Posted by Don MacPherson on July 22nd, 2007
The Order #1
“1: Henry” or “The Next Right Thing”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Pencils: Barry Kitson
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Artmonkeys Studios
Cover artists: Barry Kitson/Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines
Editor: Warren Simons
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
The Order is the latest in what sometimes seems like a long, unending line of “Initiative” titles from Marvel spinning out of the events of its Civil War crossover event, but it stands out as rather unique as its older brothers and sisters. The reason: it really doesn’t read much like a Marvel Universe comic. Its links to Marvel continuity are tangential. Instead, the book reads like a super-hero title designed to stand on its own or fit into a less developed, newer super-hero universe such as the world of Wildstorm. In any case, the completely new cast of characters, Matt Fraction’s writing and Barry Kitson’s art are more than enough reason to get any fan of solid comics storytelling to take a look. Given the completely new characters introduced here, it’s not surprising that Fraction’s story is accessible; what little one needs to know of Marvel continuity to appreciate the story is spelled out clearly in the script. Visually, the varied designs combined with an effort to give the Order members a uniform look grab the eye. Ultimately, though entertaining, The Order is actually hampered more than helped by its home in the Marvel Universe in terms of storytelling, though the Marvel Comics banner no doubt ensures this take on super-heroes reaches a wider audience than it would have otherwise.
As part of the 50-State Initiative to establish Avengers-like teams in every U.S. state, S.H.I.E.L.D. Tony (Iron Man) Stark unveils the Order, the California team based in Los Angeles. Led by Anthem, a reformed alcoholic actor who once portrayed Tony Stark on TV, the Order is unlike other Initiative teams. Its command and combat structure is patterned after the Olympian gods, but the team’s most distinguishing characteristic is the fact that it’s not made up of people with pre-existing powers. Instead, the members of the Order are recruited and undergo technological processes to grant them powers. Furthermore, the California’s operation has zero tolerance for mistakes, even outside the field of battle; replacement recruits are waiting in the wings, ready to be “called up” to the main lineup at a moment’s notice.
Kitson’s realistic tone and attractive characters are an excellent fit for this L.A.-based team. I like how he conveys that Anthem is a lot older than the rest of the members of the team, and the character designs — and there are a lot of them — are striking while boasting a more realistic look. Kitson has also created an Order theme for the team’s uniforms but employs it while also making room for variety in the costumes (though the outfit for speedster Calamity is far too reminiscent of Sean McKeever and Mike Norton’s Gravity character). Iron Man supporting character Pepper Potts is cast in an Oracle-like, remote-techie role for this book, and while I’m not sure what I think of that concept yet, I do like the look Kitson has developed for her when she’s in that mode.
The most striking visual element in the book, though, is the coloring courtesy of Dean White. The opening scene features the heroes taking on a new fire-based threat (fitting for southern California), and White uses some brilliant orange, yellow and red tones to bring the flames and heat to life. He bathes the characters in an intense glow, further reinforcing the blistering heat of the scene. Otherwise, the colors are muted and dark in tone, an approach that is in keeping with the slightly more mature and refined tone of the script and plot.
This title was originally supposed to be called The Champions, a reference to the Champions of Los Angeles, a motley lineup of Marvel super-heroes in the 1970s. That team name is firmly trademarked by a super-hero role-playing game company, though, forcing Marvel to turn to another name. Apparently, Marvel was determine it wouldn’t let another trademark lapse, as this new title boasts the same name as a Jo Duffy/Kurt Busiek book from 2002 featuring the original Defenders lineup as the instigators of a totalitarian regime.
The cold, cutthroat approach to super-heroes here reminds me of the sort of thing one would find in less mainstream super-hero fare, such as titles we’ve seen in the past from Image Comics and Wildstorm Productions; I’m specifically reminded of certain eras of StormWatch. I like the harsher take, with the heroes deemed as disposable and especially when Fraction delves into the strict morals clauses to which these government-sponsored heroes are subject. It’s a further hint of the Big Brother-esque concepts upon which Marvel’s super-hero registration uber-plotline touches. Anthem’s an interesting character, confident yet fragile, heroic yet self-involved.
One problem with the book is that despite its connection to Civil War and the “Initiative” brand, it ignores some basic tenets of Marvel continuity at the moment. Whereas elsewhere we see existing superhumans being recruited or trained for various Avengers teams, the Order is made up of designer heroes. The characters’ powers are given to them. If this book weren’t attached to the Marvel Universe, there wouldn’t be a problem, but in the Marvel context, it makes no sense. If the government had the ability to create its own superhumans as readily as it does in this story, there would be no need to recruit and train those who already have powers. Instead, the goal would be to shut down existing heroes through legal means or force and then replace them. With any luck, the Order will exist in its own corner of the Marvel Universe (as Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja’s The Immortal Iron Fist is), untouched by events in other titles. 7/10