Classic Fantastic: The Authority

AUTH-v1-CVRClassic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.

What’s it about?

For all that heroes try their best to save the world, they usually don’t make much of a difference to it. Sure, we may not get invaded by aliens, but street level crime is still widespread, slavery still exists, corporations are still corrupt, people still die from easily treatable and preventable diseases, starvation runs rampant in some parts of the world while other parts throw out tons of perfectly edible food on a daily basis.  “The Authority” is a comic book about a group of incredibly violent and amazingly powerful superheroes that have decided to not just save the world, but also to improve it. They don’t care whom they anger, or what their public image is. They will make the world better, at any cost.

Notable Notes

There are two things that really make the series stand out from most other superhero series.

The first is that the characters aren’t heroes. At their best they’re all anti-heroes. The series creator has said he wrote the characters as “villains, just ones who happened to fight even bigger villains”. And it’s not hard to see them that way. The protagonists swear, show up to fights drunk, humiliate their enemies in totally unheroic ways and they kill. They kill a lot. They don’t have many recurring enemies, because they kill people who get in the way. It is not an exaggeration to say that they have murdered entire countries worth of people. In fact, given how much the series deals with the multiverse, it’s not even an exaggeration to say that they have murdered planets worth of sentient beings. They may do it to protect the earth, but the collateral damage from most of their battles is astronomical. In any other comic they would unquestionably be bad guys. But here the people they face are so much worse that they’re the heroes, if only by comparison.

The other thing that really sets this comic apart from the others is the lack of status quo. In other comics we know that things basically stay the same. No matter how hard Batman works, Gotham will still be a crime-filled city. No matter how much Xavier preaches, mutants will always be hated and feared. No matter how many dates he goes on, Archie will never choose between Betty and Veronica. That’s not the case here. The Authority means it when they said they wanted to change the world for the better. After taking down a religion of evil, one of the team members took over its churches, changed the message and developed a massive following, nearly matching Catholicism. When the team members thought the U.S Government had gotten too corrupt, they pulled a coup d’etat and took it over. They have unseated dictators and helped those countries improve. They freed Tibet. They create a lasting peace in the Middle East. They have cured cancer. Because it is comics, not all of the changes stick, but more do than don’t. Despite the fact that they’re a group of awful murderers, it would be very hard to argue that they haven’t helped save the world.

Highlights and notable Story Arcs

The first 3 arcs (4 issues each) of Volume 1 are possibly the best. It’s the original team, written by Warren Ellis, who came up with the ideas in the first place. The team is highly powered, but its members are less broken then they become in later arcs.  They’re also less unnecessarily violent, and while they’re still political and want to change the world, they’re less radical and villainous about it.

Transfer of Power/ Brave New World (Volume 1, #22-29): In this story arc, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, USA, Canada and the UK are sick of the Authority challenging their long-held power and changing the status quo. So they have them replaced with knock-offs who will help the rich and powerful stay that way. And for a time it works. At the end the team comes back and is…creatively violent in taking back their power and punishing those responsible for having deposed them.

The Authority-Revolution: This takes place right after the Authority’s coup d’etat of the United States’ government. While it’s not the start of the series, it is the start of a new volume with new characters and a new story. A lot of the team’s history can be implied from side comments. It’s the first book I picked up when I started reading this series and it’s not an awful starting point.

Appeal

This series is quite clearly intended for adults. It is full of political commentary. And while more and more teens are paying attention to politics, they tend to be more idealistic, while the series seems to be targeting the cynicism that many adults have developed in this arena. In addition, there’s more violence then in a Grand Theft Auto game and about twice as much swearing as you’d hear on HBO.  This is definitely an 18 and over series.

Significance

The Authority was the first comic to be really political. Comics have always had political undertones, and while modern comics have heroes actively meddling in politics and current affairs (Like DC’s The Movement series or Iron Man’s stint as Secretary of Defense), The Authority was the first comic series to make it a central part of the book. Quite possibly, this is part of what pushed other comics to add more political elements into their books.

Why should you own this series?

This series is great if you like the idea of superheroes who actually do something and accomplish change. That is, if you like your change of the left wing variety. Because that is firmly where this book sits on the political scale. If you like watching super-powered people punch out bigger and bigger threats in bloody detail, then you will probably enjoy this as well. Additionally, if you’re someone who likes chronicling the “ages” of comics, this comic may interest you, because it was published in the 1990s and contains all the violence emblematic of comics in that decade. However, since it starts at the very end of that decade, it contains none of the grimness that many people found to be the bane of comics of that era. Instead, it pulls off the impressive balancing act of being both cynical and hopeful.

Collected editions

  • The Authority Volume 1 (May 2013)
  • The Authority Volume 2 (December 2013)

Main series

  • The Authority vol. 1 (1999-2002). 29 issues.
  • The Authority vol. 2 (2003-2004). 15 issues, numbering started with issue #0.
  • The Authority: Revolution (2004-2005). 12 issues.
  • The Authority vol. 4 (2006-2007). 2 issues.
  • Authority: Prime (2007-2008). 6 issues.
  • The Authority vol. 5 (2008-2011). 29 issues.
  • The Authority: The Lost Year (2010). 10 issues. Continuation of vol. 4, starting numbering with issue #3.

Spin offs and mini-series of note

The Kev series

  • The Authority: Kev (2002). A one-shot, popular enough to gain sequels.
  • The Authority: More Kev (2004). 4 issues.
  • The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin (2005-2006). 5 issues.
  • A Man called Kev (2006-2007). 5 issues.

Side stories

  • Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority (2000-2001). 5 issues.
  • Coup d’Etat (2004). 5 issues. Crossover with other Wildstorm comics.
  • The Secret History of The Authority: Jack Hawksmoor (2008). 6 issues.

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