When it was announced that James Gunn was being brought on to steer a new vision for the DC Universe, it was clear he was going to delve into unexpected territory. While there's no such thing as too many Batman films, there are plenty of new avenues to explore in bringing the vast array of DC characters to the big screen. Thankfully, the man behind Guardians Of The Galaxy and Peacemaker was never going to stick to the obvious picks – and The Authority, announced this week as a major movie in the upcoming DC slate, is both a surprising and exciting choice.
Alongside Peter Safran, his fellow DC Studios CEO, Gunn revealed that this year's Flash movie will usher in a new age for DC, and that from that (flash)point on, DC films, shows, and games will all tie in together in one big universe — with the first chunk being named ‘Gods And Monsters’. Among the ten projects announced, there are plenty of god-like beings in the form of Supergirl, a new Superman, a fresh set of Green Lanterns and more, plus monsters like Swamp Thing and the animated Creature Commandos. As for The Authority, the brutal superhero team could be labelled as either gods or monsters depending on their mood on any given day.
Intrigued yet? Gunn has described The Authority's screen debut as a "big movie" in his and Safran's overall plan, so let's take a closer look at the team, who they are, and why the Justice League should be worried. That's right. A (wild)storm is coming.
What is The Authority? The stormy comic book history…
Before getting into The Authority itself, let’s start with some backstory. Back in the ‘90s, when edgy anti-heroes like Spawn were all the rage, comic book legend Jim Lee founded an imprint named Wildstorm Comics, where he launched a gritty superhero team named Stormwatch. When interest in Stormwatch started to wane, most of the team were killed off aside from a few heroes who later went on to form their own team at DC after the company bought Wildstorm Comics in 1999. That team? The Authority.
Like Watchmen before it, The Authority – initially penned by Warren Ellis – was a comic designed to subvert superhero conventions, consisting of a lineup that parallelled Earth's Mightiest Heroes from Marvel and DC alike (read on for more on that). But unlike the characters of Watchmen, The Authority do actually have humanity's best interests at heart; they genuinely want to save the day. They just don't care who gets hurt along the way.
Fans lapped it up, and it wasn't long before The Authority became more popular than Stormwatch ever had been. However, Ellis left the book with issue #12, and that's when some of comicdom's biggest talents stepped in, including Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and Tom Taylor, along with legendary artists like Frank Quitely, Dustin Nguyen, and Gene Ha. Unfortunately, most attempts to keep The Authority going long-term failed after the first two volumes.
Eventually, the Wildstorm universe was amalgamated into regular DC continuity via Flashpoint in 2011, bringing The Authority into contact with other heroes like the Justice League, who helped inspire their creation in the first place. And since The Flash movie is set to take on the Flashpoint storyline, the stage looks set for something similar to happen on the big screen, bringing The Authority into the DCU.
Which DC heroes are in The Authority?
The original line-up was led by Jenny Sparks, AKA "The Spirit of the 20th Century". Think Marvel's Captain Britain, but less goody-goody and more brutal. Born in England in the year 1900, Jenny interacted with many of history's most famous figures before she used her electric powers to lead The Authority's first incarnation after Stormwatch fizzled out. Sparks was fated to die at the end of the century in the original 1999 run, so expect the live-action take to rejig this a bit, timing-wise.
Next, we have Jack Hawksmoor. As a child, Jack was experimented on by futuristic beings who connected his essence to the urban environments around him. This means Jack can read the energy of cities and communicate with buildings, which gives him all kinds of strange gifts, such as the power to glide through concrete. Like most cityfolk, Jack can't survive for long once thrown into a rural environment – but, in a very literal sense rather than an oh-god-where’s-the-nearest-Starbucks way.
You could argue that Kevin Feige’s empire wouldn’t be what it is today without The Authority. If DC can harness that power too, it could spell a major hit.
Apollo is essentially The Authority's version of Superman. The two share almost identical powers, including flight, superhuman strength, and the ability to shoot solar energy from their eyes. Also known as the Sun King, he is married to his teammate, Midnighter, who just so happens to be The Authority's equivalent to Batman…
The Midnighter gained his powers – a key difference to the Dark Knight – through medical experiments, just like Apollo. These gifts include super-strength, super-speed, and a rapid healing factor that makes him almost impossible to kill. What's most impressive, though, is his ability to predict how a fight will unfold before it even starts by running through every possible scenario in an instant. He's essentially a souped-up, even more violent Batman.
Swift (no relation to Taylor) developed avian abilities when a meteor activated the genetic marker inside her DNA. Unlike DC's Hawkgirl, Shen Li-Men's wings and talons are actually a physical part of her body, and at her fastest speed, she can even catch up to super-speedsters mid-flight. As if that wasn't handy enough, Swift is also the navigator for The Carrier, a sentient spaceship in which The Authority resides.
The Engineer, aka Angela Spica, replaced the original Engineer (real name unknown), after his nano-technology fused with her body. Using the nanites in her bloodstream, Spica can shape-shift and create solid objects out of thin air. That's not all, though – The Engineer is ridiculously overpowered, with all kinds of other abilities including technopathy and radio-induced telepathy. Even she'd probably lose track of everything she can do if not for her genius-level intellect.
There have been other team members over time, but expect most of this original lineup to take centre stage to start with.
Why is The Authority movie a big deal?
The Authority might not be household names, at least for now. But the comics’ impact on the industry has been significant, even reverberating into how Hollywood has handled its biggest comic book blockbusters. By melding gritty heroics and out-of-the-box thinking with large-scale action sequences, The Authority comics tapped into the appeal of mainstream super-teams while simultaneously deconstructing what made them so popular in the first place – not to mention that co-creator Bryan Hitch later created a very similar series for Marvel called The Ultimates, which laid the groundwork for the MCU’s Avengers. You could argue that Kevin Feige's empire wouldn't be what it is today without The Authority. If DC can harness that power too, it could spell a major hit.
The live-action debut of Apollo and Midnighter should mark a significant shift too – even now, superhero films are still afraid to centre queerness. Things are (very) slowly getting better in that regard, but the arrival of prominent LGBTQ+ characters like Apollo and Midnighter will push blockbuster filmmaking towards correcting that imbalance.
Whatever the future might hold, The Authority has been chosen with purpose. Yes, some DC regulars like Batman and Superman will return again in this new phase, but there's also a new emphasis on fresh faces like The Authority who will shake things up and help set the DCU apart from its rivals once again (as well as what's come before in-house too). Given that the team is relatively unknown to moviegoing audiences, there's a lot riding on this passion project, but that's exactly what the DCU needs right now. Sure, The Authority might not be a safe bet, but it's a brave and bold one nonetheless. And without any previous adaptations to draw upon, James Gunn and Peter Safran are set to give us the definitive version of this team in their very first live-action story.