Writers: Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer
Artists: Bryan Hitch, Frank Quietly and Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics (Wildstorm Imprint)
Release Date: 1999-2002
Reviewer: Rollo Tomasi
THE AUTHORITY. ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL COMIC SERIES OF THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY THAT PEOPLE FORGOT ABOUT.
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In the late 1990’s Warren Ellis would take over a Wildstorm series called Stormwatch. Before Ellis the series was a typical 90’s superhero book. Big on guns, action, and biceps. But little on coherent storytelling. Stormwatch was about a team of super powered beings that worked for the United Nations. When Ellis came on the book he streamlined it. Created 3 different teams to handle different missions. The teams were run by Henry Bendrix AKA the Weatherman.
Think G.I. Joe or S.H.I.E.L.D but with superheroes. Now you’re likely wondering why I’m talking about Stormwatch if this is supposed to be about the Authority? Well the Authority spun out of Stormwatch. Authority’s main characters were all connected to Ellis’s Stormwatch series. Team Leader Jenny Sparks (100 years old with electrical powers), Jack Hawksmoor (genetically engineered to have powers based on cities), Midnighter & Apollo (think Batman & Superman. Also Midnighter is still the most popular character to come out of the Authority) and Swift all started in Stormwatch. The Authority was rounded out by two new characters whose backstory were tied into Stormwatch, The Doctor and the Engineer. Now that we’ve set up the team now let’s look at why this team’s initial series left a lasting impression on superhero stories.
The Authority are a team that believes in protecting the Earth. That might not sound very original. But it’s in the details that make them different for the time. The Authority didn’t believe in maintaining the status quo. Didn’t care about laws or territorial boundaries. If they saw a problem they could fix, they just went ahead and did it. Yes, there were stories in the past of super hero team acting like this, such as the 1980’s Squadron Supreme series, but here
The Authority aren’t looking to take over the world (well that might come in much later storylines). They just wanted to protect it. Their tag line was “there must be someone left to save the world”. The first four part story called “The Circle” is about a villain from the former Stormwatch series suddenly attacking cities with an army of super powered soldiers. The Authority at first are playing catch up defending the first city attacked.
These assaults are one of the things at the time that set The Authority apart from other Super Hero series. The battles are epic in scope. Many reviewers at the time nicknamed them a “letterbox” version of super hero battles. Something out would see on the big screen. Think the big battle in Man of Steel and you get an idea. After the initial battles the Authority take the battle to the villain’s home country that he controls. The way how one member stopped the villain is nothing short of over the top.
Bryan Hitch provides the art here and for me it’s some of the best art he’s ever done. Hitch would go from this series to do Marvel’s Ultimates series. Where many have argued is the Avengers version of the Authority. Here Hitch beautifully displays the previously mentioned letterbox format. The battles might seem extreme. But not in that 90’s EXTREME!!!!!!!! way that is a turn off. But another thing that Hitch doesn’t always get enough credit for is his use of body language and facial expressions.
Ellis likes to let his artist tell the story. Especially the action scenes. But even in the quieter moments when characters are simply talking, Hitch brings in a lot of character building with simple gestures. Such as a scene when Jack and the engineer are walking and talking. And when her body is shedding its metal outer shell, therefore making her naked, Jack simply takes his jacket off and covers her with it. No reference in the dialogue to it. Simply a nice gesture on Jack’s part showing he cares for the Engineer.
The Authority treated their roles as a job. There was a pragmatic way they did their job. Yes, they would kill their enemies, but you never felt like that was the point. They simply wanted to save the world. And the conflicts they faced were so over the top that they had little choice. Ellis also did a great job of addressing the logistics that a Super team would face. Details often overlooked in other books. Such as after one battle to save Los Angeles when they send the bad guys away, instead to just being glad they won the battle, the team goes right to dealing with rescuing survivors and assessing the damage. They also examine the crime scene in an almost Batman detective way. Jenny Sparks as team leader is literally an Authority to those around her.
Besides the action Ellis and Hitch do a great job of building chemistry between the main cast. They are like coworkers that might throw snide remarks at each other, but also have each other’s back when the work begins. Arguably the break out star of the series is the Midnighter. Who is designed to calculate every fight 1000’s of times in his head before throwing the first punch. But all characters in the first story get their moments.
The Authority were such an influence in the early 2000’s that it spawned a lot of imitators. Its influence spread to the point that in Action Comics #775 Superman would battle a team called “The Elite”. A parody of the Authority. The point of that story was to address the question of whether Superman as a character was still relevant in a post Authority comic book world. That Superman story would later be adapted into an animated movie called Superman vs the Elite.
When The Authority first arrived it was like a shock to the comic industry. Although the first issue came out in 1999 it was seen by some as the first post 90’s super hero team. It was known for its brutal battles, but what set it apart from the “EXTREME!!! 90’S” was its use of character moments and giving each character a distinctive voice. Also the idea of a team that didn’t care about listening to governments and their legal Authority was appealing at the time. 20 years later this might not seem so ground breaking. But in its day The Authority felt unique. Hitch’s art was career defining here. His use of epic battle scenes can still be seen in today’s comics.