Superman Fights The Elite:
In 2001, a year after Millar and Authority fans LOL’d through his team massacring parodies of the Avengers, Joe Kelly wrote the Superman story What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way? , a sensational book in which a team of obvious parodies of The Authority show up and act like… well, the Authority. Moralistic, hyper-aggressive, “We are heroes who will kill if we have to” warriors. With powers mimicking Authority ones, they first appear to kill Superman when he interjects in their attempts to kill now-helpless villains in the name of practicality… but then an unseen Superman appears to slaughter the entire team, one-by-one. With BattleBoarder-level “Superman should do ____ if he’s so powerful” stuff, he showcases Power Feat upon Power Feat, easily disabling the entire group, before giving leader Manchester Black a “lobotomy” with his Heat Vision, smugly calling attention to his tactics as he did so. A terrified, pants-shitting Black is all “WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” to the point of hilarity, and Superman gives a big speech about the importance of dreams over their cynical attitude. In a similar point in a prior JLA book by Grant Morrison (proof that multiple creators were getting in on this), Supes points out that “These ‘no-nonsense’ solutions of yours just don’t hold water in a complex world of jet-powered apes and time travel”.
It was GLORIOUS. As The Authority was at the peak of its fame, Kelly had just taken an enormous shit all over the series and its perceived morality. This wasn’t just a burial; this was “If you enjoy this book, FUCK YOU. Fuck YOU, fuck your FAMILY, fuck your HOPES, fuck your DREAMS, and fuck everyone you ever MET!” It was, in effect, the greatest “Diss Track” of all time, not only questioning the morals of the people in the book, but the writers and its fans- it was this rallying cry to allow comics to be a bit weird and silly instead of “the heroes should KILL and be EXTREME!” stuff The Authority seemed to be preaching. Instead of the book thumbing its nose at super-heroes the way The Authority was doing, it was like “No, we thumb our noses at YOU!”, as the fans of the book were tossed a huge dose of their own medicine. It was the greatest thing ever.
The funniest part was the reaction of Authority fans. They blubbered like BABIES on some of the forums I inhabited at the time (translation: WizardWorld or SHC, whichever)- raging “But Superman couldn’t beat THE DOCTOR that way!” and bawling about how it made their favorite team look dumb and the book’s writing out to be trash (hilariously proving incapable of taking what the book had dished out to Avengers fans literally the year before). And the issue represented sort of the culmination of thought AGAINST that kind of superhero writing- painting The Authority as aggressive thugs who were out to create a fascist empire of a few people controlling the world. And to this day, people can’t really comment on The Authority without also thinking about that Superman issue- the one time someone’s takedown because synonymous with the very thing they were arguing against.
And I will believe to this day that Marvel and DC, somewhat threatened by what this book represented (“Superheroes R Dum! Everyone should act like THIS!”) and the fact that it was really popular, went out of their way to kill it. Ellis & Hitch were recruited by Marvel. Mark Millar was signed up by Marvel and given both some of the “Ultimate Marvel” stuff, and then Civil War . Frank Quitely ended up drawing Grant Morrison’s X-Men . And then everyone started talking shit about Authority-like characters in books- Image’s own books treated them like villains to every other hero, and more. Two more Authority runs were made, but neither amounted to much. One was a fifteen-issue run by people I’ve not heard much of, and the second died after only two issues, as writer Grant Morrison started writing with big promises, but flaked out after DC threw money at him to revamp much of their line, and after he saw negative reviews of his first issue (this was when backlash against him had started in earnest). Keith Giffen wrote the remainder a bit later.
But despite my theories about Marvel & DC somewhat deliberately hiring away and killing the book, aspects of it popped up EVERYWHERE, and changed the industry as we know it. Millar’s immature, violent writing style was tempered somewhat by Marvel editorial, but he was still given free reign to write characters however he wanted in a few titles, and Civil War is rooted in Authority -like ideas about heroes taking control in the government and mandating things (Iron Man becomes a government agent and acts in a hostile, nearly murderous manner towards other heroes).
And some characters became successful elsewhere- DC liked the notion of Apollo & The Midnighter enough that they were pushed into DC’s main universe.
So What About It?:
-I haven’t read enough of The Authority to properly assess its real quality as a story- in fact, a lot of what I “know” about it was just learned from people’s reactions from like 20 years ago, and you know how memory is. I just remember being annoyed by it then, and finding it darkly nihilistic now. I’ve enjoyed Ellis’s writing on enough things to assume that he was at least coherent and had a gift of gab, though even Alan Moore fell into bad traps at his worst. But the series as a whole seems to come off as a mess once he left, and his own ideas introduced a lot of strange things that take the notion of Superheroes as “People who do what the regular lawmen can’t” and shifted it into this extreme of “Well the heroes should just kill everyone they hate and take over everything”, which is how dictatorships start, y’know? Ignoring law & order and flat-out exterminating your foes and what-not.