LIBRARY artefact #008
SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations PART 6
This issue – widescreen – brings the big budget movie adaptation of Superman and the Authority, where the dream of what this might have been recedes and the characters are simplified to plastic stereotypes and catchphrases – all the way to the MCU-style post credits scene with Manchester Black and Superman ironically echoing the Superman/Kennedy opener from issue #1.
It’s all just a bad movie with simplistic politics now!
Do you remember the first time? – is a Pulp lyric but mainly we’re asking the reader to remember their first superhero comic book – the iconic costumed clash of good and evil that hooked us from the start…
The opening sucks us into a simulated world, distorting scale and meaning.
Kandor is a micro reality – tiny Kandor is what remains of a hoped-for modernist futurity, all that persists of Kennedy’s post-war dream from Superman and the Authority issue #1 is this shrunken, freeze-dried, Silver Age utopia in a weed-infested bell jar.
I love Mikel Janin’s take on Kandor. Claustrophobic yet somehow delivering a grasp of scale that makes me believe it could house thousands of survivors of a lost civilization.
The items in the Ultra-Humanite’s list of his inventions are derived from the character’s early appearances.
The Invisible Car appeared in Action Comics #14 in July 1939, but you may have missed it.
The Purple Plague actually happened but before you or I or anyone was born luckily – in those days it was known simply as Covid-X or Action Comics #19 December 1939.
The Atomic Disintegrator was the Ultra-Humanite’s weapon of choice in Action Comics #21 February 1940.
Observe how rapidly Superman’s cuts and bruises are healing in the sequence of circular frames on the right. Clearly, he has not lost his powers in Kandor as the Humanite expects him to.
Yes! White kryptonite is lethal to plants! Xeno-science tells us so!
The version of Brainiac here is new – a rogue autonomous copy of the original. I liked the idea of evoking a Brainiac/Luthor team-up by putting Brainiac in a suit and I’m unable to resist animal companions, so featured here is Brainiac’s original simian familiar, the charismatic Koko the Space Monkey.
It was vital to me that this comic tackle serious subject matter…
It should be pointed out, that although he is bald, wears a suit and sports a monkey (or Ape of Thoth) on his back, Brainiac is not intended to represent the writer.
(this seems like an opportune time to step in and settle a few disputes I’ve borne witness to over the years; vain as I may be, and King Mob from The Invisibles notwithstanding, not every bald-headed character in my stories is meant to be a proxy for me!
Professor X and Lex Luthor always looked that way. Andy Kubert chose to draw the grown-up Damian Wayne bald in Batman #666 and and as for Mind Grabber Man…WT..? He’s not even bald!)
Introducing Brainiac into the story – although clues have existed from the beginning to show he’s been here all along waiting for us to catch up - gave me a chance to bookend my Action Comics stories of a young Superman facing the Collector of Worlds with this vision of a more mature Man of Steel, sick to the back teeth of villain plots and ultimatums and the endless restoration of the status quo.
I also love that the brilliant Jordie Bellaire coloured Brainiac RED in the dark room glow of the satellite – RED BRAINIAC!
As I may have mentioned Brainiac was not the first choice for this villain reveal…
In the original take, Brainiac’s place in the narrative was occupied by a duplicate Superman!
When it was still part of the 5G concept and a little more parodic, I had this big daft idea to update the classic utopian Superman story Superman Red/Superman Blue from 1963 by having an older Superman face a literalization of his contradictory impulses towards anti and pro authoritarianism.
My suggestion was we split Superman not into Superman Red/Superman Blue but Superman Left/Superman Right – collectivism versus competition - authoritarianism vs. libertarianism with each half starting closer to the centre, then growing ever more hardline as time went by and they remained separated. With dire consequences for the world, of course!
A final scene in the original plot for issue #4 had Superman Red unveiling his own team – only for it to turn out to be the ORIGINAL Authority with Damian Wayne and Jon Kent in place of the Midnighter and Apollo!
The echoes of this idea that remain can be seen in the series’ obsession with resolving duality – light and dark, good and evil - and the need to unify opposites to make progress, as well as in the – ‘No – WE’RE the Authority…’ scene at the end of issue #3.
When I outlined this plot to the Superman editorial team and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, I could see Phillip visibly recoil, and I promised to change the ending so as not to commit him to all the implications of a divided man of Steel impinging on a story he’d been meticulously building and setting in motion.
The solicitation copy for the issue however does refer to Superman splitting – so now you know what that was about!
