While Grant Morrison reimagined the WildStorm Universe’s first team with his WildCats relaunch, the writer also tackled the most popular team with his run on The Authority. Both titles were launched at the same time, and they act as companion pieces to one another. While WildCats was designed to reconstruct the WildStorm Universe in order to posit what a corporate super-hero world would look like, The Authority was Morrison’s full-on attack against the idea of the revisionist (or realistic) super-hero.
WildCats began with Grifter explaining:
People said it was the hottest summer anyone could remember, hotter than the year mad Kaizen Gamorra died. President Chrysler’s first term saw unrest across the globe, from the new underwater cities to the asylum ghettoes of Europe.
In contrast, The Authority begins (after the destruction of a submarine in the Norwegian Sea) with an alarm going off and the news stating, “the atmosphere in the Thai capital is tense this morning… The Pope has said that Muslim anger over a speech he gave last . . .” It may not seem like much, but these two states of the world contrast one another in order for Morrison to establish just how far removed our world is from the supposedly “realistic” world of the WildStorm Universe. However Morrison’s comparisons don’t merely end with his WildCats.
Ken is a government agent and our window into this world (which is supposed to be the real world . . . our world). We learn that Ken and his wife are having marital problems and though we don’t really know the details, we know that she has packed her suitcase and is leaving him making Ken a sympathetic character. He is unwilling to give up the fight for his marriage even though his wife is leaving him.
This is “realism” taken to its absolute zenith. After the initial opening scene of the crew of a submarine being ripped apart, the scene where Ken calls his wife and tries to make amends and this scene is relatable to readers because it comes from a real place of emotion rather than a comic book sense of realism that has been defined by hyper violence since the 80′s. So, the submarine scene that would be considered “real” in the 80′s is juxtaposed by the scene of a marriage crumbling which is far more resonant with a reader.
We can compare the beginning of Morrison’s run to Ellis’s first issue where superhuman terrorists level Moscow and Jack Hawksmoor rips off a guy’s head and uses it to beat other terrorists.
More importantly, we can compare Morrison’s first issue to Mark Millar’s where the team overthrows a corrupt political regime in Southeast Asia. In Millar’s issue, the Authority doesn’t just oust a dictator; they murder his entire regime. The Engineer goes so far as to liquefy his staff by turning her hands into machine guns. In the end, Apollo drops the dictator to a mob of his people where they presumably rip him apart.
At the time, it was considered to be a bold story that looked at superheroes realistically. In fact, Wizard once proclaimed that the Authority was a superhero team that dealt with real world problems. Honestly, they were really no different than any other superhero team. Ousting one dictator was really no different than Superman battling Lex Luthor when one really analyzes the situation.
The end of the first issue teases “Be here for the historic first meeting of man and superman. Next in the Authority.” So, while the majority of the issue relies on realistic emotions being portrayed, there is still a sense of Stan Lee verbosity that Morrison likes to play around with so much.
Unlike WildCats, we were actually treated to a second issue of The Authority, but it wasn’t released until five months later. The first issue didn’t receive very kind reviews perhaps because there was a certain expectation that readers had about the series and since Morrison was subverting that expectation, many were left upset. After all, the titular team doesn’t even make an appearance in the first issue of the series.
Issue 2 begins with a shot of the Authority’s ship, the Carrier. A list of hot-button news words let’s the reader know that the Authority is monitoring our world. It also furthers Morrison’s agenda of setting the story in the real world. The list includes the words:
Bush. Blair. Terror. Celebrity. Drugs. Islam. War.
And one member of the Authority says, “Tell me again. How did we wind up in this %$#!hole?” The anonymous speech bubble denotes that the Authority aren’t pleased with our world, but furthermore, due to the anonymous nature of the bubble, the reader can assume that its actually Morrison’s commentary on our world itself. Tired of all of the buzzwords that accompany the news, with these two sentences, it’s as if Morrison craves the world of the WildStorm Universe.
