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[personal profile] kiev4am
Okay, this is kind of a cheap win on the 'yes, I will write some entries' front. Below is a sheaf of reviews I posted on Comixology, ComicVine and iFanboy during the World's End era of WildStorm comics, i.e. the last ongoings before DC canned the imprint last year. I started these in response to a call to arms from Authority uberfan Chris Striker on his very excellent Clark's Bar message board; sales on the World's End books were tanking and he posted a challenge to us fans to raise the profile through reviews and stuff. WildStorm pimping aside, I found that producing these things - the discipline of reading the issue and then turning around a half-decent review as quickly as possible, keeping to the word limit imposed by the sites - was a really tight writing exercise.

Anyway, if you read the issues at the time you might like these write-ups. If you didn't, and you're a fan of the Authority, I really can't recommend the Abnett, Lanning and Coleby series highly enough. The relevant trades are Authority: World's End and Authority: Rule Britannia.

A lot has changed since these reviews were first written, not least the death of WildStorm as a separate imprint and the absorption of various WS fragments into the DC universe in time for the ambitious 'New 52' shakeup going on at DC. As much as I abhor DC's wastage of WildStorm, I am hugely psyched for the potential awesomeness that is Paul Cornell's Stormwatch, so I may start reviewing it when it hits the stands.

Authority #8
So here we are, about midway through Abnett and Lanning's projected 15-issue run on The Authority. They've covered a lot of ground so far, creating a unique and convincing new dynamic for the team in a vividly dark end-times London crushed by the wreckage of the Carrier, sowing the seeds for some intriguing sub-plots and putting several members of the team through the wringer. Here in issue #8, having dealt with the series' first villain (an extra-nihilistic Eidolon) and wrapped up the refreshingly uncompetitive crossover with Stormwatch, they're ready to start having some fun.

Luckily for us their idea of fun is to keep everybody in character, give them a lot of good lines, and put them in a predicament that's half old-school Authority ass-kicking and half slyly comic 'WTF?' The idea of Midnighter trapped in an alternate reality as a rural vicar (and stoically playing out the role for a week as he waited for the others to find him!) is priceless. It's nice to see DnA keeping up the fine Authority tradition of setting up straw-man superteam parodies for the guys to knock down, too. Team Unicorn was clearly not long for this world, but it was huge fun to see the Authority (well, three of them) back to their old tricks for a few pages. The confrontation poked gentle fun at the typical Authority mayhem of old; trashing an imaginary English village isn't exactly the widescreen we're used to, but that's the point. It also says a lot for the overall grimness of the book that this episode of fighting and property damage came across as perversely cheerful. Unlike many issues, this one didn't change scene at all but stayed with Midnighter, Angie and Swift for the whole 18 pages. It was so fast-moving that I felt it ended way too soon, but that just means the writers and artist have done their job setting up the next issue.

Simon Coleby's artwork has been impressive from the start - detailed, expressive and atmospheric with a jagged, weathered quality that gives this book a visual edge over the others in the World's End stable. This issue gave him room to have fun too, offsetting the World's End gloom with a picture-book English countryside and an excellent superteam dogfight; plus, that has to be one of the best Authority covers in recent memory.

A solidly entertaining issue that didn't take itself too seriously and showed off the range of the creative team.

Authority #9
This issue concludes the team's brief but refreshing trip to the country in support of Her Majesty's (very sketchy) Government, based at Rendlesham.The previous issue kicked it off with a mixture of dry character comedy and old-school superhero dust-up, as Midnighter found himself trapped in a time warp as a rural clergyman (no, really) before he, Swift and Angie squared off against a quaint all-British superteam sent out to defend the eerily idyllic village from interference. The away team won the day, of course, only to be outgunned by a clock-faced mystery superhuman who was very displeased to be working the weekend.

Sound hectic? It was; but also fun, as is the continuation in this issue – in which the man with the Magritte clock-face plunders history for things to throw at the Authority, from dinosaurs to WW2 bombers. It'll be no surprise to anyone following this series that Simon Coleby draws a mean T-Rex. I also liked the way the fight gave each member of the team adversaries that more-or-less 'suited' them: pterodactyls and biplanes for Swift, the engineering might of the Blitz for Angie, armies of footsoldiers for Midnighter (who'd clearly seen '300' and was unimpressed). As befits comic book fights, the dialogue was minimal and snarky.

