Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Order Vol. 1: The Next Right Thing

The Order Vol. 1: The Next Right Thing
By Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson
Marvel Comics, 2008

Garrett Martin: There have been a lot of comics that deal with the celebrity aspect of being a superhero, but The Order is the only one I can think of that's about celebrities actually turning into superheroes (well, except for KISS, and Don Rickles, and like the WWF Superstars, or something). The Order is a team of "real life" "heroes" (a soldier, a stand-out athlete, a model who opens orphanages around the world, etc.) artificially given superpowers by Tony "Iron Man" Stark in order to better serve their community; after a year all powers are deactivated and a new group of heroes will replace the old. Matt Fraction does a good job making obvious references to various real-life celebrities (and celebrity archetypes) without patterning the characters too closely on real people. Still, I don't quite get how the Britney Spears / Paris Hilton analogue was any form of hero, outside of being marketed as a symbol of some vague form of "girl power". But what doyou think the superhero aspect lends to this sort of social / celebrity commentary, if anything?

Hillary Brown: My initial thoughts are that I'm pretty sorry it got canceled. I think the slow build-up with each issue serving as an introduction to a character (and not in the usual "origin" sort of way, as we know a little bit about how they got their powers, and it was all through the same process). We get to infer a good bit about why they ended up with the powers they did (e.g., woman who wants badly to have children but can't gets the power to create golems from the earth in a weirdly literal interpretation of the term "earth mother") as well as contemplate exactly the sort of stuff you're talking about. That is: why these people and not others? Clearly that's what Fraction is interested in, as four of the people you originally think you'll be going along for the ride with get fired very early on. Not to spoil the Psycho-esque surprise or anything...

I think one of the major concerns is not so much how heroic they've already been, although some have, but more what potential do they have. This is especially true in the Becky Ryan/Britney Spears case, where she's more of a hero in the sense that she's already famous and people look up to her, even though she hasn't done anything "heroic"per se yet. And it's not completely clear that she or any of them well. It's all Iron Man's little social experiment, and the possibility of real failure makes it more interesting than the usual gang of superheroes stories.

That said, the narrative arc definitely still seems to be finding its way, which is all the more shame that it won't continue. It's a bit scattershot in issues 1 through 5, which make up this first volume, and even the second issue seems to reintroduce a lot of exposition, incase you didn't pick up the first book or something. Who are the bad guys? Are we going to have that much of a continuous story? It does, however, do a very good job of mentioning the "Civil War" stuff briefly and clearly. I'm not familiar with any of that, and I expected that I might be a bit lost, but it doesn't seem to play a large role.

GM: Unfortunately the cancellation totally screwed up the book's pacing, as the latest (monthly) issue packs two or three issues' worth of story into twenty-two pages. There is an overarching villain, and you do see him in this first trade paperback, but after buildingslowly in the first few issues everything is revealed so suddenly that you can tell Fraction had to cut some corners in order to get to his big climax. I don't want to spoil anything, but the bad guys do thematically mirror the Order, only if they were run by McCarthy (orSean Hannity) instead of Tony Stark.

The "job interview" sequences do work great as character introductions, and Fraction has kept that up throughout the series thus far. It's a nifty device, having the characters basically address the reader directly in a way that still makes sense and fits naturally within the narrative. It's breaking the fourth wall without actually breaking anything. It also allows Fraction to dig into who they are as people, not just as celebrities or superheroes, without resorting to the sort of soap opera psychobabble that lately defines"realistic" character development in superhero comics. And by establishing the Order as people first and heroes second (or even third), Fraction's able to slightly subvert your typical superhero comic conception of heroism. The only times the Order really succeed,both personally and as a superhero group, come when they stop to think and talk abouttheir problems, and not from blind kicking and 'sploding.

And yeah, although The Order springs directly from Civil War, it could easily exist without those crossovers. There's no way Marvel ever would've released it without that launching pad, though. Even with its connection to one of the best-selling comics of the decade, The Order didn't sell at all. New concepts and characters almost always tank in comics, and Fraction indulges in a moment of meta-commentary when he has Tony Stark's PR lady pretty much say exactly that in The Order. Fraction will be writing a new on-going Iron Man title that starts in May, and hopefully he'll be using some of his characters from this book. If he doesn't kill them all in the last issue, whichhappens far too often with unpopular comics.

HB: So should we talk about the art briefly? It's always surprising to me how much of a difference I see between a trade printed on coated paper and a trade printed on uncoated paper. The Order, of course, is printed on coated, which lends it a slicker look, and there are some panels that are clearly digitally created, with blurring of the background that kind of gets on my nerves. I appreciate the creativity of different ways of conveying text (thoughts, settings, communication over various headsets), but sometimes it's a little much and the panels can get kind of crowded. I guess I'd come down as seeing BarryKitson as more workmanlike than anything else. I'm never awed at the beauty of particular pages, but it mostly doesn't annoy me, which, sometimes, is all one can ask for.

GM: I've always liked Kitson's art, but I'd never buy a comic just because he drew it. You can always tell what's happening in a Kitson comic, as his figures, action, and storytelling are all clear and direct, but it's never the most stylistic artwork out there. He'smore than serviceable, but not in any way exceptional. Unfortunately being perfectly acceptable means he's near the upper echelon of current superhero artists, I think. In fact he's one of my favorite artists that can be accurately labeled as working in the "house" style of either DC or Marvel, meaning he creates exactly what you expect from a superhero comic, without transcending those expectations in any way. He lacks the style and design sense of a Darwyn Cooke or JH Williams III, but is clearly more competent than the guy drawing vaguely X-related product #8, or whatever. And since The Order isstill a superhero comic, and perfectly content with being a superhero comic, and not really trying to deconstruct the genre like Watchmen or a Grant Morrison comic, Kitson's kind of a perfect fit.


Jerkwater Johnson said...

I never tried the Order, but I love Casanova. Wish Fraction would spend more time doing creator-owned shit as opposed to being a Marvel mercenary. Guess he's gotta earn a living or some such bullshit.

hillary said...

Casanova's definitely on my list, although all I've seen is the covers. Basically, my impression of Fraction so far is that he's a snappy writer, impatient with the same old same old, and engaged with pop culture in a good way. Maybe that latter aspect is what leads him to work for Marvel the way he does. Or, you know, the check, as pointed out.

garrett said...

Casanova is pretty fantastic, but it probably wouldn't exist if Fraction wasn't also writing for Marvel. And since most of his Marvel work is almost as good as Casanova, that's completely okay with me. Y'all should both check out Iron Fist, if you've got the time and/or money.

Jerkwater Johnson said...

Well Casanova came out before all the Marvel stuff. He got the Marvel gigs as a result of the Casanova buzz. Kinda similar to Jason Aaron writing the Other Side and then six months later he's on Wolverine and Ghost Rider and whatnot.

Jerkwater Johnson said...

But if you're saying he can afford to do Casanova because he's making a living off of the Marvel stuff, then yeah I agree.

garrett said...

Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying. The Marvel deal puts food on the table and a Blue Cross card in his wallet.

New Casanova out tomorrow, by the way.