Review: Absolute Authority Volume 2 hardcover collection (DC Comics/Wildstorm)

“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”

Though most of Batman Begins sat very well with me, when I heard this, I immediately thought, “That’s the difference between a Batman movie and a Superman movie.” Because I’m considerably surprised that I haven’t heard any concerns on the Internet about this line, and I think it’s due to the fact that, among general consensus (that is, not the hardcore Batman-reading crowd), most people think that’s pretty true of Batman. He won’t kill his enemies, but he’s not too concerned about letting them die. Whereas, if Superman were to let one of his enemies die in Superman Returns, instead of hauling them off to prison, I believe there would be something of an uproar.

Somehow, this is all related to my having just finished the Absolute Authority Volume 2, collecting all twelve issues of Mark Millar’s run on the title.

What I liked here is fairly straightforward. In Grant Morrison’s introduction to Volume 1, he mentions how for the Authority, every problem is a solution; this is especially true in Millar’s issues, the Authority fights Dr. Krigstein for three issues before inviting him to join the team, and in the final arc, they’re willing to let the world solve a hole in the bleed for themselves to reaffirm the world’s confidence. That’s smart, enlightened stuff. Certainly the art by Frank Quietly and, later, Art Adams was worth looking forward to. And I did like the villains overall in this issue, from Krigstein to the bad Doctor to the replacement Authority set up by the world’s governments — in Millar’s Authority and in Warren Ellis’ before him, you could always count on a unique, captivating villain in every arc. All of these things were good, widescreen fun.

But maybe Joe Kelly just ruined it for me.

Maybe it’s when I see the Carrier, the home base, as Grant Morrison said, that looks like a dog’s nose. I can’t help but think of the home base of Joe Kelly’s Elite, the living ship that the Elite had kidnapped. Not so different, or rather, maybe the difference is how you look at it. Then we have a couple of instances with Mid-Nighter: one, where a furry villain (albeit, one who would have killed Mid-Nighter without a thought) begs for his life, and Mid-Nighter kills him anyway; another, where Mid-Nighter tortures (like, electrocutes) a villain to get information (letting alone that the villain turns out to be the one behind the trouble after all). With the Authority, there are always “buts,” and always parenthesis, but it remains unsettling all the same. Maybe it’s just reading twelve issues of it all at once.

If anything, I thought Millar’s Authority was written fiercer than Ellis’, perhaps because at this point everyone realized the hit they had on their hands. The points Ellis was making seemed almost beside the point, whereas Millar’s seemed to be the point. The Authority, fighting Avengers knock-offs created by an errant Jack Kirby parody. The Authority, battling the super-soldiers of the world’s governments, where the kill switch for the baddest of the bad reminds us that, at the time, the United States had its own infinite crisis with hanging chads. Millar’s points are good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s interesting to read the Continuity Pages history of the publication of the Authority, because as you read the hardcovers, you can see where the title began to rise and fall as the comics world woke up around it.

Ultimately, I enjoy reading the Authority as a sociological experiment, as “what would happen if superheroes did …” But I find that I can’t enjoy it as a title itself — I can’t get behind the characters, can’t feel much for them as individuals — even Apollo and Mid-Nighter, brilliant creations, but when one or the other nearly dies in every arc, it just loses its drama, no? As for the rest of the team, I think the plot is supposed to be the thing, not the characters, like Law and Order. But me? I liked NYPD Blue, and I’m still holding out for the days when Superman can be as cool as the Authority in the public’s eyes and still not kill, and Batman doesn’t have to leave anyone for dead, either.

So go buy Absolute Authority Volume 2, and Volume 1 for that matter (and hey, DC! How about an Absolute Authority Volume 3, eh?). There’s no question that Jack Hawksmoor is right in the end when he says that the Authority changed things forever. For the better? Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the Authority is just the process of change on paper. Maybe that’s why it makes me feel a little queasy.


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