Page 45 Review by Stephen
THE AUTHORITY was one of the first superhero series I ever endorsed, back in 1999. It hit the tarmac running and punched you in the socio-political face.
With its clipped, military precision, it reset the standard once monopolised by WATCHMEN. It consciously or subconsciously inspired Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's four ULTIMATES books, and I'm here to tell you that it withstands the test of time. If you want testosterone, it will give you testosterone, but with a great deal more cranial activity to boot.
Guess who's got the most of both? Jenny Sparks, pragmatic blonde Brit and the sharpest female lead in superhero comics. Naturally she doesn't wear spandex, she wears an exquisitely tailored, loose cotton suit over a Union Jack t-shirt, but she has more attitude than her entire team together, even if she doesn't once throw a physical punch.
That job goes to Jack Hawksmoor, plus boyfriends Apollo and The Midnighter who - contrary to the despicable gay cliché - are neither maladjusted nor lightweights. Neither in the closet nor in your face, no one gives a shit, thank fuck. "Get a room, you two," is about as much signposting as you're going to get under Ellis. Apollo smiles with a boyish optimism and he shines as bright as the sun. The Midnighter does not.
"I've already planned this fight in my head, a million times, from each and every angle. You think your Kaizen Gamorra's pretty damn good, I know. But my talents were built in by Henry Bendix, the biggest bastard on Earth, and trained by five years living rough and fighting on the streets of America.
"I won this fight before you even turned up."
So where does the cranial come in? For a start in the form of The Carrier. Fifty miles long, thirty-five miles high and powered by a caged baby universe, it tacks into The Bleed between alternate universes, "sailing the outer oceans of ideaspace during the spawning season, keeping pace with a school of Obsession Fish".
Also the new recruits: The Engineer and the Doctor. I can't tell you how they solve problems, it'll spoil all the surprises, but the Doctor's final solution for an alternate-Earth Italy was ... imaginative.
Also it's the quiet moments, most harmoniously explored in the third chapter of this complete Ellis and Hitch run, as when Angie The Engineer marvels at being in outer space with her view of the moon and laments man's all too-brief encounter with our lunar sister or relishes her view of The Bleed.
All of which - the quiet wonder and sheer, visceral thrill of seeing spinal chords ripped from their fleshy housing - would be far less effective and affecting were it not for Bryan Hitch, the neo-classical artist behind ULTIMATES and the rejuvenated, resigned Doctor Who TV series a decade or so ago. Damn, that man can do scale!
Pity his poor final-inks artist Paul Neary each and every time Bryan Hitch sent him a city-scape or double-page spread of The Carrier so vast and detailed that any normal human being would have simply cried then gone back to bed. There is another double-page spread of a sadistic shoal of cloned, superhuman, black-clothed assassins speeding towards you out of a point of perspective which will fry your fevered brain. All lit, I might add, to sunrise perfection by colour artist Laura DePuy. There's also plenty in the backgrounds to amuse if you look closely enough: the multiple pizza-deliveries discarded in Angie's New York flat or the pantheon of prior shamen who called themselves The Doctor.
So. Under Jenny Sparks, The Authority intend to make the world a better place, whether we like it or not. They will not tolerate an extra-terrestrial invasion, a despotic Eastern assault or a trans-dimensional incursion by a Sliding Albion hell-bent on turning the entire planet into one giant rape-camp.
"Bad things happened when I run teams. And bad things happen when I don't run teams. This is a hellish gamble for me, Apollo.
"But there had to be someone left to save the world.
"And someone left to change it."
Jenny Sparks stopped aging at twenty but has protected this planet for nearly one hundred years, for she is the spirit of the 20th Century.
It is now 1999. I repeat, it is now 1999.