Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #201: The Authority

I covered a somewhat forgotten Jack Kirby team last week.  This week, I feel like covering a team that once fought Jack Kirby.  Sort of.  I will explain.

For now, let’s just say I am covering the Wildstorm team The Authority.

From left to right: Apollo, Swift, the Doctor, the Engineer with some random kid, Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and the Midnighter.

So, who was or were The Authority?  I distinctly remember seeing their #1 issue on a shelf and opting to buy it.  And it was cool.  Written by Warren Ellis, noted hater of superheroes, and drawn by Bryan Hitch, one of those artists who excels at drawing what could arguably called the best widescreen action shots in the business, The Authority #1 came out in 1999 and featured seven superheroes who, in their very first issue, came down and battled a horde of cloned superhumans attacking a city in the sort of giant, violent, and lethal a manner possible.  Rather than give them much of a backstory, Ellis instead opted to give them cool nicknames that were displayed as they battled the massive numbers stacked against them.  They were:

  • Team leader Jenny Sparks, “The Spirit of the 20th Century”
  • Apollo, “The Sun God”
  • The Midnighter, “Night’s Bringer of War”
  • Jack Hawksmoor, “The God of Cities”
  • The Engineer, “The Maker”
  • Swift, “The Winged Huntress”
  • The Doctor, “The Shaman”

And that was basically all we got by way of introduction.

I didn’t much care.  I thought they were awesome.

As it is, Ellis planned to do twelve issues, divided into three four-issue storyarcs, after which the book would be handed off to other creators.  And much of what happened in that year was the sort of thing that Ellis does best on a genre he’s never really expressed any interest in.  The Authority lived in a giant, living spaceship called the Carrier that drifted through an interdimensional subspace called “the Bleed”.  From there, the team could instantly teleport to any point on Earth through a “door” and do what they needed to do.  At the end of Ellis’ run, Jenny Sparks died because she was the spirit of the 20th century and it was December 31st, 1999 at exactly midnight.  Since she’d been born on January 1st, 1900, she lived almost exactly a century and actually was the spirit of the 20th century in human form.  Her electrical powers were pretty extensive, and Ellis tossed a couple more of these “Century Babies” as he called them into other works of his, but Jenny was the only one with a finite term on Earth it seemed.

Yes, there is/was a Spirit of the 21st Century, a young woman named Jenny Quantum who was born at the exact moment Jenny Sparks died.  Her powers were a lot more…nuclear.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

See, Ellis didn’t just whip these guys up out of nowhere.  He’d been working on them for a while and probably didn’t get as much notice as a result.

See, Ellis had taken over a somewhat forgettable group called Stormwatch, an international team of superhumans that worked for the United Nations.  His first issue saw him jettison a bunch of second stringers save one, the only member of the team he didn’t create himself, and that was Swift.  She originally just had some feathered arms or something, but when her powers were upgraded, she gained a pair of birds feet and her wings became a large pair that sprouted from her back.  Oh, and the wings could be shed and she could, as needed, grow a new pair now.

Swift was kept for a covert strike team that included two new members:  Jenny Sparks and Jack Hawksmoor.  Jenny has been around for decades and her somewhat frequent flashbacks to earlier adventures were always drawn in the style of a comic from that time period, which is rather cool.  Jack was a human that had been experimented on by aliens to leave him a person who could only really function in a city.  He could teleport himself between urban areas, know the exact geography of any town he was in down to the street sign, communicate with cities, has the physical strength of cities, and live off pollution.  In the early days, he also grew physically sick if he wasn’t in a city.

Additionally,  Apollo and the Midnighter were part of a science experiment from a reoccurring villain that created a group of superhumans for a secret superhero team, and something went wrong and killed the other members of the team on their first mission.  The characters were all stand-ins for a certain Justice League, with Apollo basically being Superman and Midnighter being Batman, only this Batman had a computerized brain or something that allowed him to quickly calculate the quickest way to win a fight against any opponent.

And the last two?  Those individual characters were new in that first issue, but the concepts predated them to a Stormwatch storyline.  The Doctor was the current person in a long line of mystical shamans who communicated directly with the spirit of the Earth and all of their predecessors in some sort of spirit world.  The Engineer originally was a man, but both he and the Doctor died in that Stormwatch series.  A new Doctor was a given, but a new Engineer was something unexpected.  The Enginner swapped out her blood for a nanite substance that the original Engineer had invented that allowed her to fly and create all kinds of machines and weapons from seemingly thing air.

