Next up we have The Authority v1 by Warren Ellis, Brian Hitch, Mark Millar, and Frank Quietly. This is probably my favorite superhero team book EVER but it contains nudity, sexual themes, violence, gore, language, and just about everything else you can think of. There’s more rampant homophobia, sexism, and racism in Millar’s run. If you like deconstructionism and campy superheroes, chances are that you’ll love The Authority, just like me.
Plot: A team of post-humans save the world from inter-dimensional and intra-global events, including killing God, fighting the Earth itself, and taking down big business political corruption.
Initial thoughts: I started reading this team book because I was supremely interested in Apollo and Midnighter’s relationship. They’re introduced in Stormwatch v2 #4 by Ellis, who rebooted the team into what is now The Authority. What I didn’t expect is to fall in love with every character on the team. They’re the anti-Justice League, here to force you to do the right thing, whether you want to or not. And unlike other super heroes who refuse to kill the enemy, like Superman during the DC/Stormwatch Dreamwar crossover, The Authority has no problems putting somebody down as long as it means more lives are saved than lost.
Ellis’ #1-12 are the real gems in this volume, and while I have major gripes about Millar’s stories, even he is able to bring something new to the team superhero book genre. It’s during Millar’s run that The Authority is transformed from political neutral protectors into first-world celebrities. We watch The Authority fall into the stupor of fame and overcome it, which is absent from Marvel and DC titles. In volumes 2 and 3, The Authority even takes over governments and establishes their own churches akin to dictatorship. The result is that this series follows the evolution of how corruption and good intentions would be handled by a group of people as powerful as – or even more powerful than – the Justice League.
It’s quite digestible and enjoyable too. Of the 29 issues, most arcs last four issues. Ellis’ 12-issue run breaks down into three 4-issue arcs, which remains the standard when Millar takes over. This makes it easy to read in small chunks or, if you’re like me, marathon through them. In addition to having concise, dramatic arcs, they’re all so different that while we know humanity is in the greatest peril ever, there’s great variety and it doesn’t feel redundant. Millar’s run is a bit more melodramatic and redundant, but it’s still enjoyable every now and then.
Itty Bitty Research: I want to focus on rape and PTSD because I am horrified at how Millar handled this in this run. In #14, Apollo is raped by an enemy and in a latter arc, he is threatened to be raped by his replacement (and unwanted touching is implied). Nearly two years ago, Millar said in an interview, “The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know? [. . . ] I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.” As the article points out, Millar’s work is filled to the brim with rape scenes. Abraham Riesman also interviewed Laura Hudson, “the former editor-in-chief of the popular blog Comics Alliance and a senior editor at Wired,” for insight on the significance of rape in Millar’s comics. She responded, “There’s one and only one reason that happens, and it’s to piss off the male character [. . .] It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.” I am interested specifically in how these thoughts relate to The Authority.
This article does a good job of explaining why rape and decapitation cannot be compared, but I am specifically interested in the matter of Apollo. Unlike in Millar’s other work, which a superhero’s girlfriend is raped to hurt the superhero, there is man-on-man rape portrayed in The Authority #14. The act is not meant to harm Midnighter, Apollo’s boyfriend at the time, but rather “to show them what they’ll get if they ever step out of line.” This is problematic because unlike decapitation, this line is akin to the victim blaming aspect of rape which frames rape as something the survivor “deserved” for wearing revealing clothing, drinking alcoholic beverages, or simply existing. It is especially problematic to apply to Apollo, who, as a queer man, disrupts the status quo simply for existing. While perhaps unintended, the message is that queer people deserve to be raped because their existence is outside the realm of acceptability. (The shaming aspect of clothing is especially heightened in regards to Apollo, who wears a skin tight uniform that flaunts his queer body. Unlike Midnighter, who wears a trench coat and dark clothing that conceals his body, Apollo’s uniform is an unabashed celebration of his body. This proud stance is however used as a way to demean him through rape, as if his body was threatening simply because it was not concealed.) Evidence has supported that “gay men and men of color are at a higher risk for sexual victimization, probably due to sexual assault that occurs as part of a hate crime” and that 90-95% of men will not report a sexual assault as a result of denial, repression, stigma, self-blame, and reliving the trauma (which are typical reaction of survivors of rape who are not cisgender men as well). The lack of follow up in this scene perpetuates harmful attitudes toward sexual assault and masculinity that already exist in society.
Rape is implied, not explicitly shown, but later in #15, Apollo is shown brooding and telling his boyfriend he’s thinking “about how I’m going snap every bone in that clown’s body and shove his friend’s mace so far he’s going to need eight years physio-therapy and a good proctologist to walk again [sic].” Midnighter responds by sharing an intimate space and saying, “God, I just love you to bits sometimes.” The page after saying this, Midnighter reports that Apollo is “surprisingly” fine but that he’d rather take out his frustrations physically by flying around than attend a team meeting. My issue with this scene is not the way Apollo copes because we know “Every person who has been sexually violated responds differently to the crime – some become horribly depressed while others become very angry. All emotions are fair responses to a rape or sexual assault.” In fact we might read Apollo’s flying as an “outlet” that is described on that page. However, what is unacceptable is that beyond Midnighter’s words and a single panel of Apollo flying, there is no demonstration of Apollo coping as a sexual assault survivor or the support from the rest of the team. Consequently, after #15, it is as if Apollo’s sexual assault never happened at all. Besides extreme disrespect, it is as if Millar is saying that sexual assault is something that can be immediately recovered, erasing the realities of sexual assault survivors such as PTSD and a subset of PTSD recognizing sexual assault-specific trauma: Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS).
