Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Authority Vol. 1: Relentless (Comicbook review)

Chances are if you’ve ever read a Wildstorm comic it was this one.
Created back in the late 90s by Warren Ellis, The Authority was an attempt to follow up an idea introduced in Stormwatch: Superheroes actively trying to actively improve the entire world. While Superman might take down Lex Luthor every week and Captain America might rail against unjust governmental acts (thanks for that Tony) they’re rarely displayed as characters attempting to actively reshape the world. They’ll preserve it, try to keep it from falling into anarchy, but when was the last time either attempted to enact drastic political change or take out a dictator? World War II? The Cold war? The last time Doctor Doom was mentioned before the status quo came into effect? 
The Authority was an attempt to change that somewhat and show a new approach for superheroing. A good if unfortunately flawed one.

Taking place directly after the events of WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, the world is in turmoil. With Stormwatch having been disbanded following the events and almost all its members dead or M.I.A. the United Nations is left without a metahuman force to help defend it. Many are seeking to take advantage of this with no way to actively stop them. At least until Jenny Sparks and Stormwatch Black re-emerge acting on their own, fighting for the world but not those who run it.

This first volume, Relentless, is divided separately into two stories and both establish the themes of the series. While they do feature the team combating enemies and reacting to threats much like a traditional superhero team would, they display different methods and motivations than you would ever expect. Ellis himself described them as a group who tries to deal with every thread by “punching it and/or dropping something on it” and that’s fairly clear very early on. This isn’t to say that those they fight don’t deserve such treatment or require so much force to be finished, but it’s what helps to clearly distance the team from both others within Wildstorm and the big two of Marvel and DC. Half the time they’re written as villains simply fighting much bigger, much uglier, villains.

None of this is to say that the protagonists themselves are unlikable and defined only by acts of violence. It would have been a very easy thing to have the whole thing backslide into the grimacing, emotionally bland characters who dominated the Dark Age. Thankfully they instead come across as being very human. For every time they’re shown to be forced to kill hundreds in the defence of Earth they’re never shown to be actively enjoying it (okay, except Midnighter) and treat it more as being their day job. Every time they’re forced to go all out to help halt some hugely destructive force from taking down civilisation as we know it, there are at least a couple of quiet scenes to try and help break up the action and give development on a more personal level. It’s this latter aspect especially which helps to make it far more enjoyable than a lot of modern big titles and more than a few of the New 52’s ongoing series.
It’s almost enough to help you forget that, for all the backstory and characterisation we’re given there’s no real origin for these characters.

Yeah, this is the big flaw within this comic. While it’s great to see the first arc not be completely caught up in an origin story there’s no denying that a great deal of the time it was relying upon people having read Stormwatch. A lot of what was shown in that comic such as Sparks’ background is attempted to be shown again here, but almost everyone either lacks a definitive origin or if one is given it’s explained in a brief throwaway scene. The Engineer details how she got the nanomachines which feels more like an excuse more than anything else and the Doctor has even less of an introduction, and both of these are effectively brand new characters. Oh you get their personalities fast enough and understand how they think and act but you it lacks the fine details. The same argument might be made of the villain of the first story Kaizen Gamorra, again previously introduced in another comic, but at least in his case we’re given an atmospherically detailed background. Still, when you can get past it the characters are easily some of the most naturally feeling interactions in almost any comic. Balancing out the fantastical with attitudes and conversations which feel like they would come from real people taking on the Authority’s role in the world.

Bryan Hitch’s art seriously helps to further bring the world to life with his usual high levels of detail and shows why he was exactly the right artist for this. His highly detailed refined style helps emphasise upon the scale of the threats and destruction, but unlike Miguel Sepulveda he has no problems drawing expressive human figures or facial features.

You might have noticed that unlike a lot of the comics I’ve reviewed, much of the plot and actual events have not been commented upon. There’s a reason for that, as even going into it in my usual spoiler-free style would ruin moments far better handled in the actual comic itself. Yet if you’ve not guessed it from what you’ve seen here The Authority: Relentless is an exceptionally good trade collection, and a prime example of how comics can display true innovation without betraying their basic aspects. With paperbacks going for around £11-12.00 on, this is definitely a must buy for anyone looking for something different with superheroes. It’s not for everyone and you’ll find yourself being bugged by fine details which have been left to other issues, but there’s no denying the quality behind the work. Definitely take a look if you’re interested.


The Authority and all related characters and media are owned by DC Comics.

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