Looking ahead to how the book will read when taken all together, it also does the work necessary to expand and shore up some of those shakier parts of issue #2’s scripting. This is particularly true for the story it’s telling with June Moone and her often villainous alter ego the Enchantress — after a rough start, her section of the issue features an excellent character beat that made me cackle. In addition, writer Grant Morrison offers up some joyously sharp commentary on certain trends in contemporary cape comic writing and reading that is as funny as it is insightful.
Mikel Janín‘s work on the assembled team is stupendous, bouncing the disparate band of heroes off each other, their world, and their foes. Guest artist Travel Foreman blends the superheroic and the horrific to fun effect in the conclusion of June Moone and the Enchantress’s story. Colorists Jordie Bellaire and Alex Sinclair skillfully match and enhance the moods and feelings of their collaborators, and Steve Wands‘ letters bring cold, cruel menace to the book’s making-his-move villain. On a pure craft level, Superman and the Authority is an impeccable comic.
On a text and subtext level, it may well be my favorite superhero comic of 2021.
“Stop dreaming. It’s not good for you.”
Superman and the Authority is an angry comic, but not a wrathful one. Throughout the series, Morrison has repeatedly critiqued aspects of contemporary cape comics that they find vexing: the reduction of Superman (and on a more personal level, their own take on him, particularly in the beloved All-Star Superman) to a flat, infallible paragon figure; the use of characters as ideological punching bags, written more to make a point than to tell a story; the overreliance on a single narrative tone in the name of putting that tone upon a pedestal.
To Morrison, Superman is not Superman because he can stop an evil counterpart by exploding, he’s Superman because he can own up to his failures, see beyond the sensationalism of caped adventuring and still step up to try and build a better tomorrow. There are more ways for Manchester Black to be Superman’s foil than just trying to kill him because he’s “naive.” There have been terrific bleak superhero comics and terrific hopeful superhero comics, but clinging to one mood and insisting upon its supremacy is a really great way to write both a comic and a character into a corner from which there can be no escape without extraordinary care.
Western superhero comics, Morrison argues, do not have to run themselves into a rut. And they really, really shouldn’t claim to be doing something grand when they’re self-righteously driving themselves further into the muck. “Stop dreaming. It’s not good for you,” June Moone tells herself on issue #3’s first page. On a textual level, Moone is badly discombobulated but used to being so, unaware that her world has already changed dramatically for the better.
On a metatextual level, the line can read as a rejoinder to the close of “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”, the book which introduced Manchester Black as a mean-spirited parody of The Authority. Superhero comics, for Morrison, are full of all manner of potential fun. Countless wild, brainy, joyous, disturbing adventures are waiting to be told. And they will yet be if folks would get over their damn self-seriousness.
Why take a cheap potshot when you can build something new? Why insist upon the immutability of a character or overwhelming fidelity to a certain tone when there are new angles to consider, new ideas to chew on? It’s one thing to take the craft seriously, to approach the art of comic-making and storytelling with care. It’s another entirely to proclaim in all caps that any one type of superhero comic is THE SUPERHERO COMIC, and that all others are somehow failures to be struck down with shallow condemnations and the further transformation of creative methodologies into dogma.
“Maybe it’s time I told all of you exactly what’s going on. And how you can play a part in my toughest-ever challenge…”
As much as Superman and the Authority is a gleefully scathing takedown of western superhero writing at its most staid, it’s far from a lecture. Superman and the Authority isn’t just fun to read, it’s an outright hoot — a hoot that knows how to make space for sober moments when sober is what’s needed. Morrison practices what they preach. And they do so alongside a tremendous team.
Foreman makes the “third-rate cosmic horror” menacing Moone as both menacing and pathetic. When Superman pokes holes in the malignant being D’Z’Amor’s inane posturing (“Okay, let me get this straight. When you’ve entirely eliminated all good in the universe… You’ll feel good. Wow.”) Foreman renders the horrific monstrosity genuinely embarrassed and perplexed. D’Z’Amor’s still an eldritch horror, but he didn’t put as much thought into his spiel as he should have, and his deflating as he realizes this contrasts beautifully with his earlier cruelty and viciousness.
Janín’s expression work and body language have been some of the best things about Superman and the Authority, and with the Enchantress joining the team and the last two members (Mars-born influencer superheroine Lightray and her bodyguard O.M.A.C.) getting their introduction, he’s got a murder of faces to play with.
I love the way Janín draws conversations, the way he catches reactions and frames them in relation to each other. Whether it’s June being wowed by Fort Superman and the assembled Authority or the villain’s hateful ranting to Superman, he builds genuine feeling into a by-design larger-than-life comic book. His action is similarly strong, whether building to a major confrontation or staging an intimate-but-superheroic clash in Fort Superman — similar to but distinct from the one that Manchester Black, Superman, and an army of Phantom Zone robots engaged in back in the first issue.
And when the time comes to dial back the superheroic and focus on the human, to pay attention to the hurt that can go unnoticed in the name of insisting upon “The power of positivity! The potency of hope!” — an insistence that has left poor Lightray a wreck — Janin throttles down with precision and care.
Superman and the Authority is a gauntlet thrown down to Morrison’s fellow superhero writers and readers. It’s a call to push the form and have fun while doing it, to set aside their adherence to the past but carry their love forward. It is, in the words of Superman himself, a “challenge.” One that can be met. One that should be met. One that must be met.
This is a terrific superhero comic. I adore it. I am tremendously excited to see how it will end.
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