Monday, August 30, 2021

Superman & The Authority #2

Superman & The Authority
’s first issue was about two men coming from opposite ideological positions, one of them winning the other over for at least a temporary joining of forces. The second issue takes that same spectrum and turns it into a framing story, with an issue that begins in a kind of heaven and ends in a kind of – or perhaps the very one and only – Hell. Along the way, we see members of the team take on medium-sized threats, with technology as a recurrent threat across both issues.

The first words, “Fort Superman,” hearken back to the Silver Age, not 1963 but 1958, in the title of the classic “The Super-Key to Fort Superman.” That’s about as Silver Age as it gets, and that’s why Morrison chose that phrase, to begin the blend that we see from the squeaky clean to, well, right down to Hell. The moral decline begins as Manchester Black has a transgressive smoke in the Fortress of Solitude and it angers Superman’s squad of Kryptonian robots, but not to the point of their, well, killing Black, as he dares them too.

The second issue is built around a framing story, like many old JSA and JLA stories, where we see the parts of the team in side action (or so it seems) before they finally come together at the end. If you count both issues of the series, we have seen individual sub-teams in action four times, and these four encounters develop a couple of distinctive themes.

First, there is a noteworthy relevance of technology, and in particular networks of computer-linked minds, in three of the stories. First, Superman and Manchester Black face robots from the Phantom Zone – a peculiar twist from the usual setup where good, old-fashioned human (well, Kryptonian) villains escape. Second, Natasha Irons faces off against a particularly sadistic and highly realistic threat from an Internet hive mind with all of social media’s worst characteristics. Third, Midnighter and Apollo confront a beast possessing a network of minds. It is only the fourth confrontation, with June Moone, that differs from the pattern, involving a supernatural threat in character with the character’s history. Perhaps three instances is not enough to infer a pattern, but while artificial intelligence networks don’t make for an absolutely novel threat, it is a bit noticeable to have it come up in three cases out of four.

A more undeniable theme is that of duality, and conflict, between one “bright” personality and one “dark” personality on the side of the heroes. This is absolutely front and center in the scenes showing Superman and Manchester Black, and is moreover downright core to the concept of Midnighter and Apollo. Finally, it is equally apparent with June Moone and Enchantress, to the extent that Enchantress appears to be the villain in that substory. But, again, we have a theme that extends across just three of the four stories which perhaps makes us pay more attention to the one that doesn’t hold… Natasha Irons appears to have no dark counterpart. Still, it is obvious that the entire concept of this team is to bring together characters from opposite poles of the spectrum. It is virtually impossible to describe this series without pointing that out.

SonOfBatmann pointed out in the comments of my last post that Manchester Black, describing his disdain for Superman in the first issue, was serving as a stand-in for fans in the real world. This in fact was core to Joe Kelly’s original story with the Elite. In issue #2, the enemy facing Natasha Irons is even more obviously borrowed from the real world of ours; in fact, it has never been more blatant that the villain in a DC story is a reflection of some of the people who are reading the story (at least, if some sliver of the worst people on social media are also DC fans). Nat’s villains attack her with words and other forms of information rather than physical blows, body-shaming her posterior, insulting her looks, and threatening to send nude photos of her to her grandmother and her boss. And, amusingly, Morrison renders these trolls as literal trolls. She somehow defeats them with the combination of a heavy hammer and sharp words, which is unlikely to solve the same problem in the real world, but then that’s true of all superhero stories, isn’t it?

Midnighter and Apollo happen to be the only original Authority members in the issue, and their story, with the piquant title, “HARD,” begins with the kind of backstory that may be a colorful way of introducing their personalities or may just tie into the bigger story. We won’t know until later. But we see the two go into action and crush their threat so decisively that we have to suspend disbelief that such a formidable pair (and couple) could have existed in Superman’s world without having met him previously. I have to salute the issue’s four artists – whichever is appropriately to credit – in capturing Apollo’s expression with brows that communicate the combination of affection and consternation for his difficult and loyal (perhaps unfaithful?) partner.

Enchantress crossed paths with Superman’s world way back in 1980, as a sort of frenemy to Supergirl in Superman Family #204-205. Here, as there, Enchantress is the real threat in the story, at least while under someone else’s influence. Here, as there, her supernatural archfoe Dzamor (first appearing in the first Enchantress story in 1968) is the big bad behind the scenes. This time, the feeling is distinctly like the film Rosemary’s Baby (also from 1968!), with June Moone a horribly mistreated victim of the evil beings who try to corrupt her. Then, with a satisfying turn for the better, D’z’amor (now the name is spiced up with apostrophes) is punched offscreen by our hero; in what is presumably an oversight in the art, the punch comes from a bare arm, which doesn’t match Superman, Apollo, or anyone else, but is probably from Superman.

