Superheroes in the most classical sense are designed to be the best possible versions of humanity to strive for. They are creations of myth used to serve as an example of ideal morality. Generally, their ideals align with the western world’s most common views of justice: no killing, and nothing that misaligns with what could be considered the “status quo” maintained by western governments. While superheroes are great and inspiring, the kinds of storytelling they undergo on a mainstream basis is maintained in the interests of any other mainstream media and its audience. Fortunately, there’s Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. Even more fortunately, they brought along The Authority, a superhero team dedicated to making the world a better place – by any means necessary. Almost in direct response to the trappings of mainstream heroes, The Authority voraciously goes after world-ending alien threats, criminal masterminds, and the interests of wealthy western government superpowers all with the same intensity; regardless of the consequences they may face.
The Authority was originally published on DC’s Wildstorm imprint; an out of continuity publishing imprint that also housed WildC.A.T.S, Stormwatch, Gen13, and Planetary, just to name a few. This separate comic universe was used by writer Warren Ellis and co. as a playground for more serious, intelligent, and more conceivably “real” heroes than their DC counterparts. There’s a heavy integration of sci-fi and political intrigue alongside heightened and mature superhero hijinks that’s typical of Ellis’s creations up to this point. The team itself is made up by leader Jenny Sparks, the 100-year-old and non-aging “Spirit of the 20th century,” Apollo & Midnighter (government superweapons and absolute power couple), The Doctor (who communes with earth’s lifeforce), The Engineer (literally a supercomputer in the shape of a woman), Swift (genius with wings) and Jack Hawksmoor (who talks with cities as living, breathing organisms). Although The Authority takes place after the destruction of much of the original Stormwatch team (sorry, spoilers for that series), Ellis does a great job of ensuring that new readers do not need to have read that or any of the other Wildstorm series’ to enjoy this specific team.
The events of Ellis’ The Authority primarily follows Jenny Sparks’ creation and leadership of the team. It’s difficult to discuss the plot much without digging right into spoilers, but it’s carried by standard mainstream-hero book plot development. Ellis’ wit and intelligence are what sets this series apart, however. Even though the Transmetropolitan writer only built the frame and overall theme or the work, any further brilliance is inspired by the blueprint he set in the first 12 issues. Warren’s constant blend of physical and extra-dimensional science, politics, gallows humor and purposeful brutality aren’t quite as refined as they are in some of his less-mainstream works, but they are still entertaining as hell to take in. Witnessing Midnighter mentally then physically dismantle opponents with his augmented fight senses or reading how their own ship is a 50-mile long semi-sentient vessel floating outside of reality never gets old.
One of the most engaging aspects maintained by Ellis is the chemistry and banter among the team members. Each character is given a distinct voice and personality to such an extent that their quotes could be isolated from imagery and it would still be obvious who said it. From Jenny’s sarcastic leadership bravado, to Apollo’s undying enthusiasm and Angie Spica’s charmed analysis, these characters are never not fun to read. Ellis also knows when and how to change the tone of the team’s banter. Humor is kept in check when a serious turn of events happens, and characters are highly proficient at staying on task during a reality-threatening battle, so the suspension of disbelief that comes with incessant banter is warded off.
Warren Ellis’ vision is brought to life by the immensely talented Bryan Hitch. Hitch’s classical superhero polish brings beautiful mass-carnage and science-fiction detail of Ellis’ imagination to the exact kind of life it should have. The art makes these larger than life heroes interfaceable with the audience by being able to focus on expression and body language in the story’s quiet moments (which don’t happen to often). This is contrasted with Hitch’s ability to plot explosive action scenes on an often-massive scale. Sequences drip with fight choreography, urban destruction and sci-fi hijinks. For every brilliant idea Ellis scripts, Hitch answers in kind with visual work that absolutely nails the material at hand.
Warren Ellis’ The Authority is a high-budget and high-concept universe smashing thrill ride. It’s cast full of likable, unique characters and damnable villains. Its range of conflict and setting is massive and always has a feeling of gravity behind the smart-assery and bravado. The artistic vision of Bryan Hitch is visually stunning and wholly memorable. These first 12-issue that setup The Authority would go on to be continued by the likes of Mark Millar, Frank Quietly, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, and others in the spirit of maintaining this concept of science fiction heroes for the 21st century. While each run has its own merits, none can quite reach the heights of Ellis and Hitch’s original series.