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Comics You Should Own flashback – The Authority #22-29

Here’s another olde-tyme Comics You Should Own post, from back in 2005. It’s the last one I posted at the old blog!

The Authority by Mark Millar (writer, issues #22, 27-29), Tom Peyer (writer, issues #23-26), Frank Quitely (penciller, issue #22), Dustin Nguyen (penciller, issues #23-26), Arthur Adams (penciller, issues #27-28), Gary Erskine (artist, issue #29), Trevor Scott (inker, issue #22), Richard Friend (inker, issues #23-26), Jason Martin (inker, issues #23-26), Tim Townsend (inker, issues #27-28), David Baron (colorist), Ryan Cline (letterer, issues #22-23), Bill O’Neil (letterer, issues #24-28), Tom Long (letterer, issue #29), and Sergio Garcia (letterer, issue #29).

DC/Wildstorm, 8 issues (#22-29), cover dated March 2001-July 2002.

Minor SPOILERS below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

“What?” you say. “Greg doesn’t consider Ellis’s run on The Authority essential?” Well, first off, it’s comics you should own, not comics you already own, and any comics geek probably already owns Ellis’s 12 issues. Secondly (and more importantly), when you get right down to it, Ellis’s run is pretty simplistic, with none of the political machinations or even interesting villains of his take on StormWatch. Yes, I love reading the issues, and yes, Hitch’s art is magnificent, but if you really stop to think about it, it’s all “Here’s a bad guy – let’s punch him in the brain.” Worth the time, but nothing really ground-breaking (especially if you buy Rob Liefeld’s latest [I wrote this in 2005, remember] assertion that he, not Ellis, invented “wide-screen” comics).

Then came Millar.

His first storyline is a fairly good arc, but nothing terribly amazing except for Quitely’s art. His second arc, with the rogue Doctor, was weaker, and I suspect many people left the book during it, especially with the delays in printing. Then Doselle Young stepped in with, basically, a set-up for his title, The Monarchy (whatever happened to Young? – he was supposed to be the next big thing [Editor’s note: this is still a pertinent question over 4 years later]). His issue (#21) was one of the weirdest comics I’ve ever read, and I still don’t get it [Our main man Chad Nevett tried to make sense of it, though]. So by the time Millar began his “death of the Authority” arc in issue #22, I suspect the book had lost a good chunk of its audience. Add to the fact that Quitely suddenly left to go do X-Men and Millar had some issues with the censorship board at DC, and the final issues of the first volume of The Authority limped out in late printings, taking over a year to complete. By the time it was put out of its misery, it was a shell of its former glory.

Or was it? Sure, waiting for the issues to come out was interminable. But I submit to you that these latter issues of The Authority were just as good, and in some ways much better, than the sanctified Ellis run. No, the art wasn’t as good. Hitch remains a master at the kind of art this book needs, although Nguyen, I would say, gave him a run for his money. I have my issues with Quitely’s art (don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but I still have issues with it), and I don’t think Adams really works here, although I love his art, and the Erskine’s art in the finale is just yucky. So the art is inferior, but not by too much. It doesn’t take me out of the story, which is all I want in my comics [I still feel this way, although I’m much better at reviewing art than I was in 2005].

The stories, however, are more complex and far more interesting than Ellis’s run. Ellis gave us a ridiculously stereotypical Asian terrorist who would have made people writing Fu Manchu comics in the 1930s pause, a silly alternative Earth with a straw dog as a villain (Regis doesn’t really do anything, does he? I mean, Hawksmoor kills him by jumping through him!), and, well, yet another take on aliens returning to Earth to find out the annoying humans have taken over. Millar and Peyer give us the United States government. Sure, it’s just as much a cliché as the aliens coming home, but it’s still more interesting. It’s something we can believe the government doing, since most governments are all about preserving the status quo. When the Authority gets too big for its britches, the government steps in. Who’s to say they can’t?

Issue #22 sets up the story. We get that eerie shot of the Midnighter’s mask lying in the sand, and then Quitely slowly pulls back to reveal the downed Carrier. We flash back a week to Jack giving an interview to “Ed Bradley,” and this gives Millar a chance to spout more of his “leftist-dictatorship” dogma that so many comic book writers enjoy. It’s still good reading, but the shit hits the fan pretty quickly when Seth, the genetically-enhanced assassin sent by the government, gets onto the Carrier (in typically gross Millar fashion) and begins killing people. He’s pretty stinkin’ good at it, too, and the team is dispatched with minimum fuss, leaving the new Authority in charge. Exit Millar for four issues.

