SUPERMAN AND THE AUTHORITY #4
It’s impossible to think of Superman and the Authority issue #4 as just the ending of a miniseries. Even aside from the fact that this is possibly the final word on Superman by his most influential writer of the last few decades, with a creative team of genuine all-stars, this comic feels quietly earthshaking. Far from a retrospective of greatest hits and past victories, every element of this book builds on the past with an eye towards the future.
There are plenty of parallels between this miniseries and All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison’s 12-issue opus with Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant about a man of steel facing down the end of his days. But where that was about an unchanging icon suddenly forced to contend with his mortality and limits, Superman and the Authority doesn’t even pretend that the original superhero can hold back the flow of time single-handedly.
The last decade has been a period of enormous change for Clark’s character, returning him to his roots as a young socialist firebrand before reintroducing the more familiar guy with a kid in tow. He’s every inch the same icon now, but the last pillars supporting the illusion of an unchanging comic book world have crumbled. Characters like Miles Morales and Jon Kent finding massive mainstream success and recognition have pushed the timeline farther and faster than ever before, snapping the rubber band that was holding the big guns of Marvel and DC in place even as the decades marched on around them. It was only a matter of time before Clark would evolve, too.
I admit, I’m not exactly going against the grain when I say that Grant Morrison is a pretty good writer, but I have a lot of respect for how they refuse to rest on their laurels. Time and hindsight have only sharpened the points that they’ve tried to make about Superman and the value of superheroes. We live in a world where they’ve conquered movies, video games, even podcasts. Superheroes inspire billions of people, but they could stand to do more than print money for Warner Bros. and Disney. They fight for a better world, but it’s become clearer than ever that just propping up the status quo just breeds inequity and injustice. So, what does the Superman of the 21st century look like?
Well, for starters, he fights smarter, not harder. Clark’s radiation poisoning has him aging and losing his powers, but also reevaluating how he tackles the world’s problems beyond technicolor punch-ups. That’s why this issue’s swerve from a classic brawl into a mental chess match between Superman and his oldest foes feels so right: it’s the perfect illustration of Clark adapting to change. It makes you believe that picking this team of damaged people is more than Superman reaching out for the good in strangers – he picked people he could inspire and made them something more. Jon Kent is a great guy and would be a wonderful legacy, but Clark isn’t going to place the whole weight of the world on his son’s shoulders if he can help it. The Authority is both Clark Kent and Grant Morrison’s attempt to build a better Superman, and it’s thrilling to see their vision come together.
This isn’t exactly a seamless segue, but it would be a crime to write the words “perfect illustration” without mentioning the incredible art team telling this story. Frankly, you could’ve told me Mikel Janin and Jordie Bellaire would be working on a Condiment King series, and I would’ve been on board with the project. (Now that I think about it, a prestige maxiseries about Condiment King would be entertaining as hell. But the point stands.)
Phoned-in work from either of them looks better than most of the art teams in the industry on a good day, and I’m not saying that as a slight – Bellaire and Janin are just that good. But neither is content with just exhibiting their technical skill; Bellaire’s artfully-limited palettes drench each scene in the perfect atmosphere, and Janin has redefined a cast of strangers from the wildest corners of the DC universe as a cohesive unit that will drag the human race to a better tomorrow come hell or high water.
Superman and the Authority is a triumph. Not because it’s a good Superman comic, or an entertaining ensemble story, or the end of an era, but because every panel exudes the kind of vision that really makes you believe superheroes are worth more than childhood nostalgia and an impressive box office. Give it a read, and look at the future with clear eyes. You might even find yourself believing that a species full of reckless misfits can change.
BATMAN / SUPERMAN: AUTHORITY SPECIAL #1
This issue technically came out at the start of November, but we’re including it here for a few reasons. Most importantly, it’s the passing of the torch that happens before Action Comics #1036 really begins the Warworld Saga in earnest.
And man, Phillip Kennedy Johnson takes up that torch and sprints like a practiced relay runner.
What’s particularly impressive about this issue is that it works despite having to serve So Many Masters. Phillip Kennedy Johnson had the difficult task of making a standalone Batman/Superman special enjoyable on its own, while bridging the gap between the Superman and the Authority miniseries and his own Action Comics.
