-hero team-members has been the rule; the Thing swipes at the Torch, Hawkeye cusses Cap, Green Arrow loathes Hawkman, Wolverine hates Cyclops, and so on, and on. But nobody even niggles each other to any great degree in The Authority. Everyone takes orders without questioning the right of Jenny Sparks to tell them what to do, after The Midnighter has a passing rant against her to Apollo in the very first issue. Yes, everyone works together without questioning their fellows, or being any more than passingly irritated by them. And the only dissenting voices, with the exception of a mild exasperation at the Doctor’s habit of tuning out and dropping out too, are those of the old moaning lovers, the Midnighter and Apollo, who mostly whinge and carp at each other because it stops them having to worry about anything else.

In fact, The Authority is almost a personality-free zone. These are, give or take the odd swear word and expression of physcial desire, standard-model heroes. They’re brave, they fight hard, and they make jokes in the face of the return of an unforgiving God. (See above.) Beyond that, there’s very little at all going on to seperate one from the other. We learn, for example, little about each character’s past as they relate to matters-at-hand. (The Engineer seems to develop the most, embracing her mechanical nature, but it’s a restrained step forward for a super-hero genre obsessed with devil-fractured marriages and the like.)

There is, of course, a default position where the Authority make references to aspects of the ’90s counter-culture which might pass as markers of individual difference, but that’s not the same as “character.” The Doctor takes drugs, yes, but you couldn’t picture him as a three-dimensional character without an awful lot of work. Even compared to fiercely one-note figures such as the Batman, most of the Authority seem thin as characters and therefore intially somewhat unimportant as super-heroes. (I doubt too many thousands would ever feel motivated to buy into a Swift monthly, or even an Engineer mini-series.)

But most surprising of all, for a group composed of such symbols of the ’90s counter-culture as a psychedelic explorer, a cyborg, a fags-’n'-beer anti-establishment curmudgeon, a George-’n'-Mildred gay couple, and a super-psycho-geographer, the team don’t argue at all over principle or speculation. Have you ever seen any two folks interested in, for example, cutting-edge psychedelics or human-cyborg evolution, sit down for three minutes without some point of difference, affable or otherwise, breaking out? Yet these folks in the Authority are strangely uenthusiastic about their interests and beliefs, as if they agree on everything already, which is a profoundly odd stance for a bunch of anti-authoritarian individualists to take. They’re the least radical radicals I’ve ever seen, the world’s most compliant, peaceful, do-as-you’re told dissidents in history.

And this is again a return to the Silver Age, pegged between the character uniformity of Gardener Fox’s Justice League and Stan Lee’s “kooky-quartet” Avengers. The foot-soldiers of the Authority are so uncomplicated and accepting of each other that they never seem in danger of falling out and so they entice the reader into never worrying about their fate. As long as the Authority stick together, the message seems to be “everything will be fine”, and for them, it is. (Hawksmoor telling The Midnighter and Apollo to ”get a room” when the couple are hugging each other is the closest we get to banter, let alone conflict. And for banter, it’s awfully fond and accepting.) It’s exceptionally relaxing, and something of a relief and a retreat from the soap-opera high-notes of just about every other super-hero team book in the past decade or more, to be watching the adventures of a cast of characters far more similiar in their construction to Hamilton’s Legion of Super-Heroes than to Claremont’s X-Men.

6. “Coo, Coo, I Just Want You”

It may not take much to create a convincing super-hero love affair, but simple dishes are notorious for being the most difficult to cook successfully. But Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hitch presented the love-affair between the Midnighter and Apollo in such a fundamentally touching and straight-forward fashion that I never doubted they were lovers, and that indeed they’d always stay so.

In fact, I’ve been rather surprised to learn, while researching this piece, the “fact” that the two of them were effectively outed in The Authority #8: were they ever “in”? Admittedly, I hadn’t read Stormwatch while reading the first few years of The Authority, so perhaps I’d missed some degree of obscuration there. But from Chapter One of “The Circle,” it appeared to be so straight-forward a business that I never thought twice about it, beyond being relieved that this wasn’t going to be a love-affair defined by doubt and trauma.