When Peyer takes over, the book really gets interesting. If you skip from issue 22 to 27, when Millar takes over again, the book really doesn’t work as well, even though that was apparently how it was supposed to work. Of course, Millar may have completely changed his story after the censors got to work on him. But Peyer’s interlude allows us a couple of things: it allows us to believe the old Authority is really dead, and it also allows us to see things from the villains’ points of view. It’s been noted other places that building a book around villains doesn’t really work long-term (even Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, as great as it was, had a good mixture of good guys and bad), but for four issues, Peyer makes it work. The key is, of course, to make them human beings and make us care about them. We don’t like the new Authority because, after all, they’re bastards, but we do care about what they’re doing, and it’s a good trick. They uphold the status quo and get away with being just as depraved as the old Authority because of who they represent, but they also have feelings for each other, although they hide them under a veneer of bastardness. The dynamics of the team make for interesting reading. Obviously, the relationship between Teuton and Last Call is the most interesting, as Teuton wants to be a crime-fighting team like Apollo and the Midnighter, but Last Call doesn’t want to get too close to him because of the “couple” associations with the heroes they replaced. Peyer makes Teuton a weepy baby at times, which adds comic relief but also points out that he’s not a complete villain, and Millar makes him a closet homosexual who wants to “experiment” on Apollo just before the Midnighter kills him (in a scene the censors got to, apparently). I’m not sure if Peyer knew Millar was going to do that, but it makes the scenes where he breaks down and sobs a little weirder than they would be otherwise.

Peyer’s story arc is, of course, a none-too-subtle dig at other superhero team-ups in the “real” comic book world that DON’T fight the status quo. The Justice League and the Avengers would never dump a bunch of refugees out of their space station, but if the rich and elite of society suddenly lost all their money and the JLA found out who was behind it, you can bet they’d go punch them in the brains, just like the new Authority does. With more subtlety, I would argue, than Millar did with his Avengers stand-ins in his first storyline (I laughed quite hard when they showed up, I’ll admit, but I doubt if “subtlety” is a word Millar is familiar with), Peyer shows us that superhero groups are ultimately about keeping things humming along the way they always have done, and the Colonel’s line in issue #23, “But we have to rebel in our own way. We choose to do it within the system” is a perfect refutation of Superman’s dictum that humans have to save themselves – those with god-like powers can’t do it for them, an excuse that always bothered me. The Authority made the world better for humans who simply could not help themselves. Hey, Clark, tell the Tibetans and the Australian aborigines and blacks and Hispanics in this country that you can’t help them because it’s not in your code. They’d tell you to go screw yourself. The new Authority shows perfectly why the supergroups in the “real” comics’ universes (the regular DC and Marvel ones) can’t do a damned thing. Just when we think the old Authority is coming back and the “status quo” of everything being different will be restored, Last Call thwarts that because he’s not gay. It’s a very funny moment, and the new Authority is off again to uphold the ruling elite. Peyer doesn’t give us the resolution we want, which is why this arc resonates – it’s not the good guys winning, at least not our good guys. We want our old Authority back!

Which, of course, Millar does in issue #27. We find out that none of the team is dead, merely neutered. The Midnighter, of course, is going to save the day (even outside of the regular DC universe, Batman is always the last hope). In issue #28, he kills everyone in the new Authority, leaving Seth as the last bad guy to defeat. Issue #28 is another one where the censors took control, especially on the page where Rush and the Surgeon die, because you honestly cannot tell what happens. Apparently it was too graphic for DC, so they put panels over it. Stupid DC. Anyway, in issue #29 Jenny Quantum defeats Seth, Millar gets in some jokes about rednecks (ha, ha, Mark – it’s not even as funny as when Ennis did it in Preacher, and it wasn’t that funny then), and the status quo is restored. The Authority, interestingly enough, has become a stodgy, unchanging superhero group. And, in another interesting twist, they have lost all reason for being. I haven’t read the title since issue #29 came out, but I can’t believe it’s any more or less good than JLA or Avengers. If you like it, fine, but if it’s any more than superheroes punching people in the brain (yes, I’m running with that today), I’ll be surprised.