But then, just as I was enjoying the big splashy fight scene, Abnett and Lanning hit the brakes and did something I wasn't expecting at all, namely to show us why our 'villain' was doing all this. His motivation was basic, human and utterly heart-breaking, and gave the story a tragic depth that changed it completely. Even the last panel back at the Carrier (which contained an intriguing revelation) didn't change the genuine sense of grief I was left with. A solid emotional gut-punch is something too few comics bother to achieve, and the fact that they did it with a passing character, not one of the 'cast' we've invested in, makes it all the more notable. Kudos to the writers for demonstrating what the World's End concept is capable of in the right hands.

Authority #10
Whatever happened to those Winter and Summer 'specials' Wildstorm used to do – the fun one-shot anthologies that let writers and artists to try out ideas, revisit past continuity, or turn their hand to books they weren't usually assigned to? This issue of Authority is sort of like that: though written by Abnett and Lanning as usual, it's drawn by a different artist and is slightly out of sync, containing 4 short 'interludes' – three flashbacks and a setup – that sit outside the main series timeline but set out the stall for DnA's third reel; we're two-thirds through their 15-issue run, and they're clearly drawing the threads together. We get definite confirmation, via spectacular reference to Authority Volume 1 (heads up, 'Shiftships' fans!), of the identity of the tweed-suited alien who controls Rendlesham; we see the Authority in the immediate aftermath of Armageddon, miserably undone, with tragic focus on the missing-in-action Doctor and on Midnighter's recognition that he's been here before; there's a sly reference to the last page of 'Number of the Beast,' which kicked off World's End (as always, Scotland gets the worst things first!), and we close with some quality mwahaha-ing as someone makes a welcome move from backup story to main feature. All the Authority's old friends are coming out to play – bring it on.

But despite all of the above, this issue really belongs to the guest artist, Brandon Badeaux. His work is astonishing, and I sincerely hope to see more of it in the World's End stories. I strongly feel that Simon Coleby owns the Authority series at the moment; his dark, sinewy, claustrophobic style gives the characters a worn-out, savage grace we've never seen before, and his splash pages render traditional widescreen subjects, like the Carrier, in ruinous Gothic detail that perfectly suits the tone of DnA's writing. All that said, Badeaux's style here is genuinely outstanding: fiendishly detailed, with visible pencil-shading that gives everything a delicate art-house texture; colourist Carrie Strachan compliments it perfectly, moving from the bold night-and-fire colours used for Coleby to a jewel-like, stained-glass look. The 'Shiftships' flashback pages, the Rendlesham fight sequences, and the Doctors' memory garden are simply jaw-dropping. What's especially striking, other than the overall beauty, is the way he places tiny human details into epic scenes – the miniscule figure pushing a shopping trolley across a wrecked cityscape, the traffic cones still upright. If I have any reservation, it's that this style may be slightly too pretty for World's End, too fine a world to work in this context. But I'd like the chance to be proved wrong, because this is serious old-school Bryan Hitch-level art, and Wildstorm should hang onto it.

Authority #11
If there's a superhero comic at the moment that deserves the term 'criminally underrated', this is it. With little recognition, this Authority series by Abnett & Lanning has been doing something that doesn't happen often enough: taking a genuinely new approach to an iconic set of characters. Anyone who's heard of this run will know the key theme here is impotence, the humbling of a superstar team in a world it didn't save and can barely navigate. Are they still heroes without their godlike powers; still a team, still interesting? Through 11 issues DnA have answered these questions with a strong 'yes' that warrants a much bigger readership than, sadly, the book is getting. It's not the same Authority that dynamited comics in 1999; but it is Ellis' team down to the dark humour, the social conscience, the understated but humane team dynamics.

This issue's all about the latter, as Midnighter struggles with despair and we find out why Apollo's been a no-show for several issues. The opening sequence is beautifully drawn and unexpectedly soft-centred, with Midnighter watching in vain for Apollo from a high ledge of the Carrier. DnA have brought something from Ellis' and Millar's runs that other writers ignore, which is that when he isn't kicking peoples' heads off or withering them with sarcasm, Midnighter wears his heart on his scraggy leather sleeve and doesn't care who knows it. Dominated by moonlight, the scene's a reverse image of the start of issue #3; the hallmark sun/moon imagery for these characters has never worked so well. Then it's back to old-fashioned teamwork, as the four active team members battle weird monsters in the depths of the ship. Although their run is bleaker than most, DnA and Coleby can render an Authority fight scene with all the expected elements of snark and drama. Angie's semi-functioning nanites were a welcome sight (Coleby's version of the Engineer is refreshingly spiky), the gasoline bombs improvised from the previous scene's balloons were a nice touch, as was Jack's excellent scythe/crutch combination – though I hope we'll get more explanation of how he got back on his feet. There's an interesting development with the Carrier; like Angie's tech, the ship is flickering like a bad light-bulb, and it's clearly a setup for something later on.