Moving on from the tantrums and indulgences that mark the perpetually-adolescence trysts which even now constitute the quorum of super-hero affairs, the Midnighter and Apollo were securely placed in a take on an early-middle age marriage. Their relationship’s tensions weren’t those of the teenager trying to decide between Betty and Veronica, Gwendolyn or Mary-Jane, of the repressed and dissatisfied half-child trying to have their cake and, yes, eat it too. Our gay Batman and our gay Superman were a couple: they struggle to remember the intensity of their feelings amidst the everyday crisis of the four-color world, they express the normal claustrophobia of a relationship where home and work are the same place through bickering — “Shut Up. You whine like an old woman.” – and they’re taken by sudden, awkward declarations of absolute commitment when the worst seems about to happen — “You’ll die.” / “I wouldn’t dare.” It’s all absolutely recognisable and rather deeply affecting.

And in taking a step backwards towards those Silver Age relationships where fidelity and honesty were assumed as givens rather than perceived as impediments to drama, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hitch created the most fundamentally decent and admirable romantic relationship in super-hero comics. Sue Storm and Reed Richards may seem to be constantly fracturing, splitting and reuniting, Peter Parker may conspire with the Devil to end his marriage, and Superman may — apparently — abandon his wife for a year to, er, walk across America, but the Midnighter and Apollo, being grown-ups, simply bicker and fuss over each other as grown-ups do.

This is a sweet, sweet comic book. It may not be the sweetness that some of our Grand-Parents might recognize and support, but it is sweet. And we could still do with as great deal more of that in the universes of the Big Two. After all, there’s a fair bit of sweetness out here in the real world too, alongside all that undeniable tragedy and despair. The world of Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hitch’s The Authority is actually a world I can happily wander around in my imagination when I can’t sleep, secure that it’s not so dark a place that I’ll trip a few nightmares for when I do slide into slumber. Its horrors are no more hideous than those of most other super-hero titles, only The Authority never hides the scale of the losses in the fight against really-really bad people. Still, its pleasures are recognizable ones.

I may have to admit that I’ve no idea how the members of the Justice League and the Avengers sit down together, so many and tortuous are the disputes that have divided them in the past. But the Authority? Well, they’re as close to grown-ups as you can get when you’ve got the spandex brigade on patrol, at least where the basic human social skills of getting on and working together are concerned, despite the overall lack of informing detail for most of the team’s members.

And so, by subtracting the emotional hullabaloo that passes for character sophistication these days, the lovers and comrades of the Authority strangely become more believable rather than less.

Simple dishes, you see; the hardest to cook properly.

7. “It’s Just a Test, a Game for Us to Play”

My favourite radicals are the ones who’re so firmly rooted in a clearly defined vision of the past that they’re hardly radical at all; they’re shocking because they extrapolate from what’s known rather than indulging entirely in “what-ifs” and “if-we-all-think-nicelys.” It’s endearing to find dreamers and doers who’ve bothered to do their homework rather than rushing full-pelt in the direction of some ill-defined utopia without the slightest sense of the failings and achievements of all the radicals who’ve come before. And The Authority is so full of the tropes of the Silver Age super-hero that it’s almost a historical textbook on what we used to read; it only looked radical because it’s creators had actually looked backwards before stepping forwards, for the modern super-hero comic often seems to have slipped the moorings of its roots so long ago that it’s forgotten that it had any in the first place. Yet the characters in The Authority were mostly recognizable spins on the basic stoic super-hero type, while there were also familiar-feeling and yet uniquely spectacular super-hero and supervillian bases,, there was technology at hand which a child of any age could dream of having access to — “door!” – and, as stated, the evil-doers had all the nostalgic and unthreatening depth of an Egghead or Killer Moth. (There’s even the teacher-spirits of previous Doctors in their “Garden Of Ancestral Memory”, ready to advise through their experience on the best course to take, an utterly ignored trope today when the likes of Professor X or the Ancient One must either be killed off or emasculated so our heroes can’t be kept in for the super-hero equivalent of detention.)