What these final issues of The Authority did, ultimately, is expose the hypocrisy of superhero groups in a concise and entertaining way. Millar and Peyer exposed the reader to his (or her) own hypocrisy is supporting the status quo of superhero groups and superhero comics in general, and in a much less obnoxious and insulting way than Millar did in Wanted. This kind of thing is, of course, a Millar staple, and he does it with varying success. Here he does it well, and is able to subvert his own message of “change or die” with the subtext of “change is no good.” While the Authority is creating a new world in which a different elite (but a “good” elite) is in charge, the comic is saying that everything has to stay the same. It’s an entertaining read, sure, but troubling nonetheless because of what it says about our buying habits and our own relationship to whatever status quo we choose to acknowledge. Pretty heavy stuff from a superhero comic book.

As always, you can check out the archives. You don’t have work to do, do you?

23 Comments

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 8, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Then came Millar.

Who liked to raise political issues with snide one liners, and then have people punch people in the head.

This run belongs on Wizards ‘Comics that are kewl to read’ not here (although I see it was written in 2005… maybe you were just caught up in love for The Ultimates, which was a better take on what he tried to do with The Authority).

I read this series in the trade, not as singles, so it may have been more apparent, so I find it interesting that you don’t mention that the Millar and Peyer takes on the characters don’t mesh with each other at all.
Their characteristics are different, their values… heck the Peyer run doesn’t happen as far as Millar’s script – or was it Morrisons? – is concerned.

For my take this read as one of those superhero satires, that’s apparently making some point about the genre as a whole,that just reads as a really bad version of one of the comics it’s making fun of – be it the thirty two levels above the President, the female characters kept as sex slaves, or the ‘extreme evil’ takes on the books main characters – this story, as with the rest of Millar’s Authority, is just plain sad, sloppy, and s sensationalist.

FGJ: Because Millar’s story was supposed to be published as four consecutive issues, I doubt he cared what Peyer did with the characters. I assume that he wrote the characters as his usual bastards, but Peyer did a lot more than he expected anyone to do with them, and he didn’t feel like following along. I like Peyer’s story a lot more than Millar’s, but they mesh enough that I think Millar’s belongs.

I stand behind the post, though! I re-read these when I was putting this post together (I needed scans), and I think they still hold up, despite the annoying tics in Millar’s writing.

“Who liked to raise political issues with snide one liners, and then have people punch people in the head.”

Wait, how is that different from Ellis Authority? >_>

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 8, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Wait, how is that different from Ellis Authority?

They stayed away from politics.

I may have understated the political talk, but go read Millar’s first issue, where the characters talk about how they have to make a change, and topple a dictator.
The rest of the run is them talking about how they’ve changed everything and are totally different themselves, whilst proceeding to star in over the top, yet run of the mill, stories.
Ellis’s book was all about the action, and it stuck to that principal.
Millar’s book was all about doing something new – from what he said, and how characters talked – and all they did was fight super-villains.

Also Greg, one of the issues you listed as by Millar was actually written by Morrison.
The one with Relgimon.

Ellis’ Authority was more significant based on how it was done than what it was doing– the Authority were ultimately the Justice League on a bigger scale, in terms of their powers, the threats they faced, and the measures they took to fight back. The storytelling methods were very novel then, as Ellis and Hitch coined the ” widescreen movement ” that continues to this day. Since I love that kind of storytelling, with fewer panels per page and no extraneous accoutrements ( no thought balloons, few if any narrative captions, no sound effects, no speed lines ), their Authority immediately holds a place in my Top 10 Comics Of All Time. It still holds up as an example of the highest technical quality a superhero comic can achieve.

Millar’s Authority continued the momentum of Ellis’, and had some really good ideas, but I have to say it holds up badly. The dialogue is awkward, the voices are interchangable, the heroes are basically sociopaths finding deserving targets and paying lipservice to humanitarian ideals, and the villains have all the depth of Dr. Light. The only way to read it is to treat it as one big farce, and even then Millar’s offered better ones since ( Ultimates being the most obvious, but Wanted, Kick-Ass, and even Wolverine: Enemy of the State have all the bloodshed without the pretensions. Plus, their art is consistent; Quitely’s even more talented than Hitch, but he didn’t keep a full run, and the fill-ins were too different to keep up the flow ).

I feel bad saying this because the Authority was doing great things at the time and the emptiness in DC’s collective sack cut off its momentum permanently, but my favorite superhero comic as a 16-year-old looks somewhat embarassing now.

Tom Fitzpatrick

November 8, 2009 at 9:31 pm

I remember leaving the book when Quitely left the book to go to work with Morrison on the New X-men. I believe that Quitely moved his family to America at that time. Which left the storyline Millar was working on unfinished until Art Adams finished it off.

Then the Peyer filled-in with his four-parter to give Adams time to complete the Millar four-parter.