The threat introduced in this special feels like it could last for decades. It’s set up as something that could be just as dangerous as Barbatos and his invasion (in Dark Nights: Metal), and certainly feels as threatening. An Empire of the Al Ghuls rising up from the dark multiverse is an exciting and lore-rich concept, but is fundamentally terrifying as a fascist regime with immortal armies and infinite resources.
The art on the shadow Earth in the dark multiverse makes sure you feel that. It’s off, wrong, light not even working how it does in the prime universe. The colors chosen and the very texture of the world are at odds with the clean, professional modern style of the rest of the special, making you feel like the characters have dipped into a realm that should never have existed.
Johnson also nails the voices for each member of the Authority, and while we all knew he could write a good Clark and Lois at this point, the authority is in good hands. Every single one of them has a unique dynamic with Batman that feels immediately earned. As you would hope, Midnighter’s attitude is a real highlight.
At the end of the day, this special makes a strong case for itself. It’s a visual feast, the writing sings, the characters are fun as hell to be around, and the way it interacts with the larger universe (and multiverse!) feels exciting and intelligently put together. Buy it.
SUPERMAN: SON OF KAL-EL #4
Despite the monthly wait between issues of Superman, Tom Taylor manages to drag us right into Jon Kent’s mindset with his internal monologue on the opening page. Whatever other issues may arise, Taylorhas a phenomenal handle on Jon’s voice, priorities, and what makes him unique.
But the best writing means nothing without art. That’s why we’re lucky this book has such an incredible team, headed up by Daniele de Nicuolo for this issue. Not only is the character acting on the first page impeccable — Jon makes some really endearing faces — the style manages to evoke John Timms’s work and maintain visual continuity for the series while still doing its own thing.
The spread across the second and third pages is a fantastic example of this. It seems like a deliberate reference to the earlier scene where Jon evacuated everyone from a falling building, but while that was in the rigid structure of doing his job as Superman, this is much more personal. Instead of a slanted grid mimicking the shape of the falling building, here the panels themselves splay out across the pages, paralleling Jon’s sudden shift in perspective as the Kent farm is blown apart.
The parallel between the two scenes works beautifully. Jon can handle a bigger, less personal disaster, but losing his family home minutes after possibly seeing his father for the last time? His world comes apart.
John quickly makes a new discovery about Jay, but he has to rush to stop the Justice League from inadvertently escalating the situation caused by Faultline’s impact. It’s a fun idea for a conflict, and it really showcases Jon’s strength as Superman.
His new connection with Wally West is a smart decision, as was a similar connection set up in Taylor’s Nightwing series. Jon is connected to more generations of superheroes now, and it feels organic and satisfying, like it’s making a good use of the world and the interconnectivity of the characters in it.
The DC Universe is changing in a way that we haven’t really seen in a while, moving beyond holding patterns and into something new and different with unusual character dynamics at the center of it. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the Justice League will always be at the center, but it’s quickly becoming a new Justice League with new priorities, and it’s exciting to watch that happen.
The rest of the issue deals with the fallout from Jay’s suddenly revealed powers, and his associates with the Truth, who turn out to be characters from Taylor’s previous Suicide Squad run. I haven’t interacted with the Aerie and Wink very much, as I haven’t gotten around to Suicide Squad: Bad Blood; my familiarity with them is mostly from DCeased. However, even with that minimal knowledge, I love them. They’re immediately engaging and feel like they should be a part of Jon’s world.
It’s not just the same iconography at play, it’s a beautiful fusion of the new and the old. The way that the members of the Truth and their antagonist Henry Bendix are woven into the narrative feels natural, which is a tricky feat to manage. It really feels like Jon is at the crossroads of the DC universe, with recent and classic characters playing into his supporting cast in equal measure. It makes the world feel more cohesive.
As much as I love the plot, the scenery, the action, the characters, and the pacing, this book is juggling a whole lot – and I think that’s why we haven’t seen as much as I would like of Jay and his friends. This story arc has to set everything up for the rest of this run, and is doing a ton of heavy lifting up front. Giving Jon his own space as a protagonist has to be the first priority or this book would never get off the ground. So, I’m okay (for now) with Jay and the Gamorrans spending some time on the back burner, because despite a lot of other priorities Taylor has basically snuck them into this plot. I mean, he built the threat of Henry Bendix and their connection to him naturally, but this series wasn’t going to be easy to manage even without playing to Taylor’s pet characters. I think they deserve more of a spotlight, but I’m also confident they’ll get it as this series develops, and I’m excited to watch that happen.