Looking for the beginnings of The Authority, I finally found Warren Ellis’ complete run, issued by DC as The Authority: Volume 1, which begins after the demise of Stormwatch.
Stormwatch is shattered, most of the members dead, and the UN will not fund a replacement. But threats keep happening, and there is something left: Jenny Sparks and the Stormwatch Black Team, who have taken over the Carrier, a space ship that inhabits an alternate dimension in Earth orbit. And then Moscow is hit by a raid that leaves half the city in ruins, managed by a group of super-powered beings who wear a strange symbol on their chests: a ring marked by three knots. And the team (Sparks, the Doctor, Swift, Apollo, Midnighter, and Jack Hawskmoor), goes into action. What they’re faced with is nothing less than a super-terrorist who’s determined to take over the Earth. Somehow, the team wins. (“The Circle”) Then they are faced with an invasion from Sliding Albion, a realm that exists in an alternate dimension that is determined to conquer Earth to preserve an alien bloodline. The teams sees only one possibility: they take the fight back to the invaders’ turf. (“Shift Ships”) In the third story, something has come home to reclaim the Earth (as detailed in my review of The Authority: Under New Management). The teams talks the Carrier (which has a mind of its own — literally) into invading the invader. (“Outer Dark”)
The blurb on the back of this volume notes that Warren Ellis’ The Authority was considered “groundbreaking,” and I can see why. Ellis’ vision in this run is amazing. At this point, for example, terrorists are part of the toolbox, but this series started in 2000. And alternate universes are a staple of science fiction and fantasy, but they haven’t shown up all that much in superhero comics.
What’s really arresting is what Ellis does with them: what if the creature that created our world sees us, and every living thing we share the planet with, as something akin to mold? And if you’re faced with an invasion from another dimension, it helps to have an immensely powerful magician on your side.
One thing that has always impressed me about Ellis’ writing is his dialogue, which is pungent, sharp, and edgy. These are not superheroes in the usual sense — their moral compass as often points south as north, and “By whatever means necessary” might as well be their operating manual. They’re headstrong, confrontational, and abrasive, and not easy to deal with. And that’s just among themselves. Their biggest redeeming feature is that they are sworn to protect the Earth and its inhabitants, which they do with gusto and a great deal of creativity.
The art, penciled by Bryan Hitch and inked by Paul Neary, is just as good. Hitch has a way with facial expressions displayed at just the right point to really punch up the dialogue, and his drawing call tell a story all by itself. Neary’s inks are just right — clean and open, with never too much detail. While layouts are largely standard, there’s enough variation to keep it interesting.
Full disclosure, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: Warren Ellis can do no wrong, and this volume just proves it. As hard-nosed as these characters are, one thing that I objected to in later volumes of The Authority is missing, and that’s the focus on violence, usually bloody. Yes, there’s violence here, but it’s not the gratuitous bloodletting that took over the series toward the end of its run.
(DC Comics, 1999) Collects The Authority, #1-12.