And what could be more traditional than how our heroes are constantly needed by the not-great and the un-good of the powers-that-be, who’ll always need the Authority because the powers-that-be aren’t as strong and capable as they’d like to believe. Isn’t that the most fundamental super-hero fantasy? To be outside the system and yet have the system’s survival reliant upon a few outsiders in their very shiny pants? And in the end, when the Authority leaves the Earth to kill God, Jenny Sparks can even tell all six billion humans to ”bloody well be good,” indulging in a hitherto hidden level of the ultimate power fantasy of anyone overwhelmed by homework or inflation, diminishing pensions or a party curfew: screw feeding the world, let’s just mange to get it to shut-up! Yes, it is indeed an ambition most probably held by those of us who feel quite outside of whatever power elites can be brought to mind, but then, would anyone object if Superman had asked, more modestly, the entire population of the globe to be kind to each other while the JLA was off fighting the sand-giraffes of Red-Mumble-12, or whatever?

Such fidelity to the traditions of the Silver Age comic book even extend to Mr. Ellis’s love for throwing comic-book spins on contemporary science into his books, just as John Broome, to name but one writer, used to do with his “Flash Facts.” (The broken universe which transmutes speed into music in The Authority is no more convincing than the 64th-century science that changed the Flash into a puppet, but both snippets contain interesting ideas: Broome was introducing his audience to Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum concerning advanced science being in effect the same as magic, and Ellis the idea of alternative universes where the fundamental laws are quite distinct to ours.) In a similar fashion to how Stan Lee would add a slither of depth into his scripts through the use of untypically demanding words, for a comic book, such as “omnipotent”, a challenge to his readers to just trot a little faster to keep up, a gesture of faith that they weren’t as stupid as they were often treated, so too would Mr. Ellis throw in mention of a ”mathematical key suitable for late type-zero civilizations,” far less an example of tech-speak and far more a cheerful wink that we’re all smarter than the surface of the comics we’re reading might lead others to believe. It shows a fondness for the audience to occasionally wink at them and acknowledge that they too are clever enough to play around with ideas which most folks who sneer at super-heroes wouldn’t even recognise as anything other than gobbledygook, and it also shows that the writer is having fun too.

8. “Where Do We Go from Here, Which is the Way That’s Clear”

Authority-Fact: for a man who has claimed so often to hate super-heroes, I’d be astonished if Mr. Ellis doesn’t retain a great deal of fondness for the Authority and its members, even if he never feels the slightest need to go anywhere near the characters again. And it’s hard, given how The Authority was so very much like the Silver Age comic books of the genre’s second childhood, to believe that Mr. Ellis hates super-heroes at all. Perhaps he does, and perhaps he hates all the ridiculous things that have been done with them as they’ve risen to swallow up so much of their fellow comic book genres. But there’s just too much affection for the traditions of the form and too tender a devotion to his characters for all that grumbling and carping to obscure the truth that The Authority is a far more affectionate and traditional book than so many folks would have it, even today. For if The Authority is a satire, it’s only a slight if worthwhile one, poking fun at the super-hero fan’s belief that their genre has become more mature and meaningful as time has passed. Yet, if The Authority is to be trusted, if Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hitch have told us the truth, and I think they did, dark and gritty doesn’t in itself indicate depth, and sweet and traditional doesn’t always mean all-mined-out and childish, and the one approach doesn’t need to be disconnected from the other at all.

This article was originally published on Colin Smith’s blog Too Busy Thinking About My Comics.

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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1 Comment

  1. Brilliant piece. Having thought about The Authority way more than is healthy, I think this is a very novel, informative take. Its argument is exceedingly well-made and sheds light on how the series holds up in retrospect, as opposed to how revolutionary it felt at the time.

    I’d say that a lot of this can be chalked up to it being a reconstructionist work, like Planetary, as opposed to a revisionist work, designed to upset or overturn the genre. By The Authority and Planetary, Ellis had figured out the super-hero formula and was busy making it glossy and appealing, rather than deconstructing it. But that’s just my thought, and it’s spurred by what is without a doubt a fantastic and important piece — one that stays with me.

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