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Jenny Sparks (The Secret History Of The Authority) #1-5
posted November 8, 2010

imageCreators: Mark Millar, John McCrea
Publishing Information: Comic Books, Wildstorm, 32 pages, 2000, $2.50 apiece
ordering Numbers:

This was a short mini-series that ran ten years ago featuring characters and situations from Wildstorm's smash hit The Authority series, comics I recently purchased from Alan David Doane because I don't get to read a lot of series like this one. If nothing else, Jenny Sparks was a fine reminder why. This was an absolutely joyless read on almost every level, a thoroughly unpleasant experience that reminded me of how everything cool becomes ridiculous and cliched far before the fans lapping it up might realize it. Jenny Sparks is the Spirit of the 20th Century (with appropriate electricity powers), and the comic deals with those adventures in the 20th Century that line up with some sort of encounter with an Authority team member (or two). At the time this comic was published, it could draft behind the significant fan interest in those characters; at today's remove, the parade of guest-star slots seems forced in the worst possible way, like a TV show asked to shoehorn in a series of special guest stars as the level of groaning from the writers' room swells.

The funny thing is, I generally like these creators. There are flashes that let me know it's actually them: Mark Millar sprinkles a few decent jokes throughout, while in issue #3 John McCrea seems to have a ball designing and then drawing what might be the most disposable army of second-rate shithead superheroes ever to grace the comics pages. These flashes of personality prove disappointingly rare, and most of what you get is genre- and expectation-tweaking of the kind that felt stale in 1989. If you're still carrying the cross of comics not being mature because they can't be foul-mouthed and sex-obsessed -- and may God help you -- you might feel great comfort having the individual issues of this book in your hands. Spoiler alert: these people fancy their shags, and have little patience for gits.

What Jenny Sparks reminds me of most of all is that wave of post-Tarantino movies that laid claim to the same self-aware dialogue, hipster pedigree and Hong Kong-ready levels of violence as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, movies for a fan base that could convince itself it was getting some more of that good stuff until the 32nd or so such movie finally caused even that crowd to blanch in the middle of, say, yet another monologue about what spy agency Oscar Goldman belonged to as a Strawberry Alarm Clock tune plays on a nearby boom box. Comics like Jenny Sparks depend on the creative energy of other, better comics, transforming their craft particulars into a series of signals to the audience that it's cool just like the other comics were. Taken as a story on its own, it's cardboard and meal masquerading as food. In fact, several moments come close to a parody of that era's mature, historically-tinged comics: Ernest Hemingway and Albert Einstein guest star; the lead claims to have bedded Stalin, Churchill and FDR; in maybe the saddest scene in the whole series, I kid you not, the Spirit Of The 20th Century convinces a young Adolph Hitler to enter into politics, the kind of thing it's hard to imagine a high school senior putting down on paper to win a local play-writing contest. I guess there's a chance this kind of thing was there for laughs of the laughing-at kind and not just of the outrageous variety: I doubt it, but even so those moments are too broad and toothless to play as effective satire. By issue #5, Jenny Sparks has been exposed as hackneyed and derivative and achingly dull, almost the exact opposite of the provocative cool it pretends to be. One hopes the Spirit of Early 21st Century Mainstream Comics it's supposed to represent is as dead as the company that published it.