So, after being sucked in by the Stormwatch reboot, I decided to pick up on The Authority, the successor team, not least because Warren Ellis was involved. Needless to say, what I found first was Volume 2, but it works as a stand-alone. (Not that reading volume 2 first was a real problem anyway — this series, needless to say, predates the Stormwatch series that I’m also reading, at least in time of publication. Chronologically, I don’t want to think about it.)
It’s the turn of the century, and the two stories in this volume cover that event, as well as a major change in the Authority. The first story, “Outer Dark” by Warren Ellis, starts on December 29, 1999. Something strange is happening, missiles of some sort — and no one’s sure exactly what — crash landing at various points on Earth. And then something on the Moon starts misbehaving. And then something else appears, something big enough to eclipse the sun from the orbit of Venus. Turns out, it’s alive. And it’s coming home, but home has changed, so the thing — call it “God” — has decided to do some terraforming to make it a little more homey. Unfortunately, the major side effect is that the new environment is toxic to life on earth as presently constituted.
The team in this one is Apollo, the Sun God; Midnighter, the world’s deadliest fighter; Angie Spica, the Engineer, who replaced her blood with nine pints of nanotech; the Doctor, Jeroen Thornedike, the latest in a long line of Shamans; Shen Li-Men, Swift, the huntress; and Jack Hawksmoor, the God of Cities; under the leadership of Jenny Sparks, the child of the twentieth century.
The same team, minus Jenny, peoples the next story, “The Nativity,” written by Mark Millar. Now that the twentieth century is over, Jenny Sparks is no more, but, as the Shaman points out, nothing ever really dies — its energy just takes a new form. So the team sets out to find the new Century Baby, but they’re not the only ones looking. And the other guys get there first. The whole thing is complicated by the fact that the team has just taken out a nest of international terrorists, and now all the governments of earth are annoyed — the Authority is supposed to guarding against alien threats. The team is not moved — a threat is a threat.
I have to say, of the two stories presented in this volume, I personally prefer Ellis’. Millar’s “Nativity” falls a little too readily into formula — in this case, a “mad scientist” type who is also head of an organization with a security clearance several levels above the President — although Millar’s story does have an interesting twist at the end. Ellis’ treatment is highly original, starting with the premise: we don’t own the Earth, we’re just renting it for a while. (Or maybe “squatting” would be more accurate.) Ellis does a good blend of advanced technology and applied biology in working out the plot, and the dialogue is sharp, edgy, and does a lot to illuminate character. This is not to say Millar’s writing is in any way substandard, it’s just that for me, it lacked a little sparkle.
The pencils, by Bryan Hitch in “Outer Dark,” and Frank Quitely in “The Nativity,” are fully up to snuff, although once again, as a matter of personal taste, I prefer Hitch’s renderings — they’re a little more open, a little cleaner, and easier to read. There’s good stylistic consistently between the two, but Quitely’s character renderings are not quite as appealing, and on the whole, his visuals are denser. In both cases, though, the artists have picked up on details in the dialogue as a way of opening up the characters.
There’s really not much more to say, save this this is top-notch superhero comics, and for those of us addicted to graphic lit, certainly worth the time.