What would The Authority do?
A few weeks ago, while all the information and reveals about the children detention camps on the border were dropping I had an interesting, if archaic, question pop into my head; “What would The Authority do?”.
Of course I don’t mean the government; it is abundantly clear what our so called “representatives of the people” are doing about the inhumane, neglectful and downright abusive treatment of children (clue it is either spouting platitudes or actively encouraging the actions).
I don’t mean religious authority either since the most verbal and radical elements of the teachings of Christ have ordained Trump as their God Emperor. An infallible orange beacon of promise to a mythical time of good, white christian patriarchy when sinful homosexuality was illeagle, POC knew their place at the back of the bus and foolish women didn’t have a say about their own bodies. Of course the many religious folk who find such fanaticism distasteful aren’t really saying or doing anything to counteract this impression either. Condoning with silence.
No I mean “The Authority” The Wildstorm superhero team from the late 90’s/early aughts made up of the spirit of the 20th (and then 21st) century, The world’s shaman, the ultimate transhuman, a city god, a chinese Hawkgirl and the gay Batman and Superman. Created by Warren Ellis, spinning off from his brilliant “Stormwatch” work, The Authority took the grim and gritty tone popular in 90’s comics and gave it organic growth and justification. This wasn’t Batman getting more extreme, Victorian era public domain characters using biological weapons of mass destruction or radioactive spider jizz. This was the next step in the evolution of the superhero with the attitude baked in, not grafted on. The Authority were anarchists with a savvy media presence, a city sized interdimensional spaceship and a (mostly) poly lifestyle . They didn’t answer to any government or oversight. Which meant that plenty of times governments got into their crosshairs and vice versa. Their enemies were invaders from other timelines, crypto facist global corporations with super enhancement programs and evil countries bent on world domination/destruction. The Authority were an amazing example of the sheer weirdness only comics can do effectively. The book (at least the Ellis and Millar runs) also captured the renegade, anarchistic, anything is possible spirit felt at the close of the 20th century. Answering to nobody and a moral code of “Don’t be a fucking bastard or we’ll punch you to death!” The Authority was cool, proactive and didn’t put up with bullshit.
You could practically hear Warren Ellis cackling with glee as his creations slaughtered dictators, fucked up facsist spaceman and killed God.
The line up: JENNY SPARKS – The spirit of the 20th century. To say a character is Ellis-esque don’t quite roll off the tongue but lead characters in Warren’s 90’s work had a lot of the same traits: Cantankerous, verbally brutal, prone to violence and never hesitates to call a fucking bastard out for being a fucking bastard usually followed by a headsmashing punch. Plus they were always chain smoking and usually had copious amounts of booze and coffee on hand. Jenny Sparks in a nutshell. She could control electricity (big 20th century technological advancement). She forged The Authority out of the ashes of Stormwatch melting down. Pushing the new team with imagination, yelling and threats of bodily harm.
The Engineer: Angie Spica – A brilliant engineer with nine pints of liquid machinery instead of blood. She wore a sheen of metal instead of skin and little else. Powers included flying, duplication, heavy firepower guns formed out of her hands, super strength and a host of other things.
The Doctor: The most recent in a continuous line of Shamans that sheppard the earth. Has the unbroken knowledge of the human race, access to our collective unconscious, reality altering magic ability and a near crippling heroin addiction.
Jack Hawksmoore: The God of cities – Abducted by aliens and altered to manipulate, draw power from and communicate with cities. He could make windows in buildings playback what was reflected in them. Streets could rise up and engulf enemies if he willed it. When cities were attacked he could feel their pain. Became the leader of the team after Jenny Sparks died on January 1st 2000.
Shen: Chinese Hawkgirl with enhanced senses, flight, talons for feet and an expensive boobjob (her words).
Midnighter and Apollo: Gay Batman and Superman. Midnighter had onboard cybernetic enhancements that allowed him to analyze, anticipate and counter any fight before it happens, healing factor and a scary enthusiasm for hitting things till they break. Apollo had the Superman kit of powers charged by solar energy. They were the most stable romantic relationship in the group which made them the adoptive parents to…
Jenny Quantum – The spirit of the 21st century. Started as a baby (naturally) but already had seemingly limitless reality altering powers because the 21st century should’ve been the time of limitless ability for our species.
The Carrier – The Authority’s interdimensional hopping spaceship. The size of a city, (subtly) sentient with a caged baby universe as a power source. The Carrier could open “doors” into anywhere on earth and occasionally into other timelines and planes of existence.
Their exploits and adventures ran in the high concept wildly imaginative tropes that superhero comics frequently trade in. Things like Jenny’s estranged half alien husband from a different timeline leads an invasion of earth, A super secret government organization launches superpowered beings at a world controlling mcguffin, A silver age version of The Doctor goes rogue and tries to destroy the world and the team is captured and replaced with near look alikes (this time with a darkly hilarious satirical twist). But what really made The Authority stand out from other super team books (at least for the Ellis/Millar runs which is my prime focus here) was the unapologetic anarchist sentiment. Diverse internationally, racially, socially and sexually, untethered from most human restraints and with the whole world as their charge The Authority didn’t stand for “Truth, Justice and the American way”… just the first two on the list. They took on terrorist states, alien threats and secret government programs with little concern for political alignment or agendas. In fact that stuff pissed them off more often than not.
