(w) Grant Morrison (a) Mikel Janin (c) Jordie Bellaire
There has been an abundance of “evil Superman” stories across various media in recent years. Not only have the masses been witness to this trope in the Injustice video games as well as the films Batman v. Superman and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but there’s also been a number of Superman analogues such as Omniman (Invincible), Homelander (The Boys), and Brightburn (Brightburn). And while each of these takes has their merit, they also reinforce the misconception that Superman himself is an uninteresting, unrelatable character. According to Superman & The Authority writer Grant Morrison, “Superman has the same problems we do, but on a Paul Bunyan scale,” and they’re not wrong. With that mentality, Morrison and artists Mikel Janin and Jordie Bellaire set out to explore what Superman would do if he gets older and looks back on his life with regret. It’s a great premise that is wonderfully set up in this first issue.
With a title like Superman & The Authority, it’s easy (especially for veteran readers) to recall Action Comics #775 in which Superman went head-to-head against a superteam inspired by Wildstorm’s The Authority, lead by super-dick Manchester Black. Well, Black is back as a recruit of this story’s Superman. While Black is his usual skeptical and cankerous self, his presence allows Morrison to showcase Superman’s endearing and enduring personality. Their dynamic also allows for meta-commentary – a staple of Morrison’s writings – to shine through.
After a prologue discussion between Superman and John F. Kennedy, Superman & The Authority #1 is framed around a conversation between Manchester Black and Superman in which the latter attempts to recruit his former foe to his cause. But what exactly is his cause? Like Final Crisis and The Multiversity, Morrison uses the conventions of superhero comics to explore the limitations and flaws of the genre. With Superman & The Authority, the general conceit is that the world of superheroes isn’t allowed to substantially change. Superman himself has been around for nearly a century, and is still dealing with the likes of Lex Luthor and Brainiac. DC Comics has spent the past ten years wiping out its legacy characters only to eventually restore most of the pre-Flashpoint status quo. Every once in a while, Spider-Man has a “back to basics” soft relaunch that keeps Peter Parker a perpetual man-child. Superheroes themselves are more popular than ever thanks to the Dark Knight Trilogy and the MCU, but fewer people appear to take inspiration from them as the global discourse becomes more contentious. For a character like Superman to make a difference, he must do something that on the surface appears to be drastic and against what he stands for in order for others to take notice.
Manchester Black’s role is to act as the reactionary bystander. He sees Superman’s actions as out of character. After a SWAT raid leaves him paralyzed, he lashes out at the Man of Steel, claiming that the actions taken by Superman to save his life were twisted, sadistic, and only done with malice. This reflects much of the speculation about this series, that readers would see another twist on the “authoritarian Superman” that has grown in recent years. However, Morrison has always seen Superman as an enduring ideal of what humanity should strive towards. With that in mind, Superman & The Authority #1 appears to be setting up a story that evokes themes from other classic, non-canon stories like Kingdom Come and Morrison’s own All Star Superman.
Like those stories, Superman & The Authority sees its titular character in the twilight of his career. His powers are fading, and he needs to regularly exercise in order to continue performing feats of heroism. But he must also now find a way to preserve his legacy. It’s a reflection of what many people feel as they get older, and is surely a thought that has trickled into the mind of the now 61-year-old writer. Superman himself is looking for those capable of carrying on his work, and is finding the most suitable legacies coming from unlikely sources. This in turn mirrors DC’s efforts to find the “next Morrison,” as expected candidates Gerard Way (Doom Patrol) and Scott Snyder (Death Metal) have fizzled, while indie comics writer Joshua Williamson has seemingly become the “heir apparent” thanks to his work on Infinite Frontier.
This brings us to the core of Superman & The Authority #1, in which Superman spends the issue attempting to, and successfully, recruiting Black to his cause. Black’s skepticism and abrasiveness are slowly peeled away due to Superman’s genuine kindness. Morrison paints Superman as they always have: as a figure with the ability to bring about the best in all of us. It is something that this Superman has likely overlooked as he grapples with his big-picture shortcomings – that his greatest impacts occur when he interacts with individuals. It speaks to Superman’s overall ability to inspire, and is something that will likely develop as the series unfolds.
While there is a lot going on thematically, it’d be a major oversight to not discuss the art. Mikel Janin and Jordie Bellaire absolutely crush it here. With regard to Janin in particular, he has become one of the few artists that can deliver fantastic work on a consistent, monthly basis. Character movements are fluid, dynamic, thanks to Janin’s use of differing perspectives. Meanwhile, the characters themselves are full of life and expressive. The visuals work perfectly with Bellaire’s colors, which give Janin’s art depth and texture for the issue’s “present day” sequences and a flat, retro aesthetic for those which take place in the past. In summary, this is a beautiful book.
Superman & The Authority #1 is a complex, layered, and insightful look at superheroes that provides readers with initial satisfaction, only to become more rewarding with each subsequent read. For those worried that this might be as challenging as some of Morrison’s works can be, do not fret. This is arguably his most accessible DC work since JLA. With a fascinating story that is brought to life by a brilliant art team, Superman & The Authority #1 is a must read.