Friday, March 21, 2008

The Order: The Next Right Thing

Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson & Khari Evans
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Despite my affection for Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, I think that The Order is the best superhero comic out there right now (at least when comparing current storyarcs). That being said, it's unfortunate that sales didn't warrant its continuation past issue twelve. But at least we are being treated to some stellar stories until it reaches its finale. The Next Right Thing collects the first five issues of the series.
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The Order is the California-based superhero team in Tony Stark's Fifty-State Initiative. The team consists of actors and pop idols who have been artificially induced with superhuman abilities, abilities that would carry them through a single year of service. And true to Hollywood, the team has its share of scandals, including half of the team's being fired after a violation of contract (with another half consequently joining its roster), and a sex tape surfacing, prompting their P.R. manager to spin it into a different story completely.
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I really like the layout of the issues, how each one begins focusing on one member of the team as they're being interviewed to be a part of The Order, shedding some light on why they were selected for the team and digging a little deeper into what makes them tick. It's a very character-driven series (the sort of story I'm partial to), but boasts plenty of action in the form of Cold War supervillains and zobos (zombie hobos). Everyone has their personal issues and it makes for some really compelling storytelling, the type that immediately makes you a fan of the characters involved.
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In the end, I can't help but feel that this is kind of a mixture of two other superhero books that I really enjoyed: The Luna Brothers' Ultra: Seven Days and Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's X-Statix/X-Force. The book is very conscious of superstar-obsessed society in a way that both of those books took into consideration really creatively. In Ultra: Seven Days, the story touches on scandal in a character-driven book, and probably feels the closest to The Order out of the two, touching on many similar ideas. And X-Statix/X-Force looks closely at the superhero in the role of celebrity: how they fall in and out of favor, have to be conscious of the public eye at all times, their expendability in their roles, etc. It's all pretty interesting stuff when mixing these superhero/celebrity roles together.
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Barry Kitson's pencils are pretty amazing throughout the book, and while I wasn't as impressed with Khari Evans' guest art on issue five, it was still pretty decent. And even though the designs for the characters are really simple overall, I really like them, even in the case of Supernaut (I usually don't like those big bulky robot types, but I think he looks pretty amazing).
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The first collection of The Order did pretty well sales-wise, and I'm a little confused as to why Marvel didn't wait for sales of the collection to come in before cancelling the series. Word-of-mouth on the book has been pretty solid all around, and it seems to me that plenty of people out there are more inclined to pick up a trade paperback than hunting for back issues these days. Or, like me in this case, wait to hear buzz on a book before giving the series a chance at all, then nabbing a copy of the collection. But my whining isn't going to help this book continue. I can only hope to see these characters elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, hopefully at the hands of the incredible Matt Fraction (Casanova, The Immortal Iron Fist), and continue to seek out works from both creators that may prove as noteworthy.

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