Sunday, February 03, 2008

Grant Morrison's The Authority #1-2

I read the first Warren Ellis Authority trade back in 2002 or so, when the series was sputtering to the end of its controversial first run. It was clearly mismanaged along the way, but the original book had enough power to keep the property viable to the present, and pave the way for a Morrison relaunch of the series back in 2006. I didn’t think much of the Ellis stuff, the characters weren’t well developed, it was all just empty spectacle. Now, I suppose that was the point of the run, but at the time, I just wasn’t feeling it. I wanted to read Stormwatch and then read the Authority run again, but I couldn’t make it through Stormwatch, so I still haven’t read it. But, one day I’ll catch up, primarily because I want to read the Frank Quitely issues.

The Grant Morrison Authority was one of the most disastrous crash and burn launches in the recent history of comics. It baffles me that a company would put out a relaunch of its flagship title with only one issue in the can. Could you imagine David Chase doing a new TV show, coming out with one episode and then saying, hold on, you’ll have to wait six months for the next episode? It just wouldn’t happen, and it’s sad that comics can’t get the professionalism to get a bunch of issues in the can before putting something out. I can understand doing a bi-monthly schedule, or even the very sporadic All Star Superman release schedule, but there’s no excuse for coming out with two issues of a book, six months apart, then leaving it in limbo for over a year.

Knowing it’d probably be years before the Morrison Authority got collected, I decided to pick up the first two issues of his run. I don’t feel cheated, I think that each issue has enough interesting stuff to be worth reading, however, I do wish he got to continue the run because it’s more interesting to me than what he’s doing over with Batman, and the Gene Ha art is really nice. Batman is a fun, kind of throwaway work, this book seems to be closer to the core of his superhero work, making literal one of themes inherent in much of his other work, the idea that superhero comics provide a model for humanity as they evolve forward.

Issue one got lot of flack from the internet audience, but I really enjoyed it. It would play best in a TPB, where its laid back, reality-based stuff would set the stage for the insanity to follow. As a single issue, it’s a bit frustrating, with some very slack pacing. There’s no need for that many splash pages. What makes the issue work for me is the deep compassion Morrison has for the Ken and Joan. The use of close-ups throughout the panels focuses us on the boring morning routine, and the characters’ body language, rather than facial expressions, conveys the personal drama. Morrison does a fantastic job of capturing the frustrations of everyday, and making you believe in these characters. Those few pages are so good, they make me forgive the fact that very little else happens in the issue.

The purpose of the first issue to set up what this reality is, what our world is. The murky colors, boring routine, that’s what we face, it’s not what comic book characters face. Morrison’s pitch for the series was essentially “The Authority can save the world, but can they save your marriage?” It’s an interesting question because it brings up the issue of what a utopia is. Can we really make everyone happy? Even if you have everything that money can buy, are you emotionally satisfied? Ken here seems to be doing as well as anyone in the world, but he’s so distant from his wife.

Morrison frequently discusses the way that he turns his personal demons into foes for his superheroes to battle. The Invisibles featured a lot of hypersigils for his personal life, and many of his JLA villains were incarnations of the problems he was dealing with at the time. That’s part of what makes his work so much more effective than other writer’s sci-fi stories, his best work is barely non-fiction, it’s a colliding bunch of realities in which the emotions and concepts are from reality, but filtered through the tropes of the genre.

So, it’s interesting to see him put The Authority characters into our world, and reverse that genre filtering. Rather than turning our world into theirs, he’s extracting the superhero characters from their universe and putting them in our boring one. This story basically picks up where his JLA: Classified arc ended, with the Ultramarines inserted into our reality, with the mission to change it. I’ve read a lot of superheroes in reality storylines, but I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this, where the superheroes from the comic literally land in our world.

One of my favorite scenes in the issue is The Doctor and Jack’s trip to Forbidden Planet in Union Square to pick up their own TPB. This is the same store where I met Grant himself back in 2006, so it’s a delirious mix of realities bending on each other. I really like the notion that these characters do exist in a parallel reality, and the only way we’re able to see through to it is through fiction. It’s like the act of telling stories is a means of traveling to other dimensions, not unlike the Authority’s own travel through the bleed. This ties into Grant’s notion of the DCU becoming sentient, if they were powerful enough, perhaps the characters could pass through into our world.

Midnighter decides that he wants to intervene in this world and solve all its problems. That was the basic appeal of The Authority in its day, the notion that these heroes actually changed the world and didn’t just fight back against villains. But, the essential question of the series seems to be, will our world let it change? And, even if you remove all those big problems, you’ve still got people like Ken, who have personal issues that can’t be solved with guns. I think it’s a great premise for a series, something new and fresh, and I’d have loved to see it continue.

However, that doesn’t look like it’ll be happening, in the near future at least. So, these issues stand as a potentially great, unfinished work. I really do love the look and feel of Morrison’s Authority character. They feel alien and offputting, but intriguing. I don’t think this would have been one of his all time classic series, but I do wish it got a chance to run its course.

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