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The Authority: Relentless
Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, and Paul Neary
Wildstorm / DC graphic novel £12.99

The Authority: Under New Management
Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Mark Millar, and Frank Quitely
Wildstorm / DC graphic novel £12.99

reviews by J.C. Hartley

The Authority was born out of the Stormwatch title, a tactical response team to alien and superhuman aggression. As Relentless begins, Stormwatch has been shelved and there appears to be 'no one left to save the world' when cloned super-beings attack Moscow, then Jenny Sparks, the electricity-wielding 99 year-old Spirit of the 20th Century, appears and announces that The Authority will be there for the Earth in future.

Increasingly, comics have confronted the question that has niggled away at most readers minds over the years, with all that power why didn't superheroes take it upon themselves to make the world a better place. Usually, heroes who had that idea were shown to be fatally flawed, and they had to be stopped, and almost biblical debates about free will tended to ensue. The Authority have no moral qualms whatsoever, they have the authority and are the ultimate authority; interestingly they seek to work through the UN and are careful to keep their associates there fully informed, to give at least the impression of working with a mandate, draw your own conclusions about that in a comic that appeared between two Gulf Wars.

The rest of The Authority lineup comprises The Midnighter, a human fighting machine, Apollo, a super-being drawing power from the Sun, The Doctor, a former junkie now the planet Earth's shaman, Swift, a winged female human bird of prey, Jack Hawksmoor, the spirit of cities, and The Engineer whose blood has been replaced with liquid metal filled with nanobots.

Wielding so much power, when The Authority tackle an enemy there seems little doubt that they will triumph; the beauty of the storytelling is in the execution and the artwork. Pictures tell stories better than words, these are comics after all, Ellis' words are spare and witty and perfectly complement Hitch's art.

In Relentless, the team tackle an old enemy from Stormwatch days, who's launching attacks on world cities in order to carve his family symbol on the Earth; and then they have to fight to repel an invasion from Sliding Albion, a parallel UK under the dominance of aliens. There is a delightful glimpse of Jenny Sparks in the 1920s, as a sort of SF Rupert of Hentzau, and from her career with the British Space Group in the 1950s, where you expect Dan Dare to pop into frame. There is also an Independence Day style attack on Buckingham Palace, as The Authority take the attack back to Sliding Albion's own dimension. In the second book, a massive alien entity's return to the Solar system precipitates a un-terraforming attack on the Earth; The Authority fight God, and Jenny Sparks confronts her mortality as the century closes.

Having signed off with the ultimate confrontation for a superhero, Ellis and Hitch handed over to two other Brits, writer Mark Millar, and a new artist Frank Quitely. Immediately the art and writing seem to become a bit busy, everyone talks a lot more about what they are doing, and what they think about what they are doing, and from being just The Authority, the book seems to become more of a mainstream superhero title only with tons more attitude.

After setting out their stall to save the world and stomp anyone who gets in the way the team are themselves given a thrashing by a government sponsored team not a billion miles away from one seen in the pages of Marvel comics. The surprise at the defeat is tempered somewhat by the feeling that Millar took a different take on the powers of The Doctor to achieve it, and that the Midnighter's defeat of Tank Man is pure corn. Everything changes in this book, and if you have signed up to Ellis' cool vision then Millar's over-the-top bare-arsed cheek takes a little while to acclimatise to. Under New Management only hangs onto its five-star rating because the Ellis/ Hitch story was pure class. The spare world that they created is suddenly swarming with super beings, but if Millar swung The Authority back into the mainstream he was destined to do it in a way that often rattled the cage of the nice people at DC, the 'gay Batman and Superman' controversy over, the Midnighter and Apollo one was to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Both these books seem to be printed on cheaper paper than one expects in graphic novels, but on consideration perhaps that is something to do with the presentation of the colours. Just a thought. The Authority, decompressed and widescreen, violent and explicit, is one of the major comic titles of the last ten years; if you are interested in comics at all you pretty well have to read it.
The Authority: Relentless

The Authority: Under New Management

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