But the core of the issue is the fiery voiceover that intersects the fight scene – who it is, and who it's talking to. Props to Coleby yet again for rendering an absolutely stunning and vivid sequence using just two or three shades of orange/yellow – he's done this a few times now, for scenes from Apollo's point of view, balancing a freakish sense of heat-distortion with crisp linework. It's a brilliantly structured revelation, and the last panel's a killer. The whole effect is to remind us that DnA never put anything in this book without a reason, and never indulge in hints or foreshadowing without delivering a payoff. Hurry up, issue #12.

Authority #12
All things come to those who wait. In the previous issue of Abnett & Lanning's excellent Authority run, we finally found out why Apollo's been MIA since being bitten by an Incubite in issue #5. These creatures, misshapen human carriers of the Warhol Virus (15 minutes of rage and biting before self-destruct!), looked like a fun but shallow plot device when they appeared in issue #1, something to generate fight scenes and provide horror moments. They've strayed into all the other World's End titles, but they've mostly remained a mysterious threat, showing up to rampage, infect people, or get zapped by the good guys. Unfortunately for Apollo, zapping stuff in World's End takes a greater toll on him than usual, hence the bite. Issue #11 confirmed he was infected, but the sting in the tale was what infecting a post-human had done to the virus. Now it has a mind and a voice and a name for itself: the Burn. And as the movie 'The Thing' has taught us, no good can come of a virus with personality.

Issue #12 is all about the payoff, as the infected and possessed Apollo crashes into the Carrier and attacks his team-mates. As you 'd hope, it's a hell of a fight, with several distinct stages and some clever flourishes with Angie's nanotech (her generous loan to the group is especially fun, and Coleby's drawing of her versus the virus is the stuff of shiny nightmares). As ever DnA write some great, snippy fight dialogue, and The Burn/Apollo is an enjoyably nasty piece of work. The resolution to the fight seems a bit convenient at first, until you reach the end and see that it's not a resolution at all.

One of the consistent appeals of this series is the way Abnett and Lanning balance chunks of fast-moving plot with character moments and pathos. Predictably this action-heavy issue rests some emotional weight squarely on Midnighter's shoulders. His sparsely-expressed anguish is very poignant, especially his realisation that, even when he can't bear to think of something, his fight-mind will still tell him a million ways to do it. There's also a nice snappy moment between Angie and Jack harking back to his behaviour in issue #5.

If I have one reservation it's that Apollo's been out of the major story threads for quite a while now, and although this has made for some wonderfully written emotional drama, his absence is starting to seem a little over-constructed. I have plenty of confidence in DnA's planning and storytelling, but now that Apollo's back on the Carrier, I hope his stay in the not-so-proverbial refrigerator will be brief.

Drew Johnson provided some pages of artwork in this issue. He's a highly competent artist and some of his compositions are very striking, but Simon Coleby is a hard act to follow.

Authority #13
"They think there's no-one left to save the world..." Ten years ago, Warren Ellis used this line to introduce the Authority – an aggressively idealistic bunch who were going to build a finer world by any means necessary. We all know what the road to hell is paved with. I've been consistently impressed and entertained by the way Abnett and Lanning have woven aspects of the Ellis series into this very different book, from the nod to that first line in their own issue #1 to their loyalty to Ellis' character concepts and the team's dogged adherence to its 'finer world' mission in the face of catastrophic failure. It's an odd combination given the dissonance between Ellis' pyrotechnics and the grassroots struggles of the World's End team, but it works.

