Sunday Slugfest: Authority: the Lost Year #3

A comic review article by: Thom Young, Jason Sacks, Danny Djeljosevic, Dave Wallace
At last, Grant Morrison and Gene Ha's Authority series is being completed! Plotted by Morrison and Keith Giffen and scripted by Giffen, this 12-issue, monthly maxiseries will fill in the gaps and explain where The Authority was just before "World's End," how they escaped from a horrifying alternate reality, and at what cost.

Jason Sacks:
Danny Djeljosevic:
Dave Wallace:

Jason Sacks:

The Authority: The Lost Year #3 . . . I keep looking at this comic and looking at this comic, and I keep hoping to find something interesting in it . . . or fun . . . or compelling in any way, but nothing jumps out at me--not after repeated re-reading, not after browsing other reviewers' comments about the book on other Web sites, not after just plain thinking about this comic for a while.

What's frustrating is that there should be a lot that I love about this comic:
  • I've enjoyed Darick Robertson's artwork on Transmet and The Boys.

  • I've enjoyed Keith Giffen's writing on many series past and present.

  • I have lingering affection for these characters based on good memories of them in the past.

  • I also enjoyed the way that Giffen starts the comic, as readers get a nice first-page recap of what brought us to this point in the story--nicely summarizing events that I had long forgotten from the previous Grant Morrison and Gene Ha issues. The recap is a bit wordy, but there's a lot of ground to cover, and is thus quite effective for what it is intended to do. I'm sure the line Giffen threw into that summary about "in this world the Authority are comic book characters" made most readers smile--I certainly did.

  • Finally, I even enjoyed the first five pages after the recap, which present a terrific (if very far-fetched) action sequence in which the Midnighter singlehandedly wipes out a small squadron of American forces in Afghanistan in order to save his ally Apollo.

    Played silently and with a nice variety of panel angles and exciting movement, these five pages are the most effective in the comic. The sequence ends intriguingly with a wall on the Authority's ship full of TV sets screaming about a potential world war brought on by the Midnighter's rampage while one of the heroines of the Authority glares at the Midnighter.
Unfortunately, that wall of TVs also holds the keys to the failure of this comic. The TVs don't really look like TVs; they look like indistinct panels on a comics page. They all show talking heads; there is no attempt at providing any sort of dynamism to the scenes on the TVs. We see faces but there's no urgency to what they seem to be saying.

The panel with all of the televisions should be a crucial point in the story; instead, it feels rather awkward and amateurish--and the next page provides more awkwardness.

The first panel of the next page is a close-up of the Midnighter's eyes as he says, "then again . . . door," followed by scenes of the Midnighter dragging Apollo back to the ship and talking with other members of the Authority. After several re-readings, I'm still scratching my head over the transition between those two pages.

How does the scene with the TVs relate to the scenes on the following page? Is the scene with the TVs a dream or a flash-forward of sorts . . . or is it just bad storytelling?

Additionally, what in the world is meant by "then again"? Those are the first words of dialogue in the whole issue, so the Midnighter isn't referring to a previous comment made in this issue. What in the world does it refer to? The whole moment pulled me out of the book, and it still pulls me out of the comic with each re-reading.

From that moment onward, the rest of the book completely leaves me cold. Robertson's art reaches its high point in the Afghanistan sequence and shortly settles into a dull and indistinct series of moments. Many scenes are plagued by dull artwork that sometimes seems to be a clinic in poor storytelling choices.

For instance, there's a scene in which two characters talk about watching paint dry that is equally as dull as the moment it depicts--and even a full-page shot that's supposed to be exciting only ends up being confusing. However, the book reaches its nadir with its closing revelation, which is a total non sequitur.

Giffen has the Authority find the secret of this parallel Earth, but it's a revelation for which there has been no foreshadowing, no hints set for it, no explanation of how or why it would be the way that Giffen sets it up. It's as if Giffen ran out of space, had no idea what Morrison had been intending with his take on the story, and simply threw in the towel and chose some arbitrary reason for the world to be so strange.

That biggest moment in the comic comes completely out of left field. Yet that's not unexpected since the moment of high drama created by the Midnighter attacking US forces in Afghanistan never is touched upon again, either.

Giffen and Robertson show some ordinary people watching TV and looking concerned about what they see depicted, but there's a complete disconnect between the Authority and the supposed nuclear holocaust they might be creating.

In the back of this issue, we get a five-page preview of Victorian Undead--which contains artwork by Davide Fabbri, whose work makes Robertson's art from earlier in this issue look awkward and amateurish in comparison. After so many flat scenes by Robinson, it's striking how well Fabbri makes his scenes come to life.

Fabbri's characters inhabit a full and rich world while Robertson's characters inhabit a flat and dull world. One man seems an artist in command of his craft while the other seems to be desperate to conclude his assignment.

The Authority: The Lost Year #3 is a strikingly inept and poorly realized work by two creators whose work I usually enjoy. It's not interesting or fun, nor does it have the sense of being thought-out in any real way.

Danny Djeljosevic:

After two years and long after the Wildstorm Universe has moved on, I'm not entirely sure who was clamoring for a conclusion to Grant Morrison's "Utopian" story arc to the point that they were willing to read what is essentially a completely different story told by a completely different group of creators. While the idea of a different writer trying to complete an unfinished story intrigues me on a literary level, I'm not sure hiring someone with a distaste for the kind of story he's writing is the greatest move in the world.

Never mind that Grant Morrison shared the same distaste for "superheroes in the real world" stories, and that his Authority is a sarcastic affair, with our godlike heroes showing no concern for a world they've deemed a "shithole" and seem to plan on "fixing"--whether or not its denizens approve (they even feel entitled to free copies of their own comic book!). If he had finished it, Morrison's Authority would have sat nicely (at least thematically) with some of the better post-Warren Ellis stories in the Authority franchise (Mark Millar's run and Ed Brubaker's Revolution) that actually deal with the team as an authority.

