Writing 'The Authority,' or Getting the Comic-Book $#!t$S

Here's the true story of why two dudes were hell-bent on getting the plumbest comic book writing gig in the Wildstorm Universe — and how that gig almost drove us crazy. Also, Warren Ellis is the best kind of insane.

Listen. Here's the problem with Warren Ellis: He's batcrack crazy. A complete and utter loon, driven to flights of insanity buoyed by anger and scotch. Now, all of that would be fine if one could shuffle him into the padded corner along with all the other screw-loose drunks, but Ellis also happens to be a towering writer of fiction — one who can blend big action, mad science, genuine character, real emotion, thorough research, and twisted humor.

Writing 'The Authority,' or Getting the Comic-Book $#!t$

He conjured The Authority in '99 from the ashes of Stormwatch, a book co-created by Jim Lee back in 1993, when Wildstorm was still an imprint of Image, and not the DC fiefdom it is today. The Authority were all balls and swagger, a band of misfit demigods who tried to make the world a better place by hitting things very hard — and that's what people loved about it. It was a refreshing look at superheroic morality — our laws are the only laws because, in the end, might does make right...and you're lucky we like you — with lots of explodo to make it go down easy. As Image cofounder Rob Liefeld recently put it on Twitter: "Without The Authority, there is no Ultimates, without Ultimates there's no New Avengers."

Part of what made The Authority so fantastic was the ease of entry into that world. The heroes were all meant to evoke other, more well-known figures — Apollo/Superman, Swift/Hawkgirl, Midnighter/Batman, Jack Hawksmoor/Daredevil — so you could jump right in. But in the decade or so since the The Authority debuted, they've accrued as much continuity as any other book — romances, enemies, apocalypses, alien visitations — and some of the EZ-readerness of the book vanished. The perils of being successful.

So when my cowriter, Adam Freeman, and I got the call from Wildstorm brass offering us the gig, it's fair to say that I, at least, got a case of the mud-britches. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants — and Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and Lester Dent have awfully broad shoulders — but taking on the characters Warren created was the closest I've yet come to seeing who's actually at the base of this particular shoulder-pyramid.

Writing 'The Authority,' or Getting the Comic-Book $#!t$

Funny Warren Ellis anecdote #1: I first met Warren in 2004, after some email correspondence, on the set of the Global Frequency pilot. He was lording over the set like a visiting regent — by which I mean to say he was sitting in a canvas chair watching the standard hurry-up-and-wait of TV production. I asked him what he was currently working on, and told me about his first novel (which came out in 2007, titled Crooked Little Vein) with two words: "Godzilla Bukkake." And, if you've read Vein, you'll know that's as apt a descriptor as any.

Funny Warren Ellis anecdote #2: When we got the Authority gig, I emailed Unca Warren and, I guess, asked for his blessing, given that we'd be doing dirty, dirty things to the characters he created. He wrote back, "Congratulations, you poor, doomed bastard."

So we put our heads together and tried to summon all the things we love about comics in general and The Authority in particular. Impossible situations, things exploding, difficult choices, wanton gunfire, blatant heroism, nascent romances, and punching. Lots of punching.

Our first issue, The Authority #18, is on stands tomorrow. Only time will tell if "congratulations" are in order. Or if the "doomed bastard" part is more apt.