Friday, October 20, 2006
"Lost", pop music, and The Authority v.4 #1
On Grant Morrison/Gene Ha's The Authority #1... (written October 20, originally posted to Comicboards.com)
1. Grant and Warren
Coincidentally, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority: Relentless (among other books that aren’t quite so relevant) arrived for me in the mail on the same day that I picked up this first issue of Morrison and Ha’s The Authority (Vol. 4). It’s a totally random but absolutely meaningful confluence: I’d just read on Newsrama that Morrison is looking to Ellis’ run - two-thirds of which is contained in Relentless - for inspiration, and it’s Grant himself who writes the introduction to the Relentless trade.
In describing The Authority as “the first great superhero team book of the 21st century”, Morrison rightly admonishes mainstream heroes for merely maintaining the status quo when they have the opportunity and ability to fundamentally change the world: “traditional superhero teams always put the flag back on the top of the White House, don’t they? They always dust down the statues and repair the highways and everything ends up just the way it was before…” The Authority is the superhero team grown-up (or grown-sideways, at least) – they act like real people might when given ridiculous power and faced with situations of life or death on a regular basis. And they “pump the volume until noses bleed and bass patterns register deep on the Richter scale in Norway”. Before we even crack the issue open, then, Morrison has set the metronome and plugged in the seismograph.
2. “Utopian” and Lost
To this point, the story is quite ambiguous and deliberate – and by no means pounding with the intensity necessary to make your nose bleed, much less move the ground in Norway. In fact, it reminds me more of ABC’s Lost, especially one of those more curious episodes where the ‘cold start’ opening leaves us without any context for understanding what’s happening. In the pilot for Lost, we follow Jack (whose name we don’t yet know) as he stumbles out of the jungle and finds the burning wreckage of a plane (which we certainly didn’t expect to see) and we try desperately to make sense of it all. In the second season’s premier, we follow Desmond, who had a cameo in the previous season, (though we don’t see his face, so we don’t know it’s Desmond) as he goes through the routine of exercising, playing music, medicating himself, and pushing a button in a hatch buried underground (though we don’t know that he’s in a hatch underground until the very end of the sequence). The third season’s premier follows a similar pattern (though you get the idea, so I’ll avoid another detailed summary) of introducing characters that we don’t know and obscuring the identities of those we already do with an aim toward shocking and disorienting us – that terrifying moment of recognition occurring, of course, just before they cut dramatically to commercial.
In the comic we follow “Ken” as he risks his marriage and life to find a downed sub that had been investigating the appearance of a large and mysterious mass on the ocean floor – a search which culminates with the realization (for us, at least) that the mass is actually the Authority’s Carrier. And we’re left breathless, of course, and forced to wait impatiently for the commercial to end. (The fact that it doesn't end for two months is worth complaining about, but the fact that it frustrates us in the way that it does means that it works)
3. Geoff Klock and Wikipedia
On his blog, literary/pop culture critic Geoff Klock writes about the opening scene to Lost’s second season that I described above. Like Morrison writing of Ellis’ Authority, he describes it in a particularly musical way:
One of the things that makes the sequence great it is that it revolves around the Mama Cass song "Make Your Own Kind of Music. […] Pop songs are about building tension through the verses and then exploding into the big satisfying chorus everyone is waiting for. Lost, of course, has built a lot of tension about what is in the hatch and is about to reveal the answer. Much like many ABBA songs, however, "Make Your Own Kind of Music" seems in a rush to get to the big chorus.
Authority v.4 seems to be in no alarming rush to get to the chorus, though perhaps this is more the result of its production schedule than the issue’s pacing – while not exactly brisk, it’s overladen with its own narrative tensions: for the fate of those on the submarine, for Ken’s personal life, for the Carrier (and in the readers themselves, an additional anxiety over the absent Authority). The bass isn’t pumping at full register, but Ellis’ Authority wasn’t one prolonged rave either. An astute Wikipedia contributor observes that Ellis was fond of narrative decompression, a style in which “big, panoramic panels were used to examine action in deep detail, with a slower rhythm and lighter plotting per issue.” If this is true, then the deliberativeness of this issue is possibly indicative of a spectacular send-up to come. Knowing (and sharing) Morrison’s fondness for The Beatles – and riffing on the narrative content of the scene that introduces us to a waking Ken – I’ll take a chance and suggest that Grant is thinking less drum-and-bass, more “A Day in the Life”.