Back to the title splash – the first double page shot to emphasize the scale, Midnighter with his enhanced senses and predictive ability has already sensed the bogus ‘widescreen’ nature of this issue.
The popular ‘punch a Nazi meme’ gets a nod here but why stop at a punch..?
Just as my portrayal of DC stalwart Iron Cross makes no effort to treat white supremacists as anything other than a lumbering bad joke, so too does my second stab at Fleur de Lis (the first was in 2005’s JLA Classified #3) slip effortlessly into French caricature, running into battle quoting 2002’s ‘Sexy Boy’ by French electropop duo Air. My uncharacteristic restraint, given this one-time opportunity to have her exclaim ‘Zut Alors!’, remains a mystery.
Having said that, an even more affectionate tribute to Batroc Zee Leepair might have crossed the line into ‘problematic, Monsieur Macron’ territory.
Fleur’s ‘hey, I’m gay too!’ interlude with Midnighter is a broad wink towards the recent welcome influx of gay, queer, trans and non-binary super-characters – including Jon Kent, the Son of Superman himself - who have been appearing ‘in the field’ as if from nowhere in the last couple of years…
Siv derives from 2002 series HAVEN: The Broken City by Ashley-Jay Nicolaus, Matthew P. Schuster and Ariel Olivetti - I wondered what had happened to these characters and the forgotten imaginative territory they represented. I’d misremembered a female Siv but the original was male, so I had to hastily make up a daughter with the unforgettable name Sivisdottir@siv!
Coldcast was one of Manchester Black’s allies in the original Elite – as created by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke for the aforementioned Action Comics #775.
In this new iteration, Jack Kirby’s prescient OMAC concept (begging to be literally translated into a Prisoner-esque TV show right now) is re-imagined as a kind of corporate superhero franchise run by a security firm, enhanced and operated by Brother Eye tech leftover from the whole Bruce Wayne shambles – our new OMAC has been cut off from control after a very important fight he can’t remember and he has no idea who he started out as. He’s been rebuilding his identity from scratch and identifies as a man.
Our transmasc OMAC is a ‘basic human tank’, as I described him in my pitch notes. Organic/tech enhancements give the already physically powerful OMAC access to Hulk-level strength.
OMAC has an exciting backstory that links to Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island. Although none of that material made it to the comic, this would have formed a major plot strand in the first year of an ongoing series with these characters going through ‘compelling arcs’, ‘journeys’ even...
ECLIPSO has been through many changes over the years, too numerous to mention. With the 5G proposal in mind, I wanted this to be original Eclipso – archaeologist Bruce Gordon, long past his glory days, his infamy eclipsed by other wielders of darkness with more up-to-date names and costumes.
Eclipso’s peevish ‘Super-famous, super-evil...’ line here references his elevated status in the Stargirl TV show.
Demonstrating the genius of Mikel Janin, as Midnighter gets cosy with Superman, Apollo casts a suspicious glance askance.
Equally suspicious in a different way is how OMAC regards Manchester Black. Black, for his part is looking at Superman as if to say – ‘…he’s actually BUYING this bullshit…’
The whole book is alive with nods and glances. I write these nuances into my scripts which is why I’ve loved working with artists who make the effort to have characters act in character throughout!
Black reminds us that John F Kennedy was far from the saintly Arthurian figure of legend…
A reminder as I go that’s it’s not all doom and gloom!
I must admit I’ll miss the characters but I’m glad to be gone, although if I’m being honest, I think Superman and the Authority worked out as a more appropriate farewell to my beloved DC Universe than even The Green Lantern.
Doors open again on Monday 7th with part 2 of our ongoing comic book serial ‘In Xanaduum…’
These annotations have been a real highlight! I hope they're as much fun for you as they are for us. If for no other reason than that you'll do more. Reminds me of the Fatman on Batman interviews or the enormous 10-part All-Star Superman one. Can I recommend a Green Lantern one next?
This concept of "resolving duality" reminds me a lot of that part from Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2 where Superman is only able to access the higher dimension where the Monitors live after Captain Adam merges his essence with Ultraman's. Adam even says "There are no Dualities. Only symmetries."
Love the idea of Superman Red having his own Authority team featuring the original members, but with Jon and Damian replacing Apollo and Midnighter. It just makes me wish this mini had been published as an out-of-continuity Black Label book, and that it got a proper sequel, even if you weren't willing to write it yourself.