The Importance Of Bryan Hitch and The Authority
A recent post on Twitter by Bryan Hitch sparked a comment from that got me thinking that Bryan Hitch’s work on The Authority was really some influential stuff.
The post from Hitch was not a direct connotation between the Authority and its influence…
If I could change anything in my past career it would be that Warren and I had owned Authority. Of all my works, its the one I could easily and happily return to and would have done over the 20 plus years since.
— BRYAN HITCH (@THEBRYANHITCH) September 15, 2019
The impetus for this discussion about the influence the Authority had on pop culture came in a comment from DRW…
No Authority, no Ultimates (at least in the form it took.) No Ultimates, arguably no blueprint for the Marvel cinematic universe. You can make a decent argument for Hitch being one of the most influential comic artists of the last 20 years.
— DRW (@hazardhostile) September 15, 2019
The Authority was the series that Warren Ellis created from the Stormwatch series that he took over. His first step was to pare down a massive team and keep the best characters. Then he crafted a story where this new Stormwatch had to face a group of super-heroes that wanted to change the world for the better. Of course, the Machiavelli-like leader of Stormwatch was corrupt, and it fell to Stormwatch to eliminate him. This further restructured Stormwatch with three team members remaining part of a black-ops team. In short measure, Stormwatch’s satellite headquarters fell to an alien infestation. Seriously, it was the xenomorphs from the Alien film franchise.
This left us without a Stormwatch, and three covert team members left out in the cold. Fortunately, team leader Jenny Sparks had been busy creating a new team, recruiting inheritors to the legacy of the Doctor and the Engineer, heroes that had become villains by trying to force a new world on humanity. She also recruited two retired dark agents of Stormwatch, Apollo and the Midnighter, analogues for Superman and Batman
Calling themselves as the Authority, they protected Earth from a cloned, superhuman criminal army which revealed their existence to the world with their giant ship that could travel between worlds in the multiverse. They then fought back an invasion from a parallel Earth. The third story arc saw them defeating a gigantic alien that helped create life on Earth, back to remake the planet to serve its purposes. The first year of the Authority ended with the ringing in of the new millennium and the death of team leader Jenny Sparks. Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch left the series at this time, creating a series that was extremely popular.
This popularity led Hitch to become artist on JLA, but saw his shine tarnished due to scheduling problems with DC that led to fill-in issues from other artists (source). He then was lured to Marvel to collaborate with writer Mark Millar. Miller had followed Warren Ellis on the Authority, and he was writing the Avengers of their Ultimate publishing imprint. The title would be called the Ultimates. The reshaping of the team would become the basis for a version of the Avengers that was more modern and mature. Somehow it did this without going against the general tone of the Marvel brand. The most recognizable change was a Nick Fury that resembled Samuel L. Jackson.
Cue the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s Iron Man. In the end credit sequence, Nick Fury emerges from the shadows, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Fans that had stuck around after the credits felt electricity. They got to see an aspect directly from one of the most popular versions of the Avengers put right on the screen. This was the beginning of many aspects from the Ultimates that would help shape the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU would be so popular to generate revenue in the billions of dollars.
There’s the obvious, such as the inclusion of S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, the Triskelion from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There are wonderful scenes like Bruce Banner falling out of a helicopter to trigger the transformation into the Hulk. The costume design for Captain America resembled Hitch’s design, being more functional. The close relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye, established S.H.I.E.L.D. agents came directly from the Ultimates. Tony Stark remained an unashamed playboy. The films never overtly adapted the “Demon In A Bottle” story famous in Iron Man history. The tone of much of the early Marvel films mirrors Millar’s tone from the Ultimates. It’s aimed at a more mature audience, unafraid of a PG-13 rating. It treated the characters as action heroes, but didn’t shy away from the super-hero origins.
It’s quite possible that without the Ultimates setting the stage for a more mature tone, the Marvel Cinematic Universe might not have been able to find its legs. It’s also possible that without his work on the Authority, Bryan Hitch might still been a choice to create the Ultimate line’s Avengers. However, this is a perfect storm of things falling in a perfect order to create something that would influence a key aspect of pop culture today.