Starting the final arc of their run, DnA bring their deconstructed super-team full circle by pitting them against their first adversary, retro arch-villain Kaizen Gamorra. The artwork in the opening pages is an affectionate homage, deliberately repeating images from Bryan Hitch's Authority #1. Kaizen was last defeated when Midnighter dropped the Carrier on his island HQ. Now the island is airborne (comic book science!), the Carrier is landlocked, and it's payback time. On one level this is an unabashedly old-fashioned Authority issue, full of widescreen mayhem and ballistics, as the team fights back with all the firepower they've got. Angie is especially good, spouting geek-speak as she rustles up a brace of superguns and articulating the team's outrage in classic Authority style: "Bite me." I've always enjoyed the decisive, leading roles she and Swift have played in the World's End story and this battle is no exception – "Yee-Haah!" indeed. Jack gets the cliffhanger ending, cornered by a striking Cybernary as he tries to get civilians to safety.

So where's the team's headkicker-in-chief while all this is happening? In a flashback, we see Midnighter get a cryptic message from Doctors Habib and Jeroen via his tortured subconscious, which prompts him to leave the Carrier (on a motorbike, naturally) to find a cure for the virus that's keeping his husband in deep-freeze. His unquestioning obedience to his dream seemed out of character – you'd think after living through "Authority: Revolutions" he'd be leery of strange visions telling him to go it alone – but it fits with the air of subtle disintegration DnA have been building up for him over the last few issues; Midnighter's version of the World's End theme of depowerment is that he's technically undamaged but emotionally walking wounded. It'll be interesting to see if he's interpreted the message accurately, or been manipulated via his affections (again), and what he finds on his journey north.

Simon Coleby's art is excellent as ever, dark, ragged and dynamic. Drew Johnson again supplies some fill-in pages including the fine opening sequence. There's also an Engineer design by Al Barrionuevo, who'll be taking over art from #16.

Authority #14
When it's done this well, there's nothing more fun than the 'third reel' of a story arc kicking into gear. Last issue saw the grounded Carrier at the mercy of Kaizen Gamorra, with Swift and Angie outgunned by Gamorran clones, Jack blindsided by Cybernary, and Midnighter nowhere to be seen after a dream visitation from the Doctors sends him 'north' to find a cure for Apollo. Here in #14 the one-sided battle continues, in a classic sequence that mixes old-fashioned duelling and wisecracking (Jack vs. Cybernary) with explosions and an unexpected 'rescue' that goes very quickly sour. The lightning switches from hope to disaster (Jack's brief recovery, the Establishment's arrival) and the folding in of the Rendlesham plot thread give a real sense of escalation and menace and again show that DnA never create side-plots without a reason. The writers are certainly having fun with their Ellis nostalgia. Re-matching the crippled Authority of World's End against not one but two of their old enemies has a satisfying dramatic symmetry; like the smashed world they live in now, they're being sent back to their roots before (hopefully) rebuilding.

Drew Johnson drew most of this issue, with an unfussy kinetic style that's very different from regular artist Simon Coleby, less atmospheric and more traditionally 'superhero.' I feel that Coleby's dark painterly style works far better for the gloomy material, and has been a crucial factor in distinguishing this title from the majority; but Johnson does provide some fantastic character designs here. His Cybernary has a wonderful mechanoid glamour, and his version of Lorenzo in vintage air-ace flying gear is a perfect hark-back to the imperial kitsch of Bryan Hitch's Sliding Albion, a smirking Euro-villain straight out of a Bond movie, complete with cigarette-holder. Classy!

All this backstory is nicely counteracted by Midnighter's journey to Scotland (drawn by Coleby on top form). It's a short sequence, mainly setup and intrigue, that starts with traditional Midnighter snark and violence and ends with a jaw-droppingly 'WTF' splash page. Based on this, next issue should be interesting.

This is one of the best stories that's been told with the Authority, sadly under most people's radar. Highly recommended. If you're playing catch-up the first trade is out now, collecting issues 1-7.

Authority #17
This issue is the last for Abnett and Lanning, who've steered this neglected gem of a series through some choppy waters. Their run took a lot of risks, stubbornly not giving readers the firepower and flippancy they've come to expect from an Authority outing, instead giving us a team ravaged by impotence and self-doubt, struggling with its ruinous failure to build Jenny Sparks' finer world. They got precious little thanks for it in sales terms, but DnA did an outstanding job of poking the Authority concept with a big stick and giving it some new emotional and moral texture while staying true to the original ideas, supported beautifully all along by Simon Coleby's artwork.

