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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 07/18/07
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The Order #1
writer: Matt Fraction
artists: Barry Kitson and Mark Morales

To get into The Order, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit. Okay, get past the superheroes thing. Then find out that suddenly for years the Avengers have licensed a television network to create a fictionalized Avengers series, led by a roguish actor (think Bruce Campbell) named Henry Hellrung as Tony Stark. So close were Hellrung and Stark that one lost his job because of all the excessive partying they did.

Guess which one?

Yet Hellrung devoted his life to helping others get clean and sober. In the aftermath of the Civil War, however, he got the call from Stark to lead a new team of heroes on the West Coast. New York gets established heroes; California gets faded celebrities looking for a second chance.

That in itself makes a good starting point for The Order, but writer Matt Fraction takes it further. As part of "The Initiative," all members of the Order are volunteers that have had their powers grafted on, for which they'll do one year of service before the abilities fade. Keeping with the faith that Tony Stark has allegedly created with the public, they've also got to follow a morals clause, which comes into play almost immediately.

It seems to be borrowing a page from Marvel's cult classic Strikeforce: Morituri, making it a book more about an organization than the people in it. Every member of the Order fills a role based on the Greek Pantheon, which for some reason requires the government to pay Ares royalties. (Thankfully, Fraction can't help but inject cynical touches of reality into his fantasy.) Lest you think this is all unfamiliar faces, the role of Hera gets filled by Pepper Potts.

And that's one of the problems with The Order. Not only is it filled with characters we don't know, which in itself shouldn't be a problem, it makes it clear that we shouldn't get too close to any of the characters we meet. The ones we know are either supporting characters from other books like Potts (and possibly Hellrung - I don't know enough about Iron Man continuity to know if he has appeared before), or the guy that Marvel has made into an out and out ass - Tony Stark.

If The Order were a book coming out of any independent company, I'd hail it as an interesting commentary on superhero tropes, like The New Statesmen, The Authority or even Watchmen. Not that it's Watchmen. But it could be The Authority. Those books all took place in self-contained universes - this one comments on superheroes while being firmly set in a superhero universe we already know.

That's been a problem for Marvel. Inexplicably bereft of the ability to tell straightforward superhero stories, everything they're doing now is post-modern, reflexively making a statement about what superhero stories have become. Marvel Pop Art will eat itself, because The Order looks to be heading the same direction as Nextwave, and it should be followed by Thunderbolts and The Initiative. They're potentially decent graphic novels about concepts, not about characters.

Flip-side: Barry Kitson's art is some of the best of an already pretty good career. Morales' inks complement him well, and this is one lush book. Heck, it's a good read; it's just annoying me in the larger scheme of things.

Also on the Stands:

All-Flash #1: This is my actual spotlight book of the week. Of everything I read ahead of time, this is the one that pleased me the most.

Annihilation: Conquest: Quasar #1: Here's another thing going on with Marvel - all of its books divided up into subsets like this. Where it fits in the larger scheme of the crossover is unclear, and no matter how much happens here, the question in the back of your mind has to be: when is Captain Marvel's daughter going to learn he's back from the dead?

Avengers: The Initiative #4: Technically, this is World War Hulk: Avengers: The Initiative, but I'm growing very tired of the colons. Dan Slott does a fine job keeping his plotline rolling even though this fledgling book is already getting derailed into a company-wide crossover. His cast, too, remains the same, and we've got some time to learn these characters and if not care, at least understand their plights.

Captain America #28: …and the evil daughter of the Red Skull, Jailbait, continues her reign of terror in the absence of Captain America. Okay, if her code name isn't Jailbait, it really should be. Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting continue telling a story so good, you'll forget that they actually killed off the title character three issues back.

Ghost Rider #13: Holy Blue Blazes, this book has grown on me. Johnny Blaze makes an abortive attempt to reassert himself as a superhero and take on the Hulk. For reasons that become devastatingly and extremely logically clear, it can't work. Though completely unnecessary in the greater scheme of World War Hulk, it makes a worthy detour from Ghost Rider's current path.

New X-Men #40: Sorry, Skottie Young, but your art is so chaotic that it's hard to focus on the perils Kyle and Yost have put these young mutants into. I think I recognize Magik. Then I have to read this "Endangered Species" plotline that we know will go nowhere. Either the Scarlet Witch will have a change of heart, or she won't.

The Programme #1: Wildstorm launches another "real world" look at the uberman mythos. Jumping back and forth in time, Peter Milligan tells the story of the last days of World War II, a Nazi experiment, and the modern-day super-soldiers it may have spawned. And yet, it isn't exactly what it seems to be, which means that it's worth picking this up and looking forward to the second issue.

Wolverine: Origins Annual #1: Kaare Andrews has an interesting style that dips into Howard Chaykin territory with this issue. That doesn't save Daniel Way's story from being just confusing. This one's for hardcore Wolverine fans only, because I'm utterly utterly flummoxed by it.

World War Hulk Frontline #2: Really, Marvel should just keep this an ongoing title. Here's where the commentary on superheroes works, because it's about ordinary joes trying to make sense of what's going on out there. Just like us, only with actual consequences more dire than "damn, that's another twelve bucks I could have spent on food this week."

World War Hulk X-Men #2: Hey, it's just an excuse for fight scene after fight scene. In two issues, the plot boils down to Hulk asking Xavier which way he'd have voted if he'd been with the Illuminati when they sent Hulk into space, and Xavier answering. That's two sentences. But two sentences don't sell trade paperbacks later, do they?

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw


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