Monday, March 19, 2007

The Authority lurches on, ever so slowly, ever so infrequently

If this review seems a bit late, a bit short, or a bit lackluster, it's probably because the slow and cautious deliberation with which the Authority is building – combined, of course, with the nearly half-year break between issues 1 and 2 – makes it hard to write with glowing admiration about what the comic does well. It takes some degree of sustained excitement or interest on the part of the reader to sell a slow and subtle narrative progression over the course of multiple introductory issues. And as much as I liked the somewhat baffling and mysterious first issue, I need more than this.

This said, what the issue does do, it does well. Morrison lets us know that, first issue aside, this is still very much the Authority of Ellis and Millar. The team is torn between its ostensible mission to save the world from itself, Midnighter is poised to do some entirely unnecessary damage, and the feature character from the first issue, Ken, is left wondering whether the Authority might actually be ignorant to the fact that they’re actually super-villains. Some spot-on stuff, the last of which has often been addressed but never to my satisfaction, and so I look forward to Morrison’s attempt to answer it.

Also to Morrison's credit, we learn in this issue that he has indeed moved the Authority to 'our' Earth – and proves as much with a so-cute-it's-groan-worthy moment in which Jack and the Doctor steal copies of Ellis’ and Millar’s runs in trade format. (Is it fair to guess that he'll ignore the forgettable stuff that was published in between? My guess is 'yes'.) The decision is a good one, to my mind. While there was a certain sameness for me in Ennis' Midnighter series – how many times can we see him beat up homophobic footsoldiers before it just gets monotonous? – the closing scene here, in which he lines up against 'real' American soldiers in the 'real' Afghanistan, has reacquired the sense of wonder and dread that a team of superhumans capable of conquering the planet should inspire.

(A brief aside: I've read elsewhere that this is an indication of increasing verisimilitude in comics, but I'm hesitant to agree. Am I right, perhaps, to guess the opposite? Given that this first encounter between the Authority and the American armed forces is occurring on an Afghan plain, could there be a 'desert of the Real' joke in here somewhere? Or am I only even noticing this because Jean Baudrillard died a week ago?)

I just wish that it wasn't building so slowly and the issues weren't so infrequent - either would be totally forgivable if it weren't for the other. The issue centers around one room and two conversations with brief interruptions, and is hardly going to win over the people who complained that nothing happened in the first issue. Maybe this will be a better read in trade format. Not that you should wait that long if you care - at this rate, it should arrive in, what, late 2009?


Omar Karindu said...

I find myself disappointed as well, albeit more at what I see as the squandered promise of that first issue. There, as I noted last time we discussed Morrison's Wildstorm work, the Authority's absolute and stark difference was heavily played up, to the extent that, by virtue of "appearing" only via the traces of their ultraviolence, and the title characters remained uneasy shadows.

Here, with the shift from the "real" human perspective to theirs, so much of that is lost. I don't get a sense that Morrison is reading the Authority as in some sense sub- or superhuman personalities, that is, rough fantasy archetypes transplanted into a rounder, human world. We see plenty of the Midnighter's over-the-top action persona, true, but on the balance the character interplay works by writing both Ken and the Authority as something like superhero genre characters.

Certainly Ken seems to have accepted the Authority as actual, epistemically comprehensible, despite the fact that they are for him by definition creatures of sheer fantasy. He even, as you note, tries to think them in the usual genre terms. I can just about gather that he's applying pop cultural standards to pop cultural characters come alive, but surely the gap between fantasy's logics and "reality" ought to be more pronounced this early on? Everyone's just too comfortable right away, considering the magnitude of the event we're being presented with.

So what we're getting, then, is something rather closer to Morrison's usual take on metatextuality: the Authority discovering that they're comic-book characters and the real world turning out to be duller and less imaginative than theirs (Earth isn't sentient, its sun doesn't keep Apollo afloat thanks to what are presumably physics framed by scientism, magic is barely there, etc.).

That closing scene promises something that I'll be interested to see: much will depend upon how Morrison carries off that confrontation, whether we get a more-or-less standard fantasy action scene or instead get something closer to the traumatic irruption promised by the "desert of the real" possibility you note.

What I'm hoping to see is the scalar difference Morrison always pushes, but rarely shows, between reality's possibilities for action and the text's infinite capacities for display. And that will have less to do with action choreography than with the larger textual dynamics that end up established by the plot-moment promised in that real-irreal Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

And what do you feel about that film "Diary of a Seducer?"

neilshyminsky said...

Omar: I think you're absolutely right. The shift from Ken's perspective to that of the Authority is a jarring tonal change. I enjoyed that classic-Authority-feel, but notice the shift retrospectively - had I re-read #1, or if the publishing schedule wasn't a mess, I'm sure this would have bothered me.

anonymous: I'm not familiar with it. How does it relate to the Authority exactly? (Or does it relate in any way?)