This is the first post of what’s going to be a regular feature on the blog. “Problematic Fave” is going to look at what else – my problematic faves from all over the place. From comics to the romance novels I have loved to things I’ve watched that were just plain weird, I’m giving a critical look at stuff that I genuinely love, even when I probably could dial things back a notch.
To be absolutely honest, the Authority, Stormwatch, and their characters make up approximately 60% of my ultimate problematic favorites.
Sometimes, some issues or characters stand out more to me because they’re messed up or because they messed me up and then despite that, I continued to overflow with love for them. So it makes sense to start with one of the books from Wildstorm’s best series for this new article series I’m doing.
The Authority: Human on the Inside is one of those books. Written in September of 2004 by novelist John Ridley (Spoils of War) and artist Ben Oliver (that first amazing run on Batwing), the standalone comic centers on our favorite aggressive superpowered misanthropes going up against a villain that comes at them from an angle that they least expect, trying to take them out from the inside.
Now immediately, I always remember that I’m not necessarily feeling the fact that John Ridley mentions (and therefore incorporates) a bit of what Mark Millar did in his run on the Authority into Human on the Inside.
If you know nothing about me by now, you need to know that I’m nothing close to a Mark Millar fan and would be ever so happy if he took up farming somewhere that didn’t have internet or a post office.
But I digress –
Human on the Inside is set in some nebulous future period around the second arc of the overall series. Jenny is still small and super adorable. Midnighter and Apollo are still (mostly) happily loved up. Angie and Shen are eternally perfect. The Doctor is still… my least favorite member of the group.
After they humiliate the current president of the United States (a recurring experience in his sad life), the man decides to do what it takes to take them down and that means allying with this shady political strategist named Ledbedder. What’s interesting about reading the different runs in The Authority and following this morally murky characters, is that you tend to like them but not want them anywhere near you.
What are their politics anyway? Why is their idea of justice so unappealing for the most part? For me, I look at the politics of The Authority the way I do most Gundam franchises: adore the core characters, mildly dislike the politics. (Except you know… I’m pretty sure no one in The Authority feels super bad when they kill a bunch of people in the way of their goals. They’re pretty good at writing off casualties.)
One recurring theme in this standalone is that the members of the group think of themselves as gods in the way that they insert themselves into politics and the justice system. They think of themselves as above everyone but they’re really human on the inside with all the squishy, messy things that come with being human.
That’s supposed to be their downfall for much of the standalone, but I think that it’s actually a huge strength. Aside from the fact that half of the team simply isn’t human (and that a couple of them might actually be powerful enough to be gods at that), they’re still human. You know how Superman is Kryptonian but he’s also so intensely human in his thought processes and behavior? That’s true for most of the members of The Authority.
Just because they can wipe cities off the map at the same time that they wipe their asses (or that they’ve probably done that a couple of times), that doesn’t mean that they’re somehow devoid of humanity. Recognizable morals and motives, sometimes? Sure. But not their humanity.
In Human on the Inside, we deal with attacks on multiple fronts. The American government – with help from the grudge-wielding Ledbedder – is out to get The Authority. Swift is missing in action and subject to horrific conditions. And oh yeah, a home-wrecking jerk (Danny Chan) is about to work a wedge between Midnighter and Apollo in the worst way.
Actually, that’s another thing that makes Human on the Inside a problematic fave for me.
The use of the “evil or predatory bisexual” and “cheating LGBTQ person” tropes in the Midnighter/Apollo/Danny(/Angie/Jack) subplot was super obvious.
Danny Chan comes out of nowhere (literally!!) to save our main characters’ butts as a group of goddesses calling themselves the Erinyes basically destroy them. Immediately, Midnighter butts heads over him being brought into the group to kind of fill the gap left by Jack’s paralysis, Swift’s “death”, and the Doctor going off and doing a TON of drugs.
Everyone is super eager to welcome Danny into the group at least temporarily but Midnighter is the voice of reason here before he storms off and then gets into a super passive aggressive fight with Apollo.
And then Danny comes on to Angie. Says nice things to her (filling in some other gaps because Jack is even crappier about emotions in this book because he’s going through the trauma of being paralyzed and distanced from cities in what feels like a permanent way). Kisses her.