So, yeah, they had a pretty extensive backstory in a different, canceled series.

Yeah, Stormwatch was canceled perhaps in part to make way for The Authority.  Also, in a crossover between Wildstorm’s WildC.A.T.S and Dark Horse Comics Alien work, most of the main Stormwatch team was wiped out by Xenomorphs.

Now, I did say the team was handed off to other creators, and that is true, but the immediate follow-up to Ellis and Hitch were actually something of a turn off for me, and that was writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quietly.  Quietly’s work has grown on me over time, but I didn’t care for it much when I first saw it.  Millar, on the other hand, pretty much is what he was always was.  While Ellis wasn’t afraid to put his own opinions on things like government (probably bad) and religious faith (definitely bad), Millar was the kind of guy who assumed “violent” is the same as edgy” which is the same as “cool”.  His first issue had new team leader Jack Hawksmoor basically trade threats with Bill Clinton in a not-very-subtle way at all while other Wildstorm heroes sat behind him and looked tough as if they approved of telling off the president of the United States for the crime of being president of the United States or something.  He’d end his run by shoving a different, nameless president that was probably supposed to be a stand-in for George W. Bush into the desert of a hostile foreign country to the man’s implied death, a move that didn’t really accomplish anything since the character wasn’t even their primary antagonist for that story.  Ellis had revealed Apollo and Midnighter were secret lovers with two panels where one suddenly kissed the other before Apollo flew off on what could be a suicide mission.  Millar in a Jenny Sparks mini-series decided, yeah, she and Swift were also knocking boots on the side for no reason.

Then again, the villains in Millar’s first arc were thinly disguised knock-offs of various Marvel heroes.  Their leader was a genius scientist who created most of them and was basically Jack Kirby.  While the Kirby scientist was actually shown to be not that bad and even became something of an ally, his creations were out of control and needed to be put down.  And why not?  They were all irredeemably evil.  This version of Captain America was introduced as a rapist, raping a random nurse at a hospital after he knocked her out and then doing the same with a downed Apollo.  And if you don’t quite get what I mean about the differences between Ellis and Millar when it comes to this sort of thing, check out the panels below where we see how Apollo’s boyfriend Midnighter handled the evil Cap when the storyline ended.

Yeah, with a jackhammer.

Basically, Millar then and now isn’t a subtle writer.  That’s fine if that’s your thing, but just keep it in mind at all times.

After Millar’s twelve issues (which included a four issue guest run by a different creative team when the Authority were temporarily replaced by a similarly powered group representing the different countries of the G7), the team bounced around for a bit.  I’ll admit I lost track of them.  The Doctor eventually died and was replaced by Muslim man who himself later went evil and died if Wikipedia is anything to go by.  At a certain point, it became more like a Wildstorm Justice League with a number of recognizable heroes from other Wildstorm comics like Grifter and Deathblow (ah, the 90s…) teaming up with the only remaining original members in the form of Jack, Swift, and the Engineer.

So, what happened?  Well, like a lot of Wildstorm heroes, they disappeared not long after DC acquired the company and merged the universes with Flashpoint.  Midnighter seemed to be firmly established in the DC Universe while other members Apollo, Jack, Jenny Quantum, and the Engineer got to hang around as a new Stormwatch team.  But like many things involving the New 52, it doesn’t seem to be around much anymore.  Considering Warren Ellis is on record for saying he always thought they were a team of villains and Bryan Hitch’s artwork made them look too friendly, maybe we should consider the legacy for the team, one that gained a response from a well-regarded issue of a Superman comic where writer Joe Kelly had the Man of Steel face off against an Authority-like team, the Elite, and beat them because he’s freakin’ Superman, and there’s always room for justice and morality like superheroes have been using for decades.

But hey, I liked the original run of The Authority and Action Comics #775.  There’s always room for both when all that really matters is the story is told well.  Maybe when someone comes up with something good for the Authority, they’ll find their way back again, even if they’re the bad guys.

Stranger things have happened.

Do I have to cover the Elite now?

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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