It is done. Superman and the Authority; Mikel Janín, Jordie Bellaire, and Grant Morrison’s terrific superhero miniseries; is done. So too is Grant Morrison’s time working with DC comics, a relationship that has stretched decades and featured everything from Animal Man confronting Morrison themself to Batman facing “the hole in things.” Better folks than I have written about the end of this phase of Morrison’s career as a comics writer, but I am comfortable saying that Superman and the Authority‘s fourth and final issue closes the book on a strong note. This is a beautiful, wise comic about the state of superhero comics (in particular DC superhero comics). It’s also a grand old brawl.
After sharing space with a band of talented guest artists in issues #2 and #3, Mikel Janín draws the whole of Superman and the Authority‘s conclusion. As with the first issue and his section of the third, he proves adept at intimate superheroic combat — Superman vs. the Ultra-Humanite, which gives way to Superman and a heretofore-unseen-in-the-book major ally of his vs. the Ultra-Humanite. It is a battle of ideology as much as it is fists and wits, and that carries over into the way the fighters hold themselves. The Ultra-Humanite glowers and postures, continually trying to reinforce the supremacy he insists is true.
Superman, who’s had the strength to doubt himself, and the strength to admit his failures, is far more cool and collected. He may not be as powerful as he once was, but power and strength aren’t always the same thing. And where it counts, Superman is stronger than the egomaniacal, body-hopping mega-twerp will ever hope to be.
For Janín, character shapes action. This is what’s made Superman and the Authority‘s duels so much fun to read, and it’s what makes the gargantuan brawl between the newly-assembled Authority and a hastily-assembled band of shadow counterparts such a treat. Manchester Black, Steel, and the Midnighter handle the brawl, even as they realize that it’s a hastily engineered puppet show. Apollo and the Enchantress face the nefarious Eclipso to rescue the superheroic influencer Lightray, while her bodyguard O.M.A.C. tries to protect her from everyone.
The larger scale of the battle gives Janín space to directly and deliberately contrast the Authority from each other and from their opponents, with the action of the fight serving as a vehicle for the ways Superman’s crew are alike and different. Natasha “Steel” Irons and Manchester Black are about as far removed from each other as it is possible to be, personality-wise, but their methods are remarkably similar — they both have a way with words, even though Steel comes to her points quickly and Black will always love hearing his head roar. It’s a really neat bit of character work from Janín and Morrison, one that takes full advantage of the language of the superhero comic action scene.
And hey, in the process, a white supremacist gets the stuffing knocked out of him. That’s always a plus.
Script-wise, Superman and the Authority sees Morrison issue another challenge to their peers, much like they did in issue #3. Where the third issue called for comic writers to see beyond the general boxes characters are often restricted to, issue #4 urges those working on cape comics to take care with their craft. The Authority, unusual though the team’s makeup might be, was put together with thought for how the cast could bounce off one another, how their interactions both casual and in action are a direct result of the thought Morrison and their collaborators (and in-story, Superman and Manchester Black) put into the team.
The faux-Authority by contrast may as well have been assembled by algorithm, with nary a thought given to them by their in-story masterminds beyond “they must be the Authority because we say so.” It’s how a Black man, a Black woman, and a gay woman end up ostensibly teammates with a virulent white supremacist. It’s shabby work that blows up in their faces rather spectacularly.
Superhero comics are a business. There is a mercenary aspect to their craft that has to be reckoned with and creative and moral failings that have shaped the field and the characters as much as any terrific story. Ignoring those facts and plunging recklessly ahead is a great way to trip and make a schmuck of yourself. Like Manchester Black says to Superman in the issue’s last pages, “You miss a lot when you only look for the good in people.” But by the same token, wallowing in miserablism and self-loathing for the craft doesn’t accomplish anything. As Superman says to Black, “Sometimes you work with what you’ve got, Mr. Black, don’t you agree? I chose to trust you didn’t I?”
Both in-story and in the real world, this has paid dividends for Superman and the Authority. Together, Superman and Manchester Black have built a team that doesn’t just have the strength to build a better world, but the passion and the commitment to that mission. Janín and Morrison have made Black, at his worst a character who existed solely for writers to make an argument, and made him into a tremendously compelling protagonist. It’s really, really fine work.
Textually, the last few pages of Superman and the Authority are a sequel hook, one that I’m not currently enmeshed enough in the greater DC comics universe to fully grok. Metatextually, it’s intriguing. Morrison bids farewell to mainline superhero comics with a riff on one of their most famous bits of superheroic language. But the context is quite far removed from the God of Evil’s insistence on his own inevitability. It’s something familiar made into something new. One last challenge from one of western superhero comics’ great writers as they move on from the form.
It’s a heck of a way to close out a book that is itself a heck of a way to close out a major part of a creative life.
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