Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I've trapped you in a psychic construct, darling. My favourite little trick... You've been busy fighting optical illusions while the kids were out there hammering away at your physical body. Care to see the damage?"
"Oh my god..."
The full-page panel between the assailant's self-congratulatory gloat and his victim's moment of traumatised realisation is more brutal than you can possibly imagine, even from the artist of WE3. "Aneurysm" is then uttered right in her face and eye to eye with the most malevolent triumphalism I've ever seen in comics.
The entire bloodbath, however, is preceded with such a shockingly abrupt instance of eye-popping kinetic energy - when a daughter is ripped from her mother's tender, conciliatory embrace in the hall of their home - that you will physically jolt or recoil.
The gored dénouement is all the more horrifying and incongruous because the mother has her hair tied up in a bun, wearing an old-fashioned nurse-blue smock with a white, domestic apron.
I mention all this not to impress upon you how brutal the book is - there are also many tender moments and much mirth to be gained from following a twelve-year-old boy trying to maintain a secret identity at school when he's on the power level of Superman - but to impress upon you the thought behind its creation. There are lightning-fast changes of pace throughout.
From the creative team of THE AUTHORITY VOL 2 comes a truly great graphic novel reprising ideas from THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 as well, in which those with the capacity to do so - those with meta-human abilities - seek to make the world a better place whether we like it or not. In this instance the protagonists' original intention was to tackle not tyrannies but the crises which have crippled our global economies both in the past during the Great Depression after the Wall Street Crash and during the more recent banking collapse and Euro-zone implosion whose knife-edge teetering endures to this day.
If you want a searing, non-fictional account of that fiasco in comic form, we commend to you Darryl Cunningham's SUPERCRASH which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and whose sales have taken us by storm. It's gratifying that such swathes of readers care.
Although it merely acts as the backdrop, please don't think that this treats the subject any less seriously, however, for Millar masterfully links the two eras of austerity using language so carefully chosen to shame our the present need for food banks with the lessons we should have learned from the past.
At the time of the Great Depression a young man called Sheldon Sampson was determined to do something for his country. An unchartered island appeared in his dreams and called to him. His wife Grace and brother Walter believed in him unquestioningly and travelled in search of the island along with a small group of friends. Much to their local guide's astonishment they found it, exactly as it appeared in Sheldon's dream. It turned them into superheroes, giving America something to believe in when its people needed it the most...
Eighty-one years later and the next generation appears to have other priorities in life. Grace and Sheldon's daughter and son, Chloe and Brandon, often fail to answer emergencies. Instead the chic social celebrity and media darling Chloe is building up a portfolio of advertising endorsements which Brandon sneers at even those some are for charitable institutions. True, Chloe does love her cocaine kicks, but bitter young Brandon's a binge-drinker like nobody's business. Of course, maybe there's a reason he's bitter.
Meanwhile Sheldon's brother Walter is as committed to the good fight as ever, using the power of his mind to manipulate perception, but he wants to do more: he wants to take on the failing economy.
"America's collapsing, the Euro-Zone's bleeding to death, the global economy's hanging by a thread. And we're still just out there wrestling like children. Don't you think we could help more directly? Doesn't this give you a horrific sense of impotence?"
"You're not an economist, Walter. What are you going to do? Just because you can fly doesn't mean you know how to balance a budget. You need to accept that we're public servants and have a little faith in the government we've elected."
Walter's argument goes on: it was the politicians who let the banks run riot and started wars we couldn't afford so that now America is back where it started in 1929 with food lines! He's not wrong. But Sheldon is adamant, Sheldon is used to being obeyed, Sheldon is used to having the last word and he might have, as usual. But however righteous and right-minded Sheldon may be, he isn't half holier-than-thou: lofty, didactic, dismissive and dictatorial. The worst reason ever...?
"Because I said so."
"And you wonder why your children are a disenfranchised mess?"
Ah yes, the children...
Many of the elements may put you in mind of KINGDOM COME in which a subsequent generation of superheroes is fair less altruistic and so things go horribly wrong, but the relationships here are all far more acutely balanced as are the arguments and you may start ticking recognition boxes on all sides.
Don't think the arguments are going to be restricted to those between Sheldon and Walter about economics and democracy, either.
Millar arranges his pieces on the chessboard meticulously before going for check. Some move in most unexpected directions because individuals are neither as white nor as black and therefore as predictable as some other writers make out. The family dynamics are going to grow a lot more complicated than they are now following three key moments, some manipulative mind-games and a life-changing revelation for one.
More years than you expect will have passed by the time this first book is over, and children have the power to surprise you.
Also, for another startling abrupt moment - this time hilarious - wait until someone you've yet to meet murmurs: