The Authority

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The Authority

(pop culture)

We are the Authority. Behave.” So admonished Jenny Sparks, the leader of the superpowered group known as the Authority, after the group had substantially altered the political and physical aspects of an alternate Earth. In those words, she hinted at the duality at work in the comic book series The Authority, published by WildStorm Comics. She was telling the people of Earth that the Authority would force them to behave, although the Authority itself did not behave. Winning the day at any cost, the Authority protected humankind while making unchecked decisions about its future.

Many members of the Authority had previously been members of Stormwatch, a United Nations-sponsored superhero team;, but when that team dissolved (and the Stormwatch series was canceled in 1998), a new group was formed. The Authority is headquartered aboard the Carrier, an immense ship that can travel between dimensions on the edge of “the Bleed,” but which likes to stick close to Earth. The Carrier can open “doors,” allowing the team to teleport almost anywhere in the known universe.

Utilizing her vast experience and wielding electrical powers, Sparks was the one-hundred-year-old leader of the team, until her death at midnight on December 31, 1999. She was then replaced by Jenny Quantum, a fast-growing, precocious infant who was adopted by Apollo and Midnighter, a pair of gay heroes in a committed relationship.

Apollo’s powers are akin to Superman’s. He can fly at tremendous speed, has enhanced strength and heat vision, can survive in space, and is powered by absorbing sunlight. Midnighter is as dark as Apollo is light. Essentially Batmanlike, Midnighter is a scrappy fighter dressed in black leather who is capable of analyzing fights in a way that allows him to win most of the time.

The Engineer is Angela Spica, a woman whose blood is actually mechanical, allowing her to control machinery and morph her body’s protective covering to include weaponry (she is the second Engineer). The other multi-generational hero in the group is the Doctor. Latest in a long line of shamanistic magicians, the Doctor can converse with all the Doctors before him (of which Albert Einstein and Jesus Christ are two), and can magically transmute matter into living material, such as trees or flowers.

Jack Hawksmoor and Swift make up the rest of the team. Hawksmoor can channel the spirit of cities, allowing himself to merge with concrete streets and steel buildings, and to utilize their strength. The winged Swift (Shen Li-Min) is a huntress, viciously attacking from the air. Over the course of their adventures, the team faces an array of villains, including evil Asian clone-maker Kaizen Gamorra, British soldiers from an alternate Earth known as Sliding Albion, a group of characters resembling Marvel Comics’ Avengers (if they were rapists and murderers), and more.

The first twelve issues of The Authority (May 1999-April 2000) were written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary. They quickly established that they were telling grand tales on a big canvas; the first four-part storyline had Moscow wiped out by hundreds of superpowered clones, then London and Los Angeles attacked as well. A second four-part story saw the Earth being invaded from an alternate dimension, while the third four-parter revealed that Earth was actually created by an alien being that now wanted to reclaim it. In essence, the Authority had to take on and defeat “God.”.

Under Ellis, Hitch, and Neary, The Authority became both a sales success and a critical success, but the team left the series en masse with issue #12 in April 2000. Coming onboard was writer Mark Millar, aided by artist Frank Quitely (and other guest artists as needed). The Authority soon took a nastier turn; instead of grand huge storylines and heroic actions, the Authority were now merciless and political, facing less cosmic evils, and determined to change the world as they saw fit. Millar’s dialogue was coarser as well, and his stories tended toward lots of violence, mayhem, rape, and taboo-breaking. Millar even managed to offend fans of one of the comics world’s patron saints, super-artist Jack Kirby; in one storyline, Millar’s Kirby-like Jacob Krigstein character is the villain. Another storyline completely replaced the Authority with new, similar characters, who were even more debased than their predecessors. The real Authority, thankfully, returned by the end of that story arc.

By early 2001, Quitely quit the book—multiple issues had required fill-in artists already—and Art Adams stepped aboard, but The Authority was mired in controversy (although sales stayed high). When news was leaked that pages from The Authority were being censored after the September 11 attacks—removed or changed were political scenes, extreme gore, and over-the-top debasement—the series’ already shaky publishing schedule became disrupted further. A completed forty-eight-page The Authority: Widescreen special was indefinitely postponed due to some scenes rife with devastation in New York City.

Millar’s run on The Authority finally ended with an extremely delayed issue #29 (July 2002)—an issue that featured a comics industry first: a gay wedding. And then, with the exception of some one-shots and specials, the series disappeared. Despite the uncertainty about the series’ future, corporate synergy did allow for a set of four Authority action figures to be released by DC Direct in August 2002.

In July 2003, WildStorm and DC revived The Authority as an ongoing monthly series, under the new creative team of writer Robbie Morrison and artists Dwayne Turner and Sal Regla. The creative team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Dustin Nguyen collaborated on a new limited series, The Authority: Revolution, which began in 2004. Writer Grant Morrison and artist Gene Ha teamed on The Authority Volume 4, starting in 2006, followed by Volume 5 in 2008, originally written by the team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. —AM