Authority #1: Reviews of Old Comics


The Authority #1 coverTHE AUTHORITY #1
May  1999

There are a few series that shaped the comics industry following its near collapse in 1993. After comics came back a decade later, they had been shaped by series that made them more mature, smarter and appealing. Comics became less like the industry of the past and more like the multimedia of the turn of the century. The Authority was one of those series that changed everything.

This review will talk about not just the comic itself, but about the industry that came out of its wake. This is the period that comics started changing, and The Authority #1 was a signal for that change.


Moscow is attacked by a squad of black-clad super beings. They raze the city and kill many of its citizens. In New York City, Christine Trelane and Jackson King lament that there’s no longer a Stormwatch team to respond to threats like this. Jenny Sparks, formerly of the Stormwatch Black team comes through a portal and tells them that they were somewhere else and asks for all of their intelligence on the attack.

In the island nation of Gamora, Kaizen Gamora details his plans to his troops of black clad superhumans. He intends to destroy three cities in the world to mark it with his symbol, a circle with three knots. This is a symbolic act of terror, as anything that bears this symbol is property of Gamora. Moscow was the first knot and he tells his army to go cut the second knot with haste.

Jenny Sparks explains to Jackson and Christine that Stormwatch Black has been building itself into something that can stop the people that destroyed Moscow. She steps back through a portal and onto the Carrier where Jack Hawksmoor and Swift wait and ask why she asked for intel when they don’t really need it. Jenny explains that she needs Jackson and Christine to keep the powers that be out of their way when they get started. She sends Jack to Moscow to survey the damage and gather useful intel. He discovers the mark of Gamora and residual radiation similar to what Stormwatch once used.

Jenny meets Angie, the new Engineer, who succeeded the one Stormwatch killed. She tells him that the Doctor is talking with his dead counterpart, also a victim of Stormwatch. He is being told that as Earth’s new shaman, his purpose is to change the world. Jenny tells Angie that the previous Doctor and Engineer were killed due to a madman running Stormwatch. Apollo and Midnighter talk about coming out of retirement for Jenny Sparks’ new team. Jenny looks out the window at the other-dimensional sights provided by their new base of operations. The Carrier is a ship miles in scale and powered by a caged baby universe.

The Engineer briefs the team and the Carrier transport them all to the next site for attack. which just began in London. The Kamora army attacks London, but the Authority responds, meeting their violence in kind, killing many of them. The team stands ready to defend London and the world.

The Authority #1 p11


Warren Ellis had transformed Stormwatch from a comic about hackneyed super-hero team with far too many spandex-clad clichés to a smartly written book about super-humans working around a world bureaucracy that seeks to control not only them, but the population as a whole. Alongside Alan Moore‘s WildC.A.T.s, it changed how the Wildstorm Universe was viewed by readers. His penchant for heroes that weren’t afraid to use extreme force was able to flourish unlike it had before. What doesn’t get noticed as much in his run on The Authority is that he also had heroes that were constantly amazed by the fantastic elements of the worlds they inhabited, and relished in the amazing things that they were able to experience.

In this issue we get a proper introduction to all of the characters and Warren Ellis immediately establishes their iconic roles. Jenny Sparks is the Spirit of the 20th Century. Apollo is the Sun King. Midnighter is “Night’s Bringer of War.” The Engineer is the Maker. The Doctor is the world’s Shaman. Jack Hawksmoor is “The God of the Cities.” Swift is “The Winged Huntress.” Making them icons let Warren Ellis put them in the role of global protectors. He also was able to make the first threat they faced be one that threatened more than just a small area or just the heroes themselves. This threat also instantly reveals the Authority to the world. The plot is almost flawless, and concisely describes the world, the scope of the threat, and the power level of the heroes.

Bryan Hitch‘s artwork sparked a revolution in storytelling. His panels are very broad, and allow for shots to be cinematic. He makes use of pans and is able to pull out from a tight focus to reveal majestic scenes. His anatomy is nearly perfect, although at this point, sometimes characters are not as consistent in their likenesses, but it is a problem that gets quickly remedied. The Gamoran attackers are uniform in their appearance and provide a credible threat to a team that has an analogue to Superman. His style of art set the stage for the hyper-realism that dominates mainstream comics today, just as Warren Ellis set the stage for more realistic consequences to this level of super-hero violence.

Violence had been in comics before this, but it had been almost cartoonish. Image was one of the worst offenders, with characters that were violent without consequences. They had been intense without an understanding of the scope or consequences. The Authority is willing to use lethal force because their foes are set to destroy and kill on a massive scale. Prior to this, violent heroes resorting to killing with an attitude that was equal to striking a pose. The Authority elevated violence to a more intelligent level, where readers had to think about it. The first killing we get in this first issue is from the villains, who declare that the purpose for their lethal force is for its own sake. We do not get it first from the heroes, which many of the comics that preceded this one tended to do.
The Authority #1 p18


authority1reprintThis issue has been collected numerous times. The best collection is Absolute Authority (ISBN: 1563898829), which is now out of print, and relatively hard to find. You can also get it in The Authority Vol. 1 (ISBN: 1401247075) and The Authority: Relentless (ISBN: 1563896613) If you want to find the individual issue, you should be able to find it for no more than ten dollars, but there was a  special reprint in 2010 that was part of some special issues to be suggested to people following the release of the Watchmen film. It was only offered for a dollar, so don’t expect to pay much more for it. It’s pictured here so you can see how it differs from the regular issue.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: The Recommended Reading links to pages on Amazon where you can buy those books and support Needless Essentials through their Associates program.)

FINAL RATING: 9.0 (out of a possible 10) The importance of this series cannot be stressed enough, but it is too often ignored. There are a few weaknesses in the artwork that only got eliminated as the Authority pressed forward.