At any rate, I got fed up with all the delays and dropped the book.
Never looked back except for the Planetary/Authority two-parter, but that was a Elsewhere project, if I remember correctly.

The Ellis/Hitch run was far more memorable.

Is Dustin Nguyen the only artist to draw two runs on Authority?

He did Peyer’s fill-in arc, of course, and then came back for Brubaker’s relaunch three years later.

I think the best way to view Ellis’ run on The Authority is that he was basically doing what Grant Morrison was doing on JLA at the time: “Here are these immensely powerful heroes, what can I throw at them that will actually be a challenge for them?” Ellis’ writing tends to fall either on the “cosmic” side of things or the “socio-political” side of things, and since The Authority (and its predecessor, Stormwatch) were clearly in the former camp, the answer to the question is “Really big threats to the entire planet”: First a threat from a resident of the planet itself, then a threat from a parallel world, then a cataclysmic threat from outer space.

(Planetary strives to merge the cosmic and socio-political sides of Ellis’ writing more than anything else I’ve seen of his, and since he was working that ground around the same time as The Authority – at the same company, even! – putting The Authority in the same arena would have been redundant. Of course, this wouldn’t have been clear to anyone reading only The Authority.)

Anyway, Millar came in and obviously decided to have The Authority try to change the people of the world, not just save the world itself, which is a markedly different tone from what Ellis had established. It sounded interesting at first, but ended up being a complete disaster: Wretched, grim, cynical stories full of gratuitously bad language, sex and violence (that is, all three were gratuitous and bad), populated with villains and anti-heroes, issue after issue of mayhem for mayhem’s sake, and really nothing deeper than that in all of it.

I don’t think Millar’s run really “exposed the reader to his (or her) own hypocrisy is supporting the status quo of superhero groups and superhero comics in general”, because he never really grapples with that issue in any depth. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity offered up in his run, but none of it is ever really considered, it’s just presented. And honestly it’s been presented (and considered!) much better many other times before and since (Watchmen, for instance). This run of The Authority is shallow.

Honestly, the word I would use to describe this period of The Authority is “disgusting”. I’ve never really warmed to Millar’s writing anywhere, since it always seems to be heartless and is often disgusting, and just plain no fun to read. I wouldn’t recommend this run of The Authority to anyone.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

November 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm

To me, the defining excample of Millar’s failure to do more than hint at the shallows of actual politics occurs in #29, when the big moment where the people of the world work as one to save themselves….happens off-panel, in-between pages, and is dealt with in a quickie bit of dialogue so we can get to the “shocking” same-sex superhero marriage scene instead.

When push came to shove, Millar had no idea how to demonstrate the other side of whatever alleged hypocrisy he was lampshading. It’s an artistic failure that leaves the run without thematic closure or a proper climax, and indicates pretty strongly that Millar hadn’t given any of it anywhere near as much thought as his incredibly overgenerous fans.

Frankly, I’ve never seen a writer get as much unearned benefit of the doubt as Millar; considering how rarely he delivers anything beyond cynical action-movie cliches dressed up in fashionable political buzzwords, he’s maintained a slew of readers willing to turn the least hint of an idea in his work as if it were a 1,000-page prize-winning thesis. Say what you will of Morrison or Ellis as too meta or too self-involved, but they do at least explain and make efforts to artistically develop their themes and ideas. Millar’s not even a clever self-promoting ideologue.

The only thing I dislike about Millar’s Authority work is that it pretty much wastes Frank Quitely’s talents. I’d rather have seen him work on things with more substance and depth, even back then, before he became THE Frank Quitely.

Other than that, I have no problems with this run, although giving it more weight and reverence than it deserves is a bit disturbing, as it really doesn’t say much more about politics and humanity than a random issue of, say, SuperPro or Sleepwalker.

Millars run on the authority proved that some writers as genius as Warren are not a good fit for characters like the authority even though he tried . it was not the best fit for him as for Dossele young who knows mayb after his work on the authority maybe he decided not to contiue in the comic industry . a future legend that did not give it a chance.

I really liked the first issue of this story when it came out — it was great in that ‘watch everything fall apart with no hope of recovery’ way where you actually hope, in part, that things don’t get better later. Peyer’s run was interesting and well done (my one and only letter column appearance is in issue #23, by the way). The rest of Millar’s run, though… it couldn’t fulfill the promise of its beginning and limped along, mostly because it worked so hard to put everything back to normal.

But, I should go back and read these again sometime.