Then, after a badass sparring session filled with a bit of grouching on Midnighter’s part, Dannie comes on to Midnighter and kisses him too. (Without his consent and while pinned down, I might add.)
And then, because no one has any sense in this book, after Midnighter tells Apollo what’s gone on, Apollo punches him through a wall. Midnighter, not Danny. There’s a whole lot to unpack in both Apollo’s characterization as a whole and his reactions and much of it isn’t good and winds up connected to some pretty grody tropes.
Apollo and Midnighter have been through so much together. I mean, have you seen what they went through in Mark Millar’s mediocre run alone? But at the end of it all, they’re ride or die for one another and they’ll do anything to protect their little family.
(Spoiler for later runs of The Authority that will probably wind up covered in this series of blog posts: there’s a multiverse arc where basically Apollo is dead in most of the ones that they go to and it tends to be the catalyst for something HORRIBLE happening to the rest of the team. He’s legit the core of team and quite possibly, the closest thing they have to a heart.)
It makes zero sense at all for Midnighter to tell Apollo that the new guy pinned him down and kissed him only for Apollo to fly off the handle at him. So we have victim blaming, a “bisexual” character being predatory and literally evil, and oh yeah –
There’s a line where Danny literally pulls the cattiest comment in the universe out of his ass while talking to Apollo in front of former head of Stormwatch and general badass, Jackson King.
“You can’t satisfy your man. Don’t get pissed at me.”
Which is um—
Or true. (He really only kissed Midnighter and it’s not like our boy wanted it in the first place.)
But then, Danny is obviously akin to Eris in terms of causing strife so it doesn’t have to be true. It just has to eat away at Apollo’s confidence in their relationship and Midnighter’s feelings that he doesn’t deserve Apollo or the life they’re building together. I get why it’s happening to an extent, but man, this could’ve been done way better because it kind of detracts from the story a bit.
Thankfully, we mostly get done with that because Jackson King has NO time for bullshit.
He basically shuts down all of the complaining and the Authority (sans Jenny Q who is small but apparently not too small to be left on the Carrier on her own) heads off to stop the world from killing itself as hopelessness and ennui become an epidemic.
What’s a little weird and funny to me is that Human on the Inside winds up being about hope.
Just a bit.
It’s largely about hopelessness and humanity, but it’s also about some of the having hope and faith in themselves and one another. Swift spends much of her time onscreen after her “death” being tortured by Ledbedder. At first, we think it’s entirely about revenge and that Swift will die for real at the end like Ledbedder’s daughter (seen in volume 1 of the series in Millar’s half), but then it’s… not. And Swift essentially saves the future.
And Angie? After realizing that Danny was a construct (and having his rude behind diss her one more time), she tears him to shreds and then decides to dive right into the fight with their futuristic villain instead of waiting to give up. And she proves that she’s not a machine and that she’s just as good with her liquid nanotech turned off as she is with it on.
And it’s glorious.
Now it’s not perfect at all.
Ledbedder basically brainwashes Swift into not remembering any of what has happened and then sends her on a mission to help her friends and hug the future grandmother of the person that would be responsible for this mess in the future. It’s never mentioned again in the franchise.
Apollo and Midnighter? Never shown interacting beyond kind of sharing a look in the second to last page of the book. For all we know, this is the catalyst that serves to interfere in their relationship in later books.
Human on the Inside is one of my ultimate problematic faves because I can look at it, tell you six different things that I wish were different about the book (from the small stuff like Apollo’s appearance to the big stuff like the reliance on harmful tropes about LGBTQ characters enacted in this book), and still go back to it because that moment where Apollo is sitting there and watching Midnighter sleep all cuddled up to Jenny Q gives me feels. It’s still infinitely better than Millar’s work on the series and aside from Apollo looking elderly as hell, I still love the art to pieces.
I do want to ask Ridley some questions though. I need to know why he went with the subplots that he did because they’re a little strange and his Apollo characterization borders on the nonsensical. I also want to ask Oliver why his Apollo looks so old and not as attractive as usual. And for both of them, I’d ask them what they would have done if they had the opportunity to work together on more comics for The Authority because it feels like Human on the Inside was the start of something that just wound up being a standalone comic.
So, how do you feel about The Authority: Human on the Inside? Is it one of your problematic faves or just plain problematic?