18/2 SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations Pt3
LIBRARY ARTEFACT #004
SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations PART 3
As previously documented in this thrilling behind the scenes account of skull-duggery and mind-buggery, the story I’d pitched for Superman and the Authority was deeply rooted in former publisher Dan Didio’s radical, abandoned 5G timeline and relied on the basic idea of an 82 year old, waning Superman forming a team to accomplish all the things he’d failed to do over many decades of crises and villain battles, before coming into conflict with the superhero community he’d once inspired – as a basic concept and shake up of the line I thought it had a lot of potential.
When 5G was scrapped, I was asked by the Superman editorial office – shout out to Dedicated Diego Rivera who kept the canoe afloat after Jamie S. Rich’s departure to pure shores - to find a way to make the bones of the story as I’d already written it bear the load of a totally different story.
Firstly, I conferred with Antipodean darling Tom Taylor and Superman’s current writer, Philip Kennedy Johnson (amusingly enough, on our Zoom calls I was unshaven in my Sean Connery ‘Highlander’ mode, while there’s something about Phillip that reminds me of Daniel Craig, so there was very much a sense of old guard passing laser cigarette lighter and Aston Martin keys to new…) with a view to somehow fusing my 5G giblets with the direction of the monthly Superman titles. PKJ’s planned Warworld Saga suggested a different ending that might serve my purpose–
GALLERY artefact #007
picture -Kristan Morrison - 2017 - The Man who would be…
I was drawn to Phillip’s observation that, although rules of the fictional DCU Earth meant that Superman could never truly change the world of the monthly comics out of all recognition, he could still change other worlds – the thrill of seeing dictators fall and authoritarian regimes crumble before the might of the good guys could be indulged as allegory and metaphor without seeming crassly literal or trivializing real world problems.
By this time, preoccupied with the novel and TV work and with the evangelical passion of the Supergods years long dissipated, I found it impossible to take superhero comics seriously; if Wonder Woman and The Green Lantern were solemn goodbyes to a beloved playground I’d outgrown like Alice on a potion, Superman and the Authority felt like the bathetic clown fart with accompanying giggle track as the door smacked my useless arse on the way out!
Although perhaps a little more refined than the DC lampoon in my Blackstars issue #2 with artist Xermanico, Superman and the Authority started out as very much in the same vein of superhero comic book parody and commentary but then -
– then I saw Mikel Janin’s clean-lined confident artwork and Jordi Bellaire’s ‘chewy’ toyetic colour palette – and I was inspired by the spaciousness and modernity of their work to scale up my ideas and work in a few more layers of depth and allusion to Superman and the Authority.
Presented with the concept of Superman and the Authority, I’d rejected the idea that Superman would play well with original Authority line-up as delivered to the world by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch in 1999.
On the 5G timeline, that original leftie liberal Authority registered as a weird blip on the radar at some point equivalent to the late ‘90s and had, over the intervening years, been depowered or replaced. For that reason, my team had to be next gen, while somehow capturing some of the flavour of the originals.
Fortunately for me, original team leader Jenny Sparks already had her own DC universe expy in the form of Manchester Black – created by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke in Action Comics #755 – to be the chain-smoking Union Jack sporting Brit leader of Authority parody The Elite.
The savage animosity between Manchester Black and Superman suggested a clapped-out DC dynamic at the heart of the new Authority team – cynicism vs optimism, light vs dark – which reminded me, in deep dive low culture terms, of the Blake and Avon relationship from Blake’s 7.
I’ve seen Manchester Black described as a millennial caricature but don’t let his cheeky wit and snide style blind you to the truth: Black’s a charismatic sociopath who uses the millennial language of anti-oppression to justify oppression and deflect criticism. One doesn’t have to go far to find people like him in the real world of online discourse.
Superman, of course, recognizes this and has fun with it.
Having selected Black, it seemed like an interesting exercise to fill out the rest of the Authority line-up with analogous characters from the wider DC universe.
Aside from Apollo and Midnighter who kept their places on account of surviving and showing up more often than the others in the regular DCU, we selected a group of Authority equivalents…
The Authority’s tech genius The Engineer became Steel.
Magic expert, The Doctor, became the Enchantress.
Flying speedster/huntress Swift became Lightray.
Jack Hawksmoor became OMAC (a less obvious match-up – Hawksmoor’s role as the God of Cities is unique in comics so instead, I went for a corporate protector of cities and their citizens)
Nothing is taken entirely seriously in Superman and the Authority, but as with Xermanico on Blackstars, I asked Mikel to sell the joke by drawing it all totally straight.
At its most basic, I saw Superman and the Authority as a shiny self-aware 21st Century hyper-pulp, a self-aware super-spy-fi global thriller take on Superman as seen through the lens of his own fictional antecedent, Doc Savage.
Issue 1 – ALL OUR TOMORROWS
Superman and Kennedy – the World’s Finest duo of uncritical boomer nostalgia!
This section pays oblique homage to Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant, evergreen The New Frontier but the real origins of the scene can be found in the story ‘Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy’ which was published in Superman #170 in July 1964 shortly after the President’s assassination in Dallas.