While I agree with Omar for the most part, I did think that first four issue arc was pretty smart. It became pretty obvious pretty quickly that Millar couldn’t actually write about the politics he was bringing up, but for those first four issues he raised some interesting questions.

I don’t quite mean it to sound quite as mean as the comparison really is, but to me, Millar is the Michael Bay of the comics world. To me, he creates loud, shiny comics with soundbites instead of dialogue and Big Moments instead of character.

That’s good, sometimes. I don’t mind a mindless movie once in a while, nor a mindless comic.

What bothers me is when they’re portrayed as being so much more meaningful or so much deeper than they really are. They really aren’t.

There are lots of explosions, lots of one liners, lots of ‘get the audience up and cheering,’ but very little more than that.

Personal opinion and all that…and I’m not saying it’s always a bad thing. It’s just all surface to me.

I re-read Millar’s run last year and I didn’t loathe it as much as I did when it was coming out. There are some good moments and some fun comic book-y things. What I hated with a passion then (and am disappointed by now) is how Millar took characters who weren’t exactly nice but were heroes and turned them into self-obsessed, fame hungry, celebrity whores who punched things in the head because they wanted to get back to fucking and drinking. I remember thinking at the time that Jenny Sparks should come back from the dead and kick all of their asses for making the turning the headquarters of the Authority into “Carrier 54″.

Millar’s run actually reminded me of the post ’86 mania for “grim and gritty” comics. All the grunge, none of the fun. Ellis had Jenny Sparks give God a lobotomy. Millar would have had her give him a blowjob and electrocute his dick.

Count me in the crowd who prefer Millar’s run.

Ellis’s run was quite fin and pretty to look at, but I found it a little bland. Millar’s run felt much closer to what I loved in Ellis’s Stormwatch. And Quitely is probably God

Ellis’ stories were a game of super-hero one-upping. The Authority fights an evil dictator, then an alternate reality, then a god. They were more cynical than any super-hero comics I’d read before, but saved by a high level of craft. Millar & Co. couldn’t match or top him, but the last few issues were interesting. I really liked the ending to the series (in which the people of Earth unite to defend the planet, and the Authority sit on the sidelines), even if, as Omar noted, the climax happens off-panel. I think Millar’s cynicism was in keeping with Ellis’ original stories,even if he doesn’t have the sense of craft that Ellis does. Despite a somewhat botched execution, I thought the idea of super-heroes being outdated came through, and made sense. I don’t care for Millar, even though I’ve read several of his comics, but I don’t think he is totally without talent.

” I don’t quite mean it to sound quite as mean as the comparison really is, but to me, Millar is the Michael Bay of the comics world. To me, he creates loud, shiny comics with soundbites instead of dialogue and Big Moments instead of character. ”

Not fair, because Millar has areas where he is genuinely talented. He’s good at writing morally ambiguous and reprehensible characters, he’s really good at pacing a script and playing to an artist, and at depraved humor. The troubles arise when he does stories that aren’t dark satires about dysfunctional protagonists; with the exception of Ultimate Avengers, almost all his recent Marvel work ( Civil War and onward ) has fallen into this category. When he tries to write a genuinely sympathetic character, they end up sounding like a mechanical cliche’. See: Miriam Sharpe.

Tarantino might be a better analogy than the creatively bankrupt Bay, were Tarantino not already used as the Bendis comparison ( and Bendis is more David Mamet by his own admission ).

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Never looked back except for the Planetary/Authority two-parter, but that was a Elsewhere project, if I remember correctly.

What two-parter was this?
There was a one shot team up book of the two released, but that was back in the first year of each title.

I remember thinking at the time that Jenny Sparks should come back from the dead and kick all of their asses for making the turning the headquarters of the Authority into “Carrier 54″.

But Millar also wrote a Jenny Sparks mini that just made you wish Ellis had worked out a deal for her like Gaiman did with Morpheus.
It changed characters origins for no discernible reason, turned Jenny into a bi-sexual girl who also likes group sex with old men, and although each issue told it’s own story, they were linked by a threat running through them that even Millar didn’t seem to care about.

I think Millar may have done more to kill The Authority than the scrapping of the Azzarello & Dillon arc did.

I liked the Jenny Sparks mini – though it was a bit like Forrest Gump

[…] Comics You Should Own flashback – The Authority #22-29 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) […]

Although I don’t like the artist, the story is awesome. Very good comic indeed.

“(ha, ha, Mark – it’s not even as funny as when Ennis did it in Preacher, and it wasn’t that funny then)”
It was, it is and it always will be!!

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