Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Authority Volume Two: Under New Management

Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Mark Millar & Frank Quitely
The Authority Volume Two: Under New Management (2000)
I seem to have heard a lot about Warren Ellis, but nothing more detailed than yeah, he's really good. I recall wincing at his Lazarus Churchyard strip in the understandably short-lived Blast!, and considering that back in 1991 it only took an X-prefix or references to Aleister Crowley to fool me into believing I had experienced quality product, that must have been some serious wank. Even the name Lazarus Churchyard - if it was music you just know it would have been some post-ironic steampunk-goggle-wearing technogoth toss buried under four tons of digital reverb. I browsed a copy of Warren's apparently amazing Transmetropolitan in a comic shop at some point, but it bore an uncanny resemblance to self-consciously edgy cyberpunk landfill so I presumed it had nothing to offer. I could be wrong, but y'know...

The Authority is a revisionist superhero series, because if there's one thing the world needs, it's another team of super-powered cartoon characters with tidily flawed personalities and erectile dysfunction...

Okay - bit harsh maybe. The Authority actually isn't bad, and no-one could possibly deny that the art is beautiful, although the Warren Ellis issues reprinted here - and keep in mind that he created this title in the first place - do little to contradict or expand favourably upon my impression of him as a writer. Snappy lines punctuated by entire pages bereft of dialogue can work, or it can read like shorthand cool - the comic book equivalent of underlighting one's face by flashlight whilst pulling stern expressions and growling Shakespeare with a German accent. I mean it's okay, but it's a bit obvious.

The key to writing superheroes used to be in getting Doctor Octopus to a branch of Subway so as to have Spiderman crack jokes specifically tailored to the situation about knuckle sandwiches or whole wheat rolls of justice or whatever, and this is surely just the ergonomic modern equivalent. I have no idea whether Warren Ellis is currently working on some steampunk title, or whether he's pooped out a fucking Torchwood novel, but I wouldn't be surprised at either.

However, once we come to the Mark Millar issues reprinted herein, things definitely look up. For some time Millar was allegedly known within the comics trade as - if you'll excuse the schoolyard sexual politics - Grant Morrison's bum boy in reference to the obvious influence of baldy's writing, unless of course those two really were engaged in red hot manly action. Millar may well be no more than the Poundland Grant Morrison, or it could be that they both tend to to laugh at the same jokes; but either way he's still immensely entertaining, writing loud and stupid without losing any of the more delicate touches - even doing a bit of a Pat Mills with a thinly disguised parody of Marvel's Avengers. If it's value brand Grant Morrison, then at least it forges the Grant Morrison who used to tell stories rather than just photocopying a pair of Genesis P. Orridge's underpants and give you a spooky look meaning it's all connected!

To pause for a moment of potentially monumental pretension, in Studies in Classic American Literature D.H. Lawrence wrote:

An artist is usually a damned liar. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.

Even with a slightly poor fit in terms of Mark Millar being writer rather than critic, he nevertheless does a good job of saving this tale from its creator. Frank Quitely still has some weird shit going on with all those massive chins, but never mind.

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