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Friday, December 1, 2023

Who Are the Authority: The WildStorm DCU Characters Explained

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James Gunn and Peter Safran are ready to shake up the world of DC film and TV. The new co-heads of DC Entertainment have announced a 10-project slate which promises to adapt some of the weirdest, wildest, and most beloved characters DC Comics has to offer. One of the most surprising entries that immediately got fans talking was the inclusion of The Authority, the infamously brutal superhero team from the WildStorm Universe.

Gunn described the project as a "big movie" in the pair's epic plans for DC's new cinematic and television universe. So here's everything you need to know about the edgy late '90s/early '00s superhero team whose wide-ranging legacy has lasted far longer than any of their comic book runs ever did.

DC Comics’ The Authority: Origin

To understand the Authority is to look back at one of the most interesting and game-changing eras of comics history. The grim and gritty superhero team evolved out of Stormwatch, a book published by WildStorm Comics. The studio was founded by Jim Lee in 1992 as one of the creator-owned publisher's six original imprints, at the height of Image Comics' success. Stormwatch began in 1993 with Lee, Brandon Choi, and Scott Clark at the helm. But the origins of the Authority were sown in Volume 2 of that book when Warren Ellis took over writing duties. During his 12-issue arc, Ellis introduced multiple new characters and eventually killed off most of Stormwatch via Xenomorphs in a WildC.A.T.S/Aliens crossover in 1998. Just a year later, two monumental things happened to WildStorm Comics: They were acquired by DC — becoming an imprint of the massively successful publisher — and The Authority #1 was released.

The first issue of The Authority from Ellis, artist Bryan Hitch, inker Paul Neary, colorist Laura (née DePuy) Martin, and letter Bill O'Neill introduced readers to the surviving members of Stormwatch, who were now working under deep cover as the titular team. Describing themselves as "A Higher Authority," the group had to face down against Kaizen — a villain they'd angered after killing 200 of his people in an attack — and his army of superpowered terrorists. Kaizen's plan was to destroy cities all over Earth, beginning with Moscow. But it was in London that the Authority finally caught up with him thanks to their unusual headquarters. The Carrier is a 35-mile-high by 50-mile-wide structure powered by a small universe, so just your average superhero hangout then.

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The Authority's Members and Powers

Gunn has stated that he "really loves" WildStorm and that he and Safran are "bringing a lot of these characters into the DCU," which means we could see heroes from multiple versions of the team brought to life. But for the sake of simplicity — and because they're the most iconic — we're sticking to introducing the original lineup of the Authority and their wild powers here.

Jenny Sparks, "The Spirit of the 20th Century," is the founder of the Authority and its leader in the first volume. Almost a century old when we first meet her, Jenny was born in England at the turn of the 20th century and is fated to die at the end of it. Her powers manifest in an ability to control electricity, though she's also essentially ageless. Throughout her long life she's crossed paths with and influenced many of history's most famous figures. She's sort of like a superheroic Forrest Gump, although the latter never encouraged Hitler to take up politics like Sparks did.

Jack Hawksmoor, "The God of the Cities," has one of the most interesting superpowers in DC history. Jack is able to read the energy of entire cities, enabling him to communicate with them about what they and the people who inhabit them are feeling. These powers come from strange experiments that he underwent as a child at the hands of futuristic beings. Just like Jenny, he wears civilian clothes rather than the colorful costumes that are expected of superheroes.

Apollo, "The Sun King," is one of the better known characters from the Authority thanks to cult success in DC Comics along with his husband, Midnighter. Apollo is essentially the team's Superman analog with powers that include flight, superhuman strength, and being basically immortal. He can even shoot solar beams out of his eyes. Sound familiar? Along with Midnighter, he is one of the only original surviving Stormwatch members, all of whom were given their powers by the nefarious scientist Henry Bendix via strange bioengineered implants.

The Midnighter, "Night's Bringer of War," was just a normal human before he joined Stormwatch Black (the secretive version of the team that became the Authority). Just like his husband, Midnighter gained his powers via medical enhancements. His abilities include super strength, super speed, and a rapid healing ability that make him nearly invulnerable. Over the years he's had certain enhancements removed due to just how powerful they made him.

