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Superman and The Authority #1 (of 4) (review)

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Mikel Janín

DC Comics, July 2021

I’ll never get tired of saying this: Grant Morrison’s Superman is the definitive version of the character. All-Star Superman is my favorite version of the character by far, because I believe it embodies everything a good Superman should be. He’s kind, he never imposes his will upon others, and he would rather sacrifice himself than allow another human being to die. Morrison can write a book about an overpowered being without taking the tension away from the story, because more often than not the best villains are not those who are physically stronger than the hero, but those who can pose an interesting moral dilemma.

Superman and the Authority is a 4-issue miniseries that caught my attention from the moment it was announced. This is not only because Morrison writing Superman was always a treat, but because it seemed like quite a strange team-up, especially considering that the Authority had never been a part of the main DC continuity as a group ever since Wildstorm was absorbed by DC.

While a large portion of The Authority is composed of new members, with only Apollo and Midnighter remaining from the original team, some of the characters serve as stand-ins for old Authority members, as a nod to the team created by Warren Ellis in his original run. Interestingly, Manchester Black, who was himself a parody of The Authority member Jenny Sparks, long before DC acquired the rights to the Wildstorm characters, is a part of this new team. As for the others, they’re either stand-ins for Justice League or The Authority members, but most of them have not made their appearance yet. Let’s dive into the first issue.

The plot for this story is that, in the near future relative to the current DC timeline, Superman is slowly losing his powers, and so he decides to create a team that can take care of Earth when they are completely gone. The Justice League, according to him, was only a temporary solution to the problem of super-villains. Superman thus decides to form a new team – one that can be proactive instead of just waiting for criminals to act. This was more or less the idea behind the original The Authority, and so it makes sense that Morrison uses that name for the current iteration of the team despite the lack of many of its original members.

The book opens with Superman talking to US President John F. Kennedy right before the national tour that will end his life. The opening stablishes this version of Superman well. The story then cuts to the present day, in which Superman saves Manchester Black from being beaten to death by a group of super-cops.

Despite Black’s protests, Superman heals his injuries at the Fortress of Solitude and attempts to talk him into using his wide array of contacts in the anti-hero community to recruit a team of superpowered individuals who aren’t afraid of exerting justice proactively. This also comes with a request to save his life. Superman is about to face a group of Phantom Zone Kryptonian criminals who are likely to kill him because of his dwindling powers. Black initially refuses, but after a while he turns back and decides to lend Superman a hand.

I’m going to talk first about what I believe to be the best part of this book by far: Superman is depicted perfectly here. He first appears saving a criminal from police brutality and heals his wounds. This is in character considering he is often depicted to be beyond human laws (and their oppressive systems), helping out even someone who he admittedly does not like very much. Afterwards, when Black refuses to help him, Superman allows him to go freely without trying to impose his will on him, because he doesn’t believe doing that is worth it. Let that sink in: Superman is the strongest person alive, and he will not force anyone to do anything they do not want to, even if that may have terrible consequences for him. Superman is able to see the best in everyone. That includes supervillains and anti-heroes, and so he believes Black is a good person on the inside, and won’t allow him to die. (He is right, of course.) Superman leaves everything in Black’s hands based solely on the fact that he believes everyone has a little bit of good inside of him.

Superman’s poses – he walks around in a very nonchalant way – is almost always relaxed and unbothered. The artistic representation of the character is very reminiscent of the way artist Frank Quitely depicted him in All-Star Superman, This iteration of the character feels like an evolution of that concept: instead of leaving Earth to its own devices, he actively seeks to create a team that can succeed him and help the world once he’s gone. Superman believes everything will turn out alright in the end.

This book is also full of small references to other works. Easter eggs are usually self-indulgent or vapid. In this issue however they add to the subtext of the story and allow for interesting analyses of even the smallest detail. The Justice Society’s picture hanging from one of the walls of the White House is not just a reference to a similar picture in Watchmen. It is meant to attention to the juxtaposition: how differently those characters behave compared to the Minutemen of Watchmen, and how much less cynical and bleak Morrison depicts this world compared to the world of Watchmen. The logo on Superman’s chest is a reference to Kingdom Come, a book in which Superman similarly attempts to save the world proactively. This story is an echo of that title: an optimistic and hopeful reconstruction of superhero tropes, an artistic or thematic goal Morrison has publicly supported.

Mikel Janín’s pencils are the other thing that makes this look so noteworthy. His clean and concise but very expressive artistic style is exactly what this story needs. The focus is usually on expressions and simple actions. The more complex action usually take place over a white background to create contrast. My only complain in regards to the art is that, while the rendering of the characters are impeccable, the desire to use the backgrounds for contrast can feel a bit lacking and empty, depending on the page. The plain colors and simple line art do not work as well with them as they could.

But the problem I have with this comic is something that escapes the confines of this first issue. The length of the miniseries itself seems problematic. Given their authorial talents, I do not think Morrison is incapable of telling a great story in just four issues. But there is only so much even Morrison can do with this concept with such limitations. This idea and cast would have been able to carry, in my opinion, at least a 12-issue maxi-series (to use the parlance of the 1980s). Its potential is going to be restrained by the length of the story.

I am very much looking forward to what Morrison comes up with for the remaining three issues, though. It is a shame that Morrison is leaving DC, considering how many quality books they have written for the publisher for the past decade. I am nonetheless happy that they has revisited their very particular version of Superman before doing so. on the other hand, I cannot wait to see what Morrison will write once free of the editorial restraints of a big American publisher.

[Editor’s note: Our usual method of distinguishing characters in stories from creators of the stories is to use gender pronouns for the creators, and no gender pronouns for the characters. When this review was first published, we changed all references to Grant Morrison to “Mr Morrison” and incorporated male gender pronouns, completely forgetting that Morrison in November 2020 identified themselves as non-binary. This is now fixed. Sincere apologies to both Morrison and to our diligent reviewer, Mr Briones.]