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Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority. Written by Mark Millar. Penciled by John McCrea. Inked by James Hodgkins. New York: Wildstorm/DC, 2001. 1v. (unpaged). $14.95. ISBN 1-56389-769-5.

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Teens, adults; superhero violence, gore, background naughtiness

NOTE: This title collects issues #1-5 of the monthly comic title of the same name.

This is a series of short stories illustrating the life of one of modern comics' most prickly superheroines: electrical, British Jenny Sparks, "the spirit of the twentieth century." Born on January 1, 1900, she lived exactly 100 years, with her final seconds being spent on destroying a massive alien threat to the Earth. During her life, she served as a catalyst for all kinds of important historical figures, did the "pulp fiction" thing, traveled across dimensions, did the superhero thing, became a drunk for a decade, joined Stormwatch for a while, and finally pulled herself together to form the Authority, a band of superhero anarchists intent on doing good. It was with the latter that she killed the alien and then died, only to be reborn as Jenny Quantum in Singapore--but that's a different book for a later review.

This book contains stories about several Jenny Sparks "solo adventures" and how she collected the various members of the Authority. All are tied together via her diary, kept for decades, and the mysterious out-of-time appearances of the Engineer, who ultimately goes back to 1919 to save Jenny's life because the diary tells her to. The first story covers the origin of the Doctor, the immensely powerful ex-junkie who wants nothing to do with his new status as Earth's main shaman. Subsequent stories deal with how Jenny recruits Apollo and the Midnighter, rescuing them from an ambush set up by Henry Bendix of Stormwatch; the full origin of Jack Hawksmoor, later known to us as the King of Cities, as he spends much of his childhood being operated on by powers unknown, and what he ends up doing with his peculiar abilities; Jenny Sparks' attempt to rescue the Tibetian Egg from the Nazis, and her involvement with Hitler; and the episode in 1919, when she marries a prince from another universe who subsequently betrays her and leaves her for dead, requiring the presence of the Engineer (whose origin is detailed in the story).

While reading the spectacular Planetary, I was intrigued by Elijah Snow's comments about Jenny Sparks, and I was curious to see what she was all about. She's easily the best character I've seen in superhero comics in quite some time. (She was created by Warren Ellis--that should say something right there.) Ascerbic, smart, independent, sarcastic--she's got more personality than a roomful of X-Men. More power, too. (The Authority are an exceptionally powerful bunch of superheroes.) Most of the others members, while not as vividly portrayed as their leader, also come off as interesting individuals, though there isn't space to do any of them real justice. Anyway, Millar does a good job of maintaining Jenny's personality.

I'll have things to say about several of the mainline Authority titles in a future review of those books. This one is especially interesting for the origin stories of Jack Hawksmoor and the Doctor, as well as the tantalizing glimpses into Jenny's multifaceted past. (I would love to see more of her early-century "pulp fiction" adventures, especially the cross-dimensional ones.) It does help, of course, to know at least something about the Wildstorm universe and the various titles within it to understand what's going on.

The art is clean and easy to follow for superhero art; the colors are somewhat lighter than usual. There's some gore, mostly entailed when Jenny lets loose on ordinary people, but also supplied by the Midnighter. Still, compared to most titles (including regular Authority ones), the amount of gore is surprisingly low.

Recommended for fans of the Wildstorm universe and superhero collections in general. There's some adult-level stuff mentioned and depicted--the Doctor renting himself a lesbian porno tape, Jenny in her underwear lying in bed with someone, a bit of relatively tame language (e.g., "bastard"), boozing--so this one isn't too appropriate for kids. (They'd probably enjoy the standard titles more anyway, since there's more fighting.)


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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