It's 1999: I'm in a large comic store to pick up my ever-dwindling number of reserved monthly titles (down to a stalwart three from an all-time high of about 12). The Invisibles has ended and there's frankly very little in comics to interest me at that moment, but I have a few minutes to spare so I take a look around the shelves…and, quite by chance, come across The Authority #1.
Flipping it open I'm not familiar with any of the characters, but it has some beautiful artwork AND, more importantly, shows real parts of London just five minutes walk away being demolished, something I haven't seen done right, done properly, since Miracleman #15. So I buy it. And I'm quite impressed. Rather all at sea, because of my unfamiliarity with the Wildstorm world, but reasonably impressed.
Over the next 12 issues I become more impressed, and remain so when Mark Millar takes over as scriptwriter for the next 12 issues, before being given a red card after #22 (eventually returning in #27).
The Authority, with hindsight, feels like it was something of a punk or acid house moment for comics, when something really changed. At the time I was enthusiastic about it, but it's mainly in retrospect that you realise how much fun it was and how important it was for comics because so many of them now use the same techniques and have balls like The Authority had. Undoubtedly I think it's more so with hindsight, just as I suspect, for almost everyone, it was with punk or with acid house. However, there's no doubt that The Authority was less a breath of fresh air than the detonation of a tank of compressed air, albeit of slightly longer duration. Big, extravagant, beautiful two-page spreads of superheroes kicking ass, punching heads off and enjoying lots of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll; a glorious day-glo power fantasy that saw the status quo unceremoniously dumped.
That said, the question's been frequently asked since: where do you go from there? Mark Millar managed to continue after Warren Ellis's finale of the Authority versus God, with the Authority versus The Man, but following that controversial storyline the title seemed to have rather lost its way - certainly it lost me. There's only so far you can go with superhero teams tackling 'ultimate' menaces, and with God and The Man out of the way anything else seemed a bit tame and stale.
Thank goodness, then, for the latest new direction for the Authority, which has seen them take control of America in an attempt to sort out some of its more, shall we say, neo-con excesses. Think of The West Wing, but with guys in tights and a fuck-you attitude in place of Martin Sheen. The Authority: Human On The Inside continues that plot, beginning with what might be a homage to DC's epochal Crisis On Infinite Earths. It sees the Authority attacked from an unfamiliar direction - inside - following a brutal and extremely damaging run-in with the Furies of Ancient Greece. Jack Hawksmoor is crippled, Swift is dead, The Doctor has once more turned to drugs and The Engineer is infatuated with 'Super-Tough Karate Action Guy' (as he ironically styles himself), who appeared from nowhere to save the Authority's bacon by chop-sueying the Furies.
But the Authority's problems are also apparently the world's: chronic ennui is sweeping the globe, driving people insane with existential terror. The end of the world would appear to be very nigh indeed...
Firstly, I do like Ben Oliver's art. Much as I love Frank Quitely's work, his ludicrously over-muscled version of the Authority never rang true for me; I much preferred them to look more like ordinarily proportioned humans, and Oliver's Authority do look like humans - important when you're dealing with their faults as human beings. And allied with the subtle colours of Wendy Broome, it makes this book look very impressive indeed - but you'd expect that for a premium quality hardback, wouldn't you?
John Ridley is an author (not previously of comic books) and screenwriter, and his script is a long way from being the worst the Authority have had to suffer. If it isn't quite up there with Ellis and Millar's celebrated efforts then it isn't terribly far behind. I'm not sure I quite believed in the Authority's emotional collapse, but this has never been a series particularly about soul-searching and emotional angst, so we should, perhaps, be willing to let this go. There's enough action to satisfy the more physically demanding fans of The Authority (and is that another homage, I spy? This time to Superman II), as there should be, given that initially the raison de etre of The Authority was big, fat super-destruction on at least a global scale.
This Authority hasn't yet got that frisson of cool that it had with the original Authority in 1999. With Human On The Inside, though, and the associated 12-part Revolution series, I am now back on the Authority train and interested in seeing where it ends up, which is certainly an improvement. Hopes are not overly high, and I remain to be convinced that Authority is not long past its sell-by date and deserving of being quietly put out to pasture… But you never know, do you?