As legend has it the short 10-pager – based around Superman’s wholehearted endorsement of Kennedy’s physical fitness program for Americans - was planned for an earlier issue then canned when JFK didn’t make it home from Dallas. DC made the decision not to publish but Kennedy’s successor, President Johnson requested the story go ahead as a tribute. The athletes on the moon come directly from ‘Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy’, although we chose to have them dressed in spacesuits adding to either the realism or the absurdity, it’s hard to say.
It’s easy to see the influence of the 5G timeline here with a Superman only beginning to show himself in public, encouraged by Kennedy to join forces with other ‘silver age’ superbeings to fulfil his utopian dreams of space travel and the Brother(sister)hood of (hu)Man(s).
In the end, I had to handwave this element of the continuity by suggesting that Superman met JFK and participated in something very much like the plot of New Frontier during a period in his life where he was lost in time – rather like my Batman in The Return of Bruce Wayne series – presumably amnesiac and unable to remember that Kennedy was fated to die, or aware that the assassination could not be prevented without the timestream having a prolapse or whatever it does when it’s being regularly ‘broken’ to set up the next cosmic hoedown.
Manchester Black wakes up in an area of South London where I spent many happy hours asthmatic in a dusty squat with my pal Emilio and witnessed the 1985 Brixton riots first-hand from another mate’s window.
The Elite were a superteam analogue of The Authority created by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke for ‘Whatever Happened to truth Justice and the American Way in Action Comics #775 from March 2001 – a celebrated story which dramatized how Superman would handle the conceptual threat these bolshy new 21st century superheroes posed to his non-interventionist stance…
Some readers felt we’d turned Manchester Black into a John Constantine manque. I see where they’re coming from and apologize for any likeness but Black smokes roll-ups rather than Silk Cut and he’s London Irish, unlike Constantine, who tends to be written as Liverpool via Albert Square. Those are the sounds of hairs splitting, I know, but there it is.
Joe Kelly’s original Manchester Black comes across as older than ours and perhaps more of a military man, more SAS than our take, reminding me of Billy Butcher from The Boys.
In Superman and the Authority Manchester Black, is drawn to be younger and more handsome, directly inspired by 1976 John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten as becomes clear when you read all his dialogue in Lydon’s sly, sarcastic whine…
Superman does the now well-nigh parodic superhero 3-point landing on Page 11 with the blazing red eyes that usually signal a ‘very serious’ take on the character. We wanted to remind readers of his raw muscle power, so he’s more visceral and physical here, less floaty, angelic or divine.
When he then says something gallant and faintly ridiculous, we’re reminded that this is an old-school tough guy from a different, more well-mannered world!
I was working with a Superman no longer capable of flight, who was limited to gigantic skyscraper-hurdling leaps as was the case in the early days of the character – however, I failed to communicate this adequately to Mikel and he drew Superman floating above the ground in that messianic, angelic manner I’d hoped to avoid.
As ever, working around a disconnect like this can often lead to a much better idea – and so came the notion of Superman exercising by levitating six inches above the floor six times daily, which helped sell the idea of a depowered Man of Steel in a simple and effective way.
Quite a few readers correctly identified echoes of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse’s Tom Strong character in the greying temples and the short sleeves/gloves design of Superman’s action suit.
While it’s true that Mikel and I were aware of and had discussed the Tom Strong flavour here, Superman’s leisure wear was initially based on the outfit worn by Michael Fassbender as the android David from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus– I added short sleeves as a call back to my tyro Superman from Action Comics in 2011 but the basic look came from David.
Above all, for our main influence we went back to the pulp source in Doc Savage – like Doc, our Superman has his base in an arctic Fortress, while the place of Doc’s team of specialists, the ‘Fabulous Five’, is taken by Superman’s ‘Surly Seven’ Authority squad.
With Superman in the Doc Savage role, we had no doubt about which DCU character might more plausibly occupy a Tom Strong niche - see upcoming issue #2 annotations for more on that!
The title is a riff on Shakespeare’s bleak ‘…tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…’ soliloquy as delivered by Macbeth in the Scottish play.
The Hare Checklist measures psychopathic traits.
The Phantom Zone criminals piloting the ‘zonedroids’ include Ursa and Xa-Du the Phantom King.
The Thought-Beasts of planet Krypton made their first appearance in Superboy issue #102 from January 1963 – where we are told how these creatures have evolved a screen between their horns which displays threatening thought-images of what the beast plans to do next! Here we see it planning to attack and eat the zonedroids.
More come Monday…
Here’s hoping that as well as the other stuff you have planned for this newsletter we can get deep dives like this about all your previous projects as we go. Would love some behind the scenes stuff now that you are afforded the ‘freedom’ of not really working for the big two anymore and can be more open about your projects there.
Would also love some more stories about your creator owned works!
“John Huston was Terrific —
And he gave me and Michael Caine a directive that no other guy would have thought of — that the character — Danny and Peachy — were really ONE MAN.
And as long as they were together, they could do ANYTHING.”
— Sean Connery on
The Man Who Would Be King.