The team’s challenge in Hell is foreshadowed in the framing story’s title, “One Soul at a Time,” which out of context would imply a mission of saving sinners in a Christian sense, which makes Superman, in this story, an agent of God. We begin the issue expecting the recruitment of the new team, but at the end, it seems to identify June Moone as the poor soul who needs salvation but will surely end up being a member of the team fighting at their side, at least insofar as the Enchantress “is” June Moone, a tangled identity which is often a pair rather than an individual, which brings us back to the theme of duality among our heroes. Most likely, though (as we can see from the cover), Enchantress will be redeemed rather than eliminated.

The cover also reminds us that the Ultra-Humanite (in his big, white gorilla form) is part of the story, and it’s therefore remarkable that we reach the mini-series’ midpoint without him having done anything but talk in three panels, all the more remarkable in that the heroes (and antiheroes) will enter the third issue facing a threat that is – maybe – not even related to the Ultra-Humanite. The pacing of the mini-series, sadly, already, half over – highlights that it is transitional and more about putting this team together for future adventures than about a single four-issue battle against a single foe.

Perhaps the substory threats are disconnected sideplots, but we’ve seen Morrison before turn those seemingly disconnected elements into one big web. Either way, the Midnighter / Apollo case is full of familiar Morrisonian notes, such as kids with metahuman powers being abducted and utilized as an weapon (Final Crisis) and the genetic / biological engineering of a superpowered henchman (Final Crisis, Batman Inc.). This storyline echoes the origin of Midnighter and Apollo, who were biologically engineered by a villain – Midnighter reminds us, “That’s how they made me” while Black reminds us that Apollo came from a vat – and plainly indicates an unseen Big Bad somewhere offscreen. And if we’re looking for clues on who that might be, consider that the lab in Batman, Inc. – specifically 2011’s Batman: The Return – and in this story were both in Yemen, not a likely location to come up twice by coincidence. Could the person behind the scenes be, if not Talia herself, someone who’s taken over part of her operations?

Another choice element from another time is the Supermobile, which originated in Action Comics #481 in 1978. The in-story motivation was that the light of an exploding red star took away Superman’s powers just when he had to battle Amazo with all of the world’s other superheroes already beaten. The out-of-story motivation was to create a merchandising opportunity for a triple crossover between Superman: The Movie coming out that same year, the comics, and a toy and – yes – I owned one. When Manchester Black calls it Batman envy, he’s psychoanalyzing Superman, but the merchandising people were clearly copying the Batmobile as merchandise (and I owned one of those, too). Here, the Supermobile, like the limited speeds on Superman’s treadmill, reinforce the earlier claim, despite my suspicions of a ruse, we still see signs that Superman is losing his powers and needs any kind of help that he can get.

Now, with the team facing one crisis, recruitment not complete, and the big villain yet to appear in his fourth panel, this miniseries has to have a seriously packed final two issues. If there’s a lingering thread that’s yet to unspool, it’s that the Ultra-Humanite’s hate-filled spiel in the first issue is about Superman’s dishonesty, calling Superman’s double identity and more “lies” and he’s not strictly wrong to do so. When the Ultra-Humanite says that kryptonite will destroy Superman, I think we’re going to see that be about something other than the effects of radiation. In issue #2, Superman talks about atomic bombs having been utilized by idealists. While the first issue showed us Manchester Black being brought over to the light side, there are hints here, besides the black in the chest shield, that Superman’s going to show something of the dark.


  1. The Kryptonese translation is actually: "Analyze vomit" and "No you analyze vomit".

    Manchester was actually talking to the cigarette itself.

  2. Am I missing something, I could've sworn Morrison was done with non-creator owned work after Green Lantern. I wasn't imagining those articles right?

    1. I read self-insert and metacommentary on the industry, into both The Green Lantern and this series. Grant has even changed identity in a way since writing TGL. Like Superman and The Authority here, Grant's current peers aren't the same as the old greats but they have potential if they look to inspiration for a greater world. I don't think its just for a check, or just love of the characters OR mocking satire, but something maybe Grant Morrison feels has to be done.

      Basically Grant Morrison is passing the torch before leaving. Not just for the next Hal Jordan writer, but for the writers of newer characters which have potential if aiming higher.

      Or maybe the thought never even crossed the Scott's bald mind, but I hope it influences that way anyways.

    2. Sakei, the explanation is an unusual but a simple one: Morrison wrote S&TA before GL ended, but it is being published later, to coordinate with DC's other plans and projects.

      I find this significant in that some events in the real world might have been subjects of commentary in the series, but presumably can't be if the series was written before 2020.