This attitude was reflective of the social climate of the time. In the 90’s there was economic prosperity. Culture was simultaneously becoming more diverse and more singular; this “interwebs” thing connected people across the globe! American kids en masse saw “Dragonball Z” for the first time. UK comic writers that had grown up on DC comics and cut their teeth on 200AD were now writing Justice League. Ru Paul had a pop hit. Pokemon swept (and still holds onto) the fevered imagination of a generation, Nirvana was popular in Russia. International tribes were formed around fandoms of Nightmare Before Christmas, John Woo films, goth music. Conservative cultural watchdogs rent their garments about “Globalism” and the unchecked spread of ideas because ideas are dangerous to ideologies. The more people found common ground the less likely people were able to be manipulated by fear and xenophobia. It wasn’t all utopia; we still had Freddie Prince, Rob Lithefield and Color me Badd to answer for. The term “culture war” was probably first coined then. God knows how much landfill has discarded AOL discs taking up space. It was a mixed bag but generally things looked survivable and sea changes in society, culture and the world looked to be just around the corner. The Authority punched big, crazy, outlandish things but the real fight was for how we were going to define ourselves as a species in the next century and it looked like the good guys… but expanding their minds, taking the world as a whole instead of backwards myopic tribalism and realpolitik and seeking just “Truth and Justice” had won.
Cut to 2019.
I’m not gonna bum you out with a litany of how culture and society has seemingly regressed. Let me put it this way: we expected jetpacks instead we have thinly veiled fascism. This may be just the pendulum finishing its swing in the other direction but it sure don’t feel like it. As usual comics, at least the best comics, seemed ahead of the curve here; back in the Bush 2 era bad guys like Lex Lutor and The Red Skull became president. Heroes fought back and the social order was restored. I don’t see a lot of that currently; it could be that the big two are both cogs in giant corporate machines and giant corporations strive to be everything to everyone and as such are risk averse. Hell, look at the mountains of shit Nike has gotten for Colin Kapernack, a black man peacefully protesting the very real problem of police brutality, or Keurig apologizing because they withdrew advertising on a show hosted by a sexual predator that defended a child molesting republican senator. Everything is divisive, politicized and even the reports of the heinous treatment of innocent children in what amounts to american concentration camps is met with a shrug and a dismissive flip of “They wouldn’t be there if they didn’t break the law.”
What do you think Batman would do with this information? Would he just let kids suffer in squalor or would he find a way to rescue them? Would Superman let such horrible treatment of humans continue? Would he risk being called a “liberal”, “Unlawful” or even “Terrorist” for smashing the walls that keep these kids contained without proper sanitation or even the most basic human dignity?. Would Captain America stand idly by as the country he has fought so hard for slide into facisim, xenophobia and oligarchy? Would the X-Men allow innocent people to be rounded up and put in camps or campaigned against because they look different? The answer is probably not BUT the bad guys would eventually be revealed as demons, aliens or some other otherworldly threat because that would clear our conscience and keep us one degree removed from how shitty real people can be to one another.
What would The Authority do?
Well despite all the potential and freewheeling attitude the Authority represented they also didn’t suffer bullshit. Remember the code “Don’t be a fucking bastard or we’ll punch you to death!” The Authority knew that the good need to be protected and that sometimes the only way to deal with fuckers is to be a meaner fucker.
The Authority would go right into the camps, broadcast to the world what evil, abusive shit was going on. Reaffirm that this is NOT HOW THE HUMAN RACE SHOULD ACT ANYMORE! Give the I.C.E. fuckers a chance to stop being fucking bastards. The ones that don’t The Authority would drown them in their own blood.
So it might be a good thing that we aren’t having these power fantasies depicted in our comics right now because that would be a release by proxy. I don’t have to do anything because I’m seeing it done in fiction.
But damn, if seeing that wouldn’t be righteously satisfying right now.
Other thoughts tangential to the column but couldn’t be worked into the main body naturally…
Sorry this one is so grim. Something lighter next time.
You might be able to figure out that I’m not a big fan of organized religion.
For the life of me I don’t see how people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ could get behind someone as blatantly wretched as Trump. A “man” who in just about every deed and word seems the antithesis of what Jesus was supposedly about. To own the libs, I guess.
Or is it because Christianity along with most other religions seems to demand a blind following to a patriarchal figure regardless of that person’s obvious corruption or lack of qualification.
The comics industry hasn’t been unscathed either with the noxious whining of the comicsgate rabble.
If you disagree with any of my opinions about the Orange Skull, sexual predators in cowboy hats or religion, get over it or just polish your swastika belt buckle, go on 4-chan then go fuck yourself.
Anyway some nice stuff now…
I was such a fan of Warren Ellis’ late 90’s / early aughts work that if my daughter had been a boy her name would’ve been Warren.
For the longest time I had Logan on deck for a name but the mother nixed that when I told her why.
Check this out: An original page of art from Ellis’ Transmetropolitian signed by Ellis and Darrick Robertson.
Other Doctors for the world include Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius and some gals too.
We also saw Jenny Steam, Jenny Fire, Jenny Bronze, etc.
Another ‘Spirit of…” character in Wildstorm was Rose Tattoo the spirit of murder.
Other writers have taken on The Authority with various degrees of success including Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison but nothing really compared to the Ellis/Millar years.
Midnighter has had a decent go of it on his own and with Apollo. Steve Orlando’s run “Midnighter” and “Midnighter and Apollo” was closest to the batshit crazy ideas of the old era plus a lot funnier.
If any of my talk of this team has peaked your interest go check out the old trades they are worth the effort.
As serendipity would have it Warren just finished his massive 24 issue reboot of the whole universe called “The Wildstorm” It ends with The Authority together and just lacking a name.