Superman failed. He and his fellow metahumans, for all the good they have indisputably done, got caught up in their own pomp and circumstance and botched an opportunity to build a genuinely better world. Superman being Superman, he’s not going to collapse into a puddle of moping self-recrimination. No, even with his powers fading, he’s going to step up.
His goal is to resurrect the spirit of collective action, to gather a team capable of bringing the finer world he promised JFK and King Arthur from dream to reality. Superman’s first recruit? A longtime enemy of his, the bitter, misanthropic psychic Manchester Black. Why? Because for all his posturing, Manchester Black is not nearly the nihilist he tries to be. After pitching a fit to satisfy his ego, he too steps up, and together Superman and Black drive an army of murderous Kryptonian robots back into the Phantom Zone.
With their alliance solidified, the impromptu Dynamic Duo set about building their team.
The first issue of Superman and the Authority is my favorite superhero comic of 2021 so far. Mikel Janín, Jordie Bellaire and Grant Morrison crafted a really terrific book — one as thoughtful as it is thrilling, and consistently gorgeous at that. This second issue cannot quite match its predecessor, primarily due to script issues. But what does work works extraordinarily well. Depending on how the back two issues play out, this may read better as part of the work as a whole.
Janín is joined for this issue by fellow artists Fico Ossio, Evan Cagle, and Travel Foreman. Bellaire is joined by fellow colorists Sebastian Cheng, Dave Stewart, and Alex Sinclair. Janín and Bellaire open the issue with Black and Superman’s conversation about who they’re going to invite to the team and why, then tag out for other teams to tell the tales of the Authority’s new members: tech genius and power-suit wielder Natasha “Steel” Irons, longtime lovers and cybernetic supersoliders Apollo and Midnighter, and the mentally fragle but immensely powerful sorceress June Moone — whose villainous alter ego is the mighty Enchantress.
Steel battles an emergent consciousness that evolved from the internet, and because of that manifests as a band of android edgelords. Apollo and Midnighter hunt a crew of malign actors who have been forcibly transforming psychic children into bioweapons. June Moone is tormented by the Enchantress and a legion of demons who covet her power.
Artistically and thematically, Superman and the Authority remains a strong book. Ossio, Cagle, Foreman, Cheng, Stewart, and Sinclair are tremendously talented artists. Each makes their heroes distinct, from the bleeding edge hypertech adventure Steel embarks on, to the raw might Apollo and Midnighter bring, to June Moone’s superpowered nightmare. While the tone and feel of each story varies (Steel’s is optimistic, Apollo and Midnighter’s is downbeat but affirming, June Moone’s is downright nightmarish), the art teams maintain a constant fact: their protagonists are extraordinary people capable of extraordinary things. Taken in concert with each other and Superman and the Authority‘s first issue, they pose a question: What might these astonishing folks be capable of working together?
Grant Morrison’s script for this second issue has some frustrating patches, primarily in Steel and June Moone’s stories. While Steel is a cool character, and Morrison skillfully establishes her as one of the team’s sunnier personalities, their scripting for her tale is tin-eared — whether through a cringe-inducing line about ADHD being a superpower sometimes or the under-considered optics of a Black woman superhero defusing weaponized internet vitriol by playing peacemaker (as opposed to Peacemaker) to the terrified AI brandishing it. It’s disappointing.
Likewise, while June Moone’s story is atmospheric as all get-out and works in the book’s big picture — in practice, however, its heavily fractured storytelling means that it depends on prior knowledge of the character to work. As someone who knows the character’s general history but not its specifics, it did not land as strongly for me as it might a longtime fan of the character, and a reader completely unfamiliar with her might well bounce right off the story. Given how well the first issue established Superman and Manchester Black, as well as the elegance with which Morrison introduces Steel, Apollo, Midnighter, and their respective deals, the first half of June Moone’s story being so lore-dependent is frustrating.
With that said, Apollo and Midnighter’s story is excellent, highlighting the couple’s ruthless do-gooding, their regrets, their tensions, and their deep love. It’s also got some terrific dialogue from Morrison, including an exchange that clarified both the book’s thesis and the reason why this issue is structured the way that it is. Superman and Manchester Black are discussing Apollo and Midnighter:
Manchester Black: …Ironic, ey? Apollo’s looked up to you since he came dripping out of his vat. Ended up killing people in the name of Liberal ideals.
Superman: It was Liberal idealists who dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, Black. On reflection, I’d say when push comes to shove don’t mess with those guys. Our challenge is to think of more constructive ways to effect change.
Manchester Black: Daddy knows best. Getting wasted? Does that count?
Superman: I’ve seen you try to intoxicate yourself, Black, but it never takes, does it? Like I said, I’m impressed. You came through.
Manchester Black: I did, didn’t I?
Taken in concert with Apollo’s frustration that killing seems to be the only thing allowed to him and Midnighter as a “serious” way of doing good, Superman and Black’s conversation snaps Superman and the Authority‘s core question into perspective: What would a team of superheroes dedicated to actively, decisively improving the world through collective action look like?
The exchange does the same for the book’s character work: What sorts of people would join such a team? What does their dream of a better world look like? For Superman, Apollo, and Midnighter, it’s a chance to make up for his earlier failures. For Manchester Black, it’s a chance to give a damn and feel something other than self-inflicted misery. For Steel, it’s an opportunity to keep pursuing the better tomorrow she builds every day. For June Moone, whose story so far ends on a cliffhanger, it may just be an opportunity to get well.
Superman and the Authority remains a compelling, thought-provoking comic. I’m looking forward to seeing where Janín, Bellaire, Morrison and company will take it next issue, to seeing the answers they offer to the intriguing questions they’ve posed.
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