This isn’t the first time Morrison has explored this theme. In fact, he’s made a career on this very idea; the real world is boring compared to the comic world, so his work is a celebration of the weird and the fantastic. Both Animal Man and Doom Patrol are very much products of this philosophy as both of them play up the madness that is inherent within the form. Both series were arguments against the Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns style of comics being written at the time (comics that claimed to portray the “real world” but were really just more violent). So with The Authority, Morrison is challenging his readers by essentially asking, “You wanted realistic comics, right? Well, here is a ‘real’ comic.”
As Jack Hawksmoor marvels at how the cities of our Earth cannot talk to him, the Engineer downloads our internet and analyzes it. She finds, “They have lots of porn, lots of crap for sale . . .” which can be construed as meaning that our world could be a lot better if we would get beyond these things and try our best at making our world better. Perhaps Morrison is suggesting that if we moved beyond the material world and start being heroes, then we could rise above our world and make it a better place.
The Doctor and Hawksmoor head to a comic shop and find comics of the Authority. The Doctor comments, “I can sense something special about this universe: something that allows information to bleed through from the totality.” So, even though our world is “real” we can see that it is still special in that other world manifest as stories in our own.
It’s an idea that has its roots in some of the best silver age stories out there. Flash #123 is the first story of the multiverse where Barry Allen meets the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick after crossing worlds. In Barry’s world, Jay is just a comic book hero, but Jay is real in his world and his stories are somehow transported and interpreted by a writer named Gardner Fox (the actual writer ofthe Flash comic book).
In Flash #179, Barry travels to Earth-Prime (which is supposed to be our Earth or the real world) where he meets Julius Schwartz (the editor of the Flash comic book) who helps him build the cosmic treadmill to send him home.
So even though the Authority have transported to the real world, the idea behind it has its roots in the Silver Age of comic books. It’s interesting because it’s a melding of realistic storytelling and old-fashioned super-heroics. But the Doctor makes the danger of their situation apparent when he cautions, “We may as well be monsters, trampling over the laws of nature until they break” which essentially confirms that these beings in our world would be absolutely disastrous. As much as we may want heroes to come along and solve all of our problems, its up to us to make a difference because our world isn’t the comic book world.
The Midnighter wishes to transform our world because it would be easy to do. He notes that their mission statement has been to build a finer world and “with no super-creeps to stop us? Imagine how easy it would be to fix this place up the way we wanted to back home.”
Our lens into this world, Ken, is horrified by the idea of the Authority changing our world. He asks, “Whose side are you on?”
To which Hawksmoor replies, “Us? We’re the good guys, for @#!$’s sake!”
And Ken says, “How do you know?”
It’s an excellent point that had never really been brought up to my knowledge in the series. The Authority was used to killing super-villains and dictators, but who was to say that they were any better? They seemed to operate under the pretense that their power didn’t so much as make them responsible as it made them in charge of everyone.
Morrison’s tenure on the title ended with issue #2 which is again unfortunate because he wasn’t allowed to fully explore the potential of the story. Compared to past stories with the Authority, this one was a slow burn, but it was intentional. While Ellis and Millar defined their respective runs with widescreen superhero action, Morrison began to craft a tale that was much slower, but had the potential to be more powerful than the others. It was the anti-Authority story and it existed in order to give the middle finger to the past. Though it was far from perfect, it was still an interesting story that explored the way comic stories were told… which is really all in a day’s work for Grant Morrison, really.
Two years later, Keith Giffen was brought onto the book in order to wrap it up. Giffen has been quoted as saying, “I stepped into a book that was in the midst of a type of storyline that is probably my least favorite in comics. And that is, heroes come to our earth.” While the trope itself has been used before, its clear that Morrison wasn’t going to tread down the same path that others have walked before. I never read how Giffen finished it off, but considering how he viewed the basic premise, it didn’t look too promising.
Morrison’s WildStorm never quite flourished the way I had hoped it would have. In the end, it was a failed experiment that signaled the beginning of the end for the line. One has to wonder what it would be like if Morrison’s books had continued on. Would the WildStorm Universe still be in print today? Would the world destroying crossovers have continued or would Morrison have stabilized WildStorm into a new project for the 21st century? We’ll never know, but it’s fun to dream, isn’t it?