I don't mean to trash Keith Giffen for not being Grant Morrison. After all, he's in an unenviable position--which really could only have been rectified by forcing Morrison to finish his own story. Even if Wildstorm hired someone to do a Morrison pastiche and write a story that reads like something Morrison would have written, it would have felt cheap and substandard. So let's nobody be mad at Giffen.

While, it's not exactly known what Morrison had in store, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to imagine The Authority stuck in what appeared to be "our" Earth only to find out that the planet's actually wrapped in the weird ethereal tentacles of Cthulhu--which keeps humanity complacent and feeds on our energy (thus suppressing our potential for greatness). It's a pretty Morrisonian idea, but reading it under the scripting of someone else makes the mind jump to "Ach, new direction, you're ruining everything!" Sorry, Keith.

Having got all that out of my system, Giffen's scripting is fine. He tends to write more dialogue than Morrison does, but he shows enough of a handle on the characters to get in a few good moments of wit. His skills as a writer-artist often show--especially in the great final page where nearly every tier increases in panel number while decreasing in size as the eye moves down, creating a great sense of frenzy like a series of rapid cuts in a movie.

I assume that was Giffen's idea. It could just as easily have been Darick Robertson, whose pencils (possibly because of the pairing with Trevor Scott's inks) seem scratchier and rougher than usual. The worst part is how much his grungy style contrasts with Gene Ha's slick work in the previous two issues, which means that in the inevitable trade paperback the shift is going to be jarring and off-putting.

Obviously, I'm not sold on this story, but we'll see if Giffen can somehow make it his own.

Dave Wallace:

I’m not going to spend too much time recapping the complicated circumstances of this book’s creation. Frankly, I don’t care enough about the lateness of this issue or the change in creative team between issues #2 and #3 to discuss it at length. I’m simply interested in reviewing this book as the third chapter of a story that began in The Authority #1 and #2 by Grant Morrison and Gene Ha, and which is continued here by Keith Giffen (based on Morrison’s ideas, apparently), with art by Darick Robertson and Trevor Scott.

Before reading this book, I feared that Giffen wasn’t going to provide an effective follow-up to the ideas and themes established in Morrison’s first two issues. Continuing a story that was started by one of comics’ most unique voices would be a tall order for any writer, and having dug out the first two issues for a re-read earlier this week, I was able to refresh my memory of all of the subtleties and nuances that Morrison and Ha had managed to include in their first two chapters.

However, to his credit, Giffen develops most of those ideas in a fairly compelling manner. We see further implications that the Authority could become the supervillains of this untouched world if they attempt to apply their famous “mission statement” to a world without superheroes.

We also see an inspired development of the Postmodern concept of this story with the suggestion that the baby universe that usually powers the Carrier is our own universe (something that couldn’t help but remind me of Superman’s creation of our world in the infant universe of Qwewq in Morrison’s All-Star Superman #10).

Additionally, there’s a continuing focus on Ken as the book’s most grounded “gateway” character, who not only provides readers with a perspective on the Authority that’s similar to our own, but also proves integral in the team’s investigation of their predicament--and there’s a development of the plot thread from issue #1 involving the breakdown of Ken’s marriage.

Finally, there’s an ultimate twist that implies one of two different possibilities:
  1. That the world of this book isn’t the “Earth Prime” of the old DC Multiverse that some readers (such as my colleague Thom Young) assumed it was, or

  2. That the presence of the Authority might have somehow attracted another fictional entity to our universe--which is a bit of a left-field development, and feels like more of a Planetary idea than an Authority concept
The new development brings to mind the “Ruling the World” crossover one-shot in which the Authority and Planetary battled a Lovecraftian menace, but it at least has me interested as to where this current story is headed next.

These ideas aren’t always handled with the same subtlety that Morrison employed, and there’s a frequent sense that the book is slightly overwritten--with the characters discussing the book’s central themes explicitly, and the frequent witty banter between the team members undercutting the tension of the story. There’s also an exposition-heavy opening page that recaps the story of the previous two issues in a clunky fashion, but I’ll forgive the writer due to the unusual circumstances of the book’s creation (although I do wonder why a straightforward recap page wasn’t employed instead).

Giffen’s writing does have other strengths, however.

His characterisation of all of the main players is solid, and he makes good use of certain storytelling devices. For example, I loved the silent sequence in which the Midnighter imagines how his confrontation with the army in Afghanistan might play out (and it’s in the most predictable, generic way possible), but he has the common sense to step away from it and simply open a door back to the Carrier.

As for the change in illustrators: Darick Robertson and Trevor Scott’s work is clear and consistent, translating Giffen’s script to the page effectively. However, there’s very little sense of visual continuity between the previous chapter and this one. Robertson and Scott’s line-heavy style is very different from the slick, controlled finishes of Gene Ha. However, it’s a perfectly serviceable effort that might not particularly stand out against any other superhero book on the stands as it gets the job done.

Whilst the long delay between issues #2 and #3 might have killed most readers’ interest in this title, I was pleasantly surprised by this third chapter that continues Grant Morrison’s story more than adequately. I do wonder how much of this issue’s plot was dictated by Morrison, and how much of it was influenced by Giffen--but it matters little.

The conclusion to this issue leaves us on an interesting cliffhanger that might give the Authority an opportunity to indulge in the kind of “widescreen” superhero action that has always been synonymous with the title. In any event, I’m happy to see Wildstorm bring some closure to a story that began years ago--and in a manner that isn’t a huge step down from the work of Morrison and Ha on those first two issues.

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