Review: Superman and the Authority hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


Common questions I might ask myself when starting a review include, at their most basic, “Did I enjoy the book?” and “Was it good?” In regards to Superman and the Authority, anachronistically Grant Morrison’s final DC Comics story for the time being, the answers are complicated.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Morrison pulls on strings here from a variety of DC eras and continuities, bringing any number of things full circle. As such, Authority has an air of “the last Superman story” to it, even as it doesn’t ultimately present itself that way. Not to mention that, in the weird ways comics fold in on themselves, Morrison’s very presence amidst certain of these characters carries its own “never thought we’d see the day” baggage. In all those ways, Superman and the Authority is a trippy, entertaining venture.

Is it good? That is, given all of the above, it is worth spending your dollars on? There I’m more circumspect. We know already that Superman and the Authority is the most prominent fragment of the 5G continuity that never came to be. The events here do continue into Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics, but understandably imperfectly as the two books weren’t originally meant to coincide. Superman and the Authority takes irreverent as its baseline, it is largely just a “team comes together” story, and a good amount of the interesting material set up here is unlikely to ever be acknowledged again.

Given all that, if one can simply take as rote the presence of the Authority in Action Comics without needing their (imperfect, mis-aligned) origin, perhaps Superman and the Authority can be skipped, though I’m not sorry I read it.

[Review contains spoilers]

Jumping straight to the (almost) end, I can say Superman and the Authority might not rate quite so highly for me were the “Lightray” that Morrison introduces here not Lia Nelson. And I read the name, and I thought it sounded familiar, and then I dismissed it, and then I thought, “Did Morrison really …?” And so it is that Morrison takes the Flash from Dan Jurgens late 1990s Tangent Comics and grafts her on to the modern era, with a slightly different origin and a new moniker (I’d as soon Lightray remain Lightray and the Tangent Flash become one of the many Flashes out there, but notwithstanding). That’s a heck of a deep dive — not one I should have put past Morrison, but surprising nonetheless — and as a Tangent fan for at least the last 10 years, something like this makes the book for me.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And this is far from Authority’s only reference, ping-ponging from the 1970s Corgi Supermobile to calling out the “widescreen” era of the original Authority’s birth. The book’s villain du jour is the Ultra-Humanite, who, in this “everything happened” era of DC Comics, recalls himself (as is factually true) as Superman’s first “supervillain.” Thus in the mid-part there’s a sense of this seemingly older Superman ending where he began, of finally defeating his first enemy in his twilight case, though a variety of things interrupt the symmetry — that Ultra-Humanite can seemingly always replicate himself (in true Morrison-ian Final Crisis “to be continued” style), that there’s really some question in the end whether Superman won and Ultra-Humanite (and Brainic) doesn’t know it or if Ultra-Humanite won and Superman doesn’t know it. Also, though the book leaves it vague, there’s some question whether this is an “old” Superman at all or the nowadays Superman disguising himself (possibly again to connect to Johnson’s Action; it would have helped when Mikel Janin shows Superman returning to his original costume if his hair had lost the gray, too).

Still more: In a group of what would otherwise be throwaway villains (but in the hands of Morrison, they’re not), we find Siv, seemingly the progeny of a denizen of Haven. That’s another deep dive, also to the 2000s, in which DC tried to create a new DCU “locale,” set on the west coast, populated by stranded aliens; the Haven miniseries was bookended by two JLA specials. This all came about two years after Morrison left his famous JLA, and while Haven didn’t intersect with the JLA title proper (by Mark Waid at the time), it’s still interesting to see Morrison playing with “JLA” properties that basically exist because of the work he and Howard Porter did before them.

To wit, Grant Morrison spends an outsized amount of time on interactions between Superman and Manchester Black, which is an ouroboros of a sentence if I’ve ever seen one. Morrison, who made famous the “JLA” Justice League to whom the original Authority owed more than a little of its aesthetic; Manchester Black, the taken-to-the-extremes parody of Authority’s Jenny Sparks, whose “Elite” team later starred in their own JLA spin-off title. As with the nod to Haven, we see here Morrison writing an alt-continuity story that in some respects is a story of Grant Morrison’s alternate continuity — Morrison writing the JLA spin-offs that followed him, a kind of “what if” JLA had continued just the way it did but with Grant Morrison always writing it.



So Grant Morrison’s Superman and the Authority is weird, and resonant, at least if you’ve been hanging around a couple of decades. It’s populated by some great, distinct art styles, and mini-adventures for Natasha “Steel” Irons and Apollo and Midnighter, among others. But it also makes oh so many promises, secrets about Kryptonite and Lightray’s connection to Darkseid, that again I think we’ll never hear about again, and its brevity (perhaps editorially required) causes it to be blither about issues like suicide than I think the book intends. This is one of those things, a book DC might as easily (so to speak) have not published as published — will it make your headcanon?

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. As much as I enjoyed this book, it made me wish DC had published it as a Black Label mini series instead. The tweaks Morrison had to do to make this story fit current continuity (like Superman saying "I'd been lost in time" in order to justify his meeting with JFK in the '60s) were far from seamless, and his original plan or revealing Superman Red as the main antagonist with his own Authority team was much more interesting and could have spawned a great sequel.

    After I finished reading this, I still had questions about Superman's gray hair and the fact that he didn't appear to have diminished powers during the "Warworld Rising" arc, but Phillip Kennedy Johnson thankfully addresses all of that at the beginning of the next arc.

    1. I hadn't heard about the Superman Red bit. Any links to Morrison talking about their original plan?

    2. These are Morrison's annotations on the mini series:

      In the last post, you'll find the original Superman Red plan.


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