The last few issues have been the 'third reel', spiralling to a conclusion of some sort as DnA complete their arc. Enjoyably for Ellis fans, DnA chose to bring the reduced team team full circle in issues #12-16 by pitting them against not one but two of their oldest adversaries – Kaizen Gamorra (Wildstorm's Saturday-serial villain, talons and all) and Lorenzo of Sliding Albion, newly sprung from Rendlesham and deliciously smarmy. While entertaining, these issues felt very compressed, reducing their potential for fun, new/old storytelling to bare bones and making their central purpose – as plot devices for the repowering of Angie and Jack – overly blatant. The most interesting storyline there was one of DnA's long-game side-plots: the lonely journey of Midnighter to the wilds of Scotland, driven by a cryptic dream to search out a cure for Apollo's super-virulent strain of the Warhol virus. This had the lion's share of the World's End atmosphere, with elements of old-fashioned British fantasy: dream visions, heartache, an enchanted island, and a bloodthirsty 'Green Man' forest-figure whom Midnighter nonetheless recognised as Habib, the vanished Doctor.

Here, Midnighter learns the source of his visions is a child named Gaia, and finds a way to free her and the Doctor from their mutual torment. It's a surprising development, but the fact that Gaia is a plot strand drawn from the first World's End issue of Stormwatch PHD is further proof that the World's End books have been a model of 'cohesive universe' storytelling. There's support from Swift, Angie and Jack, but the key to events is the instinctive empathy Midnighter has for Gaia, and her gesture of thanks. I've always liked the way DnA write Midnighter – both unashamedly emotional and matter-of-factly violent, with no sign that he's troubled by the contradiction – and by far the most satisfying part of this issue is the resolution to the Apollo-Midnighter subplot which has been the strongest emotional thread in the series. It's characteristic of DnA's aims and themes that the team's final recovery is expressed not by a widescreen feat of strength or victory pose, but by an intimate scene of personal triumph. Kudos to the whole creative team for their mature, timely and affectionate reimagining of this title.

Authority World's End Volume 1 TPB
This book collects issues 1-7 of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's run on The Authority. Wildstorm has spent the last year or so doing something daring and/or foolhardy with its superhero universe – sending it to hell via a carefully prepared armageddon which isn't an 'event' but the ongoing status quo. So far World's End been a blast: lovingly structured and cohesive, four sharply written and drawn books supplemented by a slew of fun back-up tales. Of all the books I'd say Authority is the strongest, since this team has the greatest tragic potential in an apocalyptic landscape, tailor-made for an epic fall from grace.

When this book debuted in 1999 it was bigger, louder, more ambitious and more beautiful than any other mainstream superhero comic, with a super-ethic that hadn't been seen before: defending the world from extraordinary threats, the characters weren't squeamish about violence if they could save more people than they killed. Warren Ellis' original run raised the bar absurdly high and left subsequent writers with a challenge: how to keep an unbeatable team interesting without ever more ridiculous threats, more outrageous attitude? So the Authority devolved from cranky idealists to loudmouthed celebrities to unelected rulers of America – their progress often brilliant but ultimately directionless. Ed Brubaker, in his 'Revolutions' arc, tried stripping the team back to its roots; here DnA go one further, radically depowering them to create a mature character-driven tale of humility and recovery.

Here, the Authority's 'finer world' mission is over; the planet's wrecked by nuclear holocaust and the team's stranded in the ruins of London, their ship a lightless hulk fused with the dead city. Jenny and the Doctor are missing, and with them any hope of fixing things overnight; the others are physically or emotionally shattered, struggling to protect survivors and maintain their identity with the scraps of their old power. What makes this work is the unlikely union of the downbeat, gloomy plot with the writers' obvious affection for the Ellis series, with its strengths of character chemistry and social conscience underlying the widescreen excess. By crippling their absolute power, DnA give something back to these characters that hasn't been seen for a long time: a genuine nobility and heroism that comes from the extreme sacrifices they're now making.

The other revelation of this book is Simon Coleby's craggy, atmospheric art. His style is dark, jagged and distinctive, giving the characters a weathered, savage grace we've never seen before while rendering the landscapes in ruinous Gothic detail that perfectly suits the story. His splash pages are spectacular, but it's the character drawing – this ragged, grim Authority – that anchors the mood of the book and hooks our sympathy.

Highly recommended, and essential reading for any Authority fan.


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May 2012

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