16/2 SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations Pt 2
GALLERY artefact #006
Picture - Kristan Morrison - 2015 - ‘Spirit in the Sky’
SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations PART 2
LIBRARY artefact #003
Ah, it’s you again! Pull up a stool, take a seat there by the window where I can keep an eye on that hook of yours. I’ve already started on champagne…
Let me take you back to our favourite table at the West Hollywood Sunset Marquis where DC publisher Dan Didio knew how to hook me like a prize trout – he and his writers had ‘come up with’ plans he told me, to shake up the Superman books; plans that included Superman’s son graduating to the primary role as Earth’s heroic protector while a disillusioned older Superman became ever more right wing and authoritarian… eventually assembling a new version of the Authority team to enact his patrician will.
Concurrent plans existed to push Supergirl in an increasingly fascistic direction for reasons that made scant sense to me.
Why, I say, oh why, is it so hard to simply serve the concept and write the adventures of a smart, creative and kind-hearted teenage girl with superpowers? What purpose earthly or unearthly is served by making this character an embittered space tyrant?
When I brought the Maid of Might into the Final Crisis series, my take was very much inspired by the Dylan Horrocks/Jessica Abel story from 2002’s Bizarro Comics anthology book – in my opinion quite simply the greatest Supergirl comic ever. If any version of Supergirl should serve as a template for the character moving forward, this is the one…
The notion behind the Superman and the Authority series as it was proposed to me was that Superman – who had aged in real time since his 1938 arrival on Earth and was now 82 going on 55 and with diminishing powers - would inevitably grow more and more autocratic as he got older and his son took his place as a new and more popular switched-on Superman.
Dan knew exactly how I’d feel about this. He waited for me to take a breath while he ordered another bottle of our favourite ZD. Then, waving a fork in an unnecessarily aggressive manner, I got going…
I liked the idea of an older Superman rethinking his mission and turning into what I saw as a Doc Savage pulp hero figure with his own team of expert operatives… but as for the rest of it…
I questioned the desire to attribute the worst aspects of human behaviour to characters whose only useful function, as I see it, aside from simply entertaining young people and anyone else who fancies an uplifting holiday in a storybook world far from the grinding monotony of pessimism and disillusion, is to provide a primary-coloured cartoon taste of how we all might be if we had the wit and the will and the self-sacrifice it takes to privilege our best selves and loftiest aspirations over our base instincts. While that great day is unlikely to happen any time soon in any halfway familiar real world, why not let comic book universes be playgrounds for the kind of utopian impulses that have in the past brought out the best in us?
To undermine the fundamental appeal of superheroes like Superman and Supergirl by re-casting them as anti-heroes at best or outright monsters - dragging imaginary childhood paragons off their pedestals to reinforce a fairly facile point about the tendency of real world heroes to exhibit feet of clay, struck me and strikes me still as imaginatively lazy.
Using kids’ adventure heroes to make hackneyed observations about typical human behaviour that does not in fact apply to made up comic book characters strikes me as – I don’t know - whimsical? Dilettantish? A squandering of energy and creativity?
This is purely a personal bias but the desire to compel fantasy worlds to conform to the allegedly superior rules of grim reality can feel to me like a form of memetic colonialism I’ve generally found distasteful and against which I’ve found myself rebelling since I got my start in US monthly comics in the late ‘80s with Animal Man.
Using Superman’s greatest vulnerability against him – that he is powerless to resist how he is written – to deliberately misrepresent the intentions of his creators or portray him in a way that would best suit some other character strikes me as an oddly blinkered refusal on the part of otherwise imaginative people to even try to conceive what might go on in the mind and motivations of a fictional paragon created to do the right thing with no thought for his own safety.
This is not to say that cautionary tales of evil or compromised supermen don’t have their place. There have been well-made stories that I’d rate among some of the best and most ‘adult’ takes on the superhero concept from The One to Marshall Law, The Boys and Irredeemable which use Superman-like analogue characters to critique the shady side of the entertainment industry or the monstrous power of the military industrial complex or to question and expose the contradictions and self-delusions in the USA’s super-heroic self-image – but those tend to use characters custom built for the purpose and I’ll admit even then my interest begins to wane when tyrant Superman stories exist to service the fundamental premise that where power corrupts superpower would of necessity super-corrupt –
The trouble is super-powered people don’t exist except in comics, films and games. One can just as easily lay the blame for the financial crisis on unicorns by writing stories to prove once and for all what terrible duplicitous cunts they’d be if they were real and ran the markets with their sparkly hooves.
Blah fucking blah – swerving back onto the highway after a detour intended to convey some flavour of my thoughts on Superman as expressed that evening over remarkably crispy brussels sprouts and Chardonnay – I convinced Dan to drop the super-fascist direction and promised, just as he’d surely planned I would, that I’d commit to demonstrating in the pages of a comic book series a different way to portray an older Superman who - despite coming across as perhaps more worldly-wise, paternalistic, and a little tone deaf to modernity - had somehow managed to avoid the inevitable slide into authoritarian fascism that apparently signals the onset of middle age and parenthood.
Suppressing an inner groan, I talked myself into writing four 30-page issues of a team-building comic to sketch out this older Superman’s personality as I saw it – and to showcase the members of his new team prior to the launch of their own title.
I included a pitch document outlining ideas and directions for the first year of potential storylines but my commitment to Superman and the Authority stopped there at giving a voice to a slightly different Superman take while introducing the set-up and supporting cast for others to play with.
Unlike Wonder Woman and The Green Lantern, Superman and the Authority was never intended as a complete story or a ‘perennial’. It was a demonstration piece, destined to wrap with a ‘To Be Continued…’ slotting into the never- ending DC universe story, absorbed into DC’s ongoing narrative, digested, regurgitated, churned to a 4-colour paste!
The superfluous ephemeral quality of Superman and the Authority was a big aspect of its appeal to me. It’s why there are multiple cliffhanger conclusions I need never address (and God bless the formidable Phillip Kennedy Johnson for giving sufficient amount of fucks to pick up the baton on a few of those)!
When in February 2020, Dan’s 5G plans were photon-torpedoed from close orbit that appeared to be the end of it until I was contacted by former Superman line editor, Jamie S. Rich, and asked to finish my Superman and the Authority series with a view to its publication as part of the new post-Death Metal continuity.
I could only guess they’d spent too much on me already to throw the whole thing in the bin, even if only the kindest soul could ever pretend it dovetailed with any aprés-Didio DCU continuity.
Come back on Freeday 18th for more stark-naked and rubbery facts!
What were the origins of our take on Manchester Black and why is he so different from the original?
Which Ridley Scott movie provided the inspiration for Superman’s Authority costume?
"To undermine the fundamental appeal of superheroes like Superman and Supergirl by re-casting them as anti-heroes at best or outright monsters - dragging imaginary childhood paragons off their pedestals to reinforce a fairly facile point about the tendency of real world heroes to exhibit feet of clay, struck me and strikes me still as imaginatively lazy."
I genuinely wish every single person writing big superhero comics today would read this. Thank you, Grant!