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

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”.


Omar Karindu said...

Another possibility: as originally planned, the new Authority and Wildcats would alternate months.

Are they perhaps not two books, but two halves of one book? The post-Marvel melodrama shorn in two, one side attempting to realize the notion of a naturalistic world interposed by the (perhaps impotent?) fantasy of the superhero, the other the fantasy world of the superhero (complete with Jim Lee's teen-libido art) in which the libidinal excess is not the hero but rather the reality of class, race, and global division?

In Wildcats, the global South can't afford mass-produced Spartan-model superheroes; the rich elite have supersex and declare their rehashed battles against long-toothless, propped-up foes as the return of epic while the global poor fight the guerilla and class wars that were all supposed to have died with Marxism in 1989. But note: it's the North/rich who come off as tired and hackneyed, and the South/poor where Grifter's rebirth is possible and (presumably) the real impetus for the team's reform will occur.

And int he Authority, the heroes are the original beasts from the unconscious, perceptible in issue #1 only as horrifying traces and translations, and a further disruption to rather than redemptive of the bourgeois domesticity of the book's actual protagonist. They're monster-gods, terrifyingly more (powerful) and disturbingly less (human/"sophisticated") at once, and their emergence from the shadows ambiguous in its twin possibilities of destruction and liberation.

neilshyminsky said...

Interesting stuff. Your interpretation makes me wonder if Hadrian's criticism of the Authority - 'tamed by the inertia of things as they are' - would then be more rightfully aimed at himself (a degree of irony I would gladly permit Morrison). That impetus for change would come from the global south also seems a justified reading, since Marx is seemingly all over this book. I hope that he doesn't abandon the class war backdrop either, since I have no interest in reading about the Daemonites unless they can riff productively off of a contrasting Wildcats foe.

Over on the Authority, I have a feeling that we're going to be seeing 'the bleed' used in increasingly creative ways. Certainly, there was something about its phantom appearances (those 'traces', as you said) in this first issue that suggested it's going to feature prominently and in some likely unrecognizable form (or at least we'll gain a totally new understanding of what it is/can be).

I'll need a few more issues of each before I can get on board with the suggestion that they're two halves of the same book. I'm not dismissing it, though - the suggestion is too provocative and too exciting.