Despite Apollo’s quiet rage, Apollo leaves the fate of his rapists to his boyfriend in #16. We can read this in several ways, and some possibilities are as follows: 1) Apollo has realized that violence begets violence and he’s through with it (though this is unlikely), 2) he knows Midnighter will punish his rapist more violently than if Apollo were to, or 3) he leaves his honor to Midnighter to avenge. My problem with Midnighter taking vengeance for Apollo’s sexual assault is that it displaces Apollo’s autonomy and feelings. To return to Hudson’s assertion, the act of vengeance is cathartic to Midnigher because Apollo’s sexual assault exists “to piss off the male character,” who, in this case, is Midnighter and not the male character who suffered this abuse.
When asked about Apollo’s sexual assault, Millar suggested that it might not have even happened. He replied, “I’m delighted and fascinated by the response. And you know what? I’m not telling. I want you to draw your own conclusions on this one. I’m leaving this open. I wrote the scene (and subsequent follow-ups) to be ambiguous and, like all the best drama and horror, I want the reader to use his or her imagination and make up their own mind. What intrigues me about this is that we saw the Commander (again off-camera) rape two nurses last issue and Tank Man burn a maternity ward full of sleeping babies.” I, quite frankly, do not even know where to begin with this. Being “delighted and fascinated” at an audience’s reaction to sexual assault is first and foremost absolutely loathsome. Millar may think that he is being “ambiguous,” but the scene shows Apollo on his stomach, ass presented, and the rapist unbuckling. What other conclusion is there to draw? And what about Apollo’s follow up rage, especially considering the revenge he seeks is primarily anal? (If it is not a revenge rape fantasy – which is problematic to begin with – then how do we account for the anal violence in a way that is not stereotyping or degrading gay men?) Thirdly, Millar throws in the fact that nurses were raped and babies were killed, as if Apollo’s sexual assault is less horrifying than these two events. They are just as horrifying, but the audience has sympathized and follow Apollo for 14 issues, unlike the innocent nurses or babies, who did not deserve such horrifying treatment either. Ultimately, Millar’s writing of this sexual assault and his response, which dismisses and excuses his poor writing, is unacceptable.
This isn’t the only instance of Millar’s problematic treatment of Apollo either. Let’s not forget that Millar places Apollo in another sexual assault situation that had absolutely no follow up in #28. And although Midnighter and Apollo marry and adopt Jenny Q in #29, their “happily ever after” is abrupt, as if to say that nothing could be wrong in their relationship now and that all past traumas have been forgotten. There is no engagement period and we never see a honeymoon. This marriage is like a band aid that is placed over an extreme laceration.
While Millar maintains that male superheroes go through just as traumatic events as female characters, he has admitted, “Granted, the female stuff has more of a sexual violence theme and this is something people should probably watch out for, but rape is a rare thing in comics and is seldom done in an exploitative way.” This is especially problematic when viewed through a queer lens at Apollo’s rape because as a character who is called a “queen” by his same-sex partner, rape is used as a tool to undermine Apollo’s masculinity and feminize him. This is something that is carried out – subconsciously or consciously – by most writers of The Authority, such as in Chuck Dixon and Ryan Benjamin’s Grifter and Midnighter #, when Apollo says that if Midnighter was mindfucked “Midnighter was on top,” that Midnigher isn’t the “wife” (which implies Apollo is), and that Apollo is Midnighter’s “girlfriend,” and in Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra’s The Authority: The Magnificent Kev #4, when Midnighter jokes Apollo calls him “Jesus” in bed (implying he is on top). Apollo is consistently placed in a feminized role. While this is definitely homophobic, it is specifically applied to Apollo and not Midnighter. The homophobia that Midnighter experiences is largely in how he has sex, such as in The Authority: Revolution #3 when Jack Hawksmoor tells Midnighter to “Shut your cock-sucking mouth,” but his masculinity is never undermined or questioned. In framing Apollo and Midnighter’s gay relationship as a heterosexual one, Apollo is reduced to a role of femininity and sensitivity despite demonstrating masculinity and blood thirst throughout the series.
TL;DR: stop feminizing Apollo and using rape as a tool to punish women and feminine-aligned characters. It is sick and wrong.
Rating: 4.5/5 for Ellis and Hitch’s run and 2.5/5 for Millar and Quietly’s run
Works Cited: Ellis, Warren, writer. The Authority. Art by Brian Hitch. New York: DC Comics, 2013. Print. Vol. 1 of The Authority v1.
Millar, Mark, writer. The Authority. Art by Frank Quietly. New York: DC Comics, 2013. Print. Vol. 2 of The Authority v2.