Swift, "The Winged Huntress," was born with a strange genetic marker that was activated when a meteor passed the Earth. Her powers of flight were limited at first until her power gene was fully unleashed by Stormwatch member Christine Trelane. Once she was fully powered, she also gained bird-like senses, superhuman speed, and an ability to understand the feelings of birds.

The Engineer, "The Maker," took the place of the original Engineer after his nano-technology fused with her body via her home computer. The nano-tech replaced her blood, allowing her to transform her body via shapeshifting and craft objects out of thin air. The Engineer is arguably the most powerful member of the group as she can self-duplicate, is a technopath, and has many more skills, including a genius-level intellect and radio-induced telepathy.

The Authority's Connection to the DCU

The Authority's connection to the DCU has evolved over the years. At first it had no connection other than its creators who had often also worked on famed DC superhero titles. But after DC shuttered the WildStorm imprint in 2010 and the New 52 event reimagined the DC Universe in 2011, some of the WildStorm characters made the jump to the main line. Midnighter and Apollo are the best known Authority members among DC readers thanks to the former's self-titled book and their fan-favorite Rebirth-era titular team-up miniseries. Midnighter is now a regular member of Nightwing and the Bat Family's adventures, which is a very exciting potential connection for the future of the Authority on screen (especially with a Bat Family movie also in the works, The Brave and the Bold). Speaking of potential for crossovers, the most recent Authority book from Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin saw Superman team up with Manchester Black in order to create a new Authority team to help him save the day. And of course the first two members that they enlist are none other than Apollo and Midnighter.

To understand the Authority is to look back at one of the most interesting and game-changing eras of comics history.


The Authority's Biggest Names

While its heroes might be some of DC Comics' lesser known names, the creators who worked on the series are far from it. Alongside the major names who created the series, the book featured work from immensely popular writers like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, J. M. DeMatteis, Ed Brubaker, Tom Taylor, and Keith Giffen. That wasn't the only place where The Authority showcased its star power, though, with runs featuring art from Frank Quitely, Dustin Nguyen, and Gene Ha. It's an impressive roster of talent, especially as The Authority's publishing history has been sporadic. Most of the team's titles after the first two volumes are miniseries or were heavily delayed. For example, Morrison and Ha's third volume ended after just two issues, with other creators coming on after extreme delays to try and continue the storyline. But as noted above, Morrison would return years later for the Superman and the Authority miniseries.

The Authority's Legacy and Impact

It's not hyperbolic to say that The Authority changed the shape of the industry and Hollywood. While the characters might not have become household names, the influence and impact of the gritty superhero storytelling can still be felt today. The edgy, heavily militarized narrative that was introduced in the first volume changed what the comics Direct Market expected from superhero books. And the author of the second volume, Mark Millar, and Authority co-creator, Bryan Hitch, would go on to create a very similar series at DC's biggest competition: Marvel Comics. Millar and Hitch's Ultimates was unquestionably influenced by The Authority and its critical success. This grounded and gritty version of the Avengers would later become the basis for the MCU, which of course went on to change superhero movies and filmmaking forever.

Another legacy of The Authority is that it cemented Warren Ellis as a Big Two staple for years to come. For fans of the writer's style, he was a welcome addition to the superhero pantheon. But a detrimental side of Ellis’ ascent would eventually emerge surrounding many women and non-binary people involved in comics — from aspiring storytellers to convention-goers to members of Ellis' own forums. In 2020, 60+ people who claimed to have been manipulated and abused by Ellis went public with their stories. The writer acknowledged the group and their experiences, but has since refused to effectively work alongside them on a transformative justice program that the group proposed as a way to make amends.

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The Authority's (Absence) in TV and Games

The team is one of the rare DC properties that hasn't been adapted into any of the many DC TV shows, animated films, or cartoon series. They also haven't featured in a single DC video game, which is a truly rare feat in 2023. But this fact also gives James Gunn and Peter Safran the chance to create the definitive — and debut — on-screen version of the team in their first movie.

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