Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest – The Order #1

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

“1: Henry or The Next Right Thing”

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Barry Kitson (p), Mark Morales (i), Dean White (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Editor’s Note: The first issue of The Order appears in stores this Wednesday, July 18.

Average Rating:

Luke Handley:
Chris Murman:
Kevin Powers:
Nicholas Slayton:
Dave Wallace:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Luke Handley:

I won’t start by making some comment about this title’s… err… title. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of reference to that in the other reviews, so I’ll stick to saying that The Order is finally here and it’s a pretty good start for the new superteam composed of “real” heroes.

Reading this issue, I found myself liking the concept of this unique team more than I expected. These boys, and gals, have apparently been handpicked by Tony Stark (and Pepper Potts?) from amongst a pool of “real world” heroes who want the opportunity to save the world for a year. I’d like to take a quick moment to come back to that “real world” bit. I’ve always found Marvel’s need to call policemen, firemen, etc. in the Marvel Universe “real” heroes, as opposed to the spandex and cape types, slightly odd. So, Spider-Man may save people from flaming buildings, save the world once in a while and teach high school kids in his spare time, but he’s not a “real” hero?

Anyway, though each of the team members isn’t there for purely selfless reasons (who wouldn’t want to be able to fly?), they are all, apparently, people who want to make a difference and who genuinely want to do the right thing. This idea is personified perfectly by Henry Hellrung, Anthem of The Order, former TV actor, having played Tony Stark in what appears to have been an Avengers TV series (which is a bit odd because people haven’t known Stark is Iron Man for that long) and former alcoholic. His background makes it easy for him to have formed close ties to Stark, and his new sober, well-cut image makes him the ideal candidate for team leader. Fraction has said that each issue will focus on a different member of the group, showing what makes them tick and why they’re doing what they are. This issue accomplishes this with Henry whilst at the same time serving as a good introduction to the team as a whole.

The most surprising member of this new look superteam is Pepper Potts, former secretary and brief flame of Tony Stark and wife of the late Happy Hogan. Pepper has taken on an Oracle style role for the new team, linked to her teammates via telepresence enhancements and constantly feeds them info and tactical updates. I find this new role an interesting change for the character. Having suffered the loss of her long-time partner, it might be expected that she’d throw herself into a new and challenging job. However, given that we have yet to see any real reaction to Happy’s death in the pages of Iron Man, I expect her coping with her loss and her obvious feelings for another member of The Order will become the focus of future issues.

Though overall I was pleasantly surprised by this new and interesting approach to superheroics, I do have one or two criticisms about this debut issue. First of all, the way the Order is portrayed here is rather different to that in Civil War. In the pages of that series, each member’s codename was that of an Olympian God. In this issue, we’re told that the team composition is “inspired” by the Greek pantheon but each member has his or her own chosen moniker. Though some members can still be tied quite nicely to their respective deities, I fail to see how Heavy (that’s his codename) is supposed to fill the role of Poseidon. Similarly, Supernaut seems a bit out of place within this concept; I don’t think the ancient Greeks worshipped many gun-totting dreadnoughts. This won’t be a problem per se in the long run and I get the feeling, with the new members introduced this issue, that the analogy will be dropped very quickly, but I am slightly bemused as to why Marvel changed their mind on this.

Also, even though this is only the first issue, the roster has already undergone some major changes by the end of it. I won’t say why or who goes, but the effect this might have is spoilt somewhat by the cover image. When Peter Milligan mercilessly slaughtered most of his new X-Force at the end of their very first issue, it came as a complete surprise whereas this has been spoilt somewhat by solicitations. Also, I find the new members less appealing than those they replace: we get a crippled soldier who’s getting a chance to walk again (slightly unoriginal), a Southern dumb-sounding blonde and a “cool” pink-haired chick who appears to be, completely unpredictably, rather rebellious. Still I like the fact that things have been shaken up so early on and it goes to show how uncertain the future is for these guys.

I haven’t read any of his Legion of Superheroes and the only thing of his I can remember is Avengers/Thunderbolts, but if this is the usual standard of Barry Kitson’s work then I’ve been missing out! His pencils are clear, crisp, tell the story efficiently and he delivers the goods on the big action sequence. He somehow manages to capture the humanity of these enhanced ordinary folk, making them appear more grounded in reality than the majority of superheroes.

Despite a couple of head-scratching points, this was a thoroughly enjoyable first issue that has left me wanting more from Fraction’s Order. I hope the new team members will surprise me, but right now I’m just happy to have a real speedster back in the Marvel Universe!

Chris Murman:

So, with all the ridiculousness surrounding the DCU, I get one more reason to start making mine Marvel. Oh, and Matt Fraction is slowly starting to challenge Ed Brubaker for writing supremacy in the 616. This book is good and might make my short pull list if the second stanza is as good as this one.

You really have to admire a writer with the stones to create edgy characters to only send them packing halfway through the first issue of a brand new series. Some readers aren’t fond of that notion. The idea of creating Green Lanterns only to see them get axed by Sinestro Corps right away, or Initiative members dying in the initial training session for that matter tends to weed out readers right away. Same goes for members of what used to be known as the Champions. Four members decide after their first mission to get, “tore up from the floor up,” to quote two of the fired members, and are handed their walking papers. Nothing gets unintentional comedy points from me like white super heroes invoking hip hop lyrics.

So as a result, four new trainees get genetically enhanced and ushered into the field of battle right away. Who they are fighting is of no consequence to me, because I don’t know who they are. Other members of this panel will probably know right away who they are, but the good thing about this book is I don’t have to. The heroes, or main heroes, are what give this book its notches in the bedpost.

The central leaders of this story are Anthem and Pepper, the field and operations leaders for the Order. Right away, I was interested to see the designations for the team members aren’t the ones I would have tagged them with, which is a good thing. Anthem is the Apollo of the group, when I would have thought Zeus would be the male leader. Pepper is the Hera, which is more fitting but not in the powers sense. I would have thought the female leader to take a more active role, but the relationship between the two is plenty active.

Fraction continues the tradition in Marvel team books to have sexual tension between male and female protagonists. It’s not nauseating as in certain Avengers books, but it is obvious. You can’t tell me that Joey Q. has no idea what is going in this regard, but no answer is a given from that man.

The art is what it is: good. Nothing really blew me away, but the design for the new characters was nice. The costumes were nothing to scratch at, which was a bit of an oddity. It was noted these heroes are being marketed to the public, which probably means movies or action figures. The gear for the Order was more tactical in my opinion, not accentuating any skin or muscles. It’s nitpicky, but with so many things to like about this book, I had to choose something.

One thing this book set a precedent of is interchangeable parts. Will Fraction continue the hiring and firing of new heroes or is this the team we are going to see from here on out? I kind of like the idea of having new heroes from issue to issue. Then again, becoming attached to characters that end up being fired with regularity may lead to poor sales. Regardless, it’s something not seen often in team books.

Overall, a very enjoyable read that has the chance to really grow. Of course, it can drop just as quickly, but Fraction has the tools in place to have a top 20 book here. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

Kevin Powers:

I’ll be the first to admit skepticism at the concept and idea behind the Initiative. But as time went on and I began to involve myself more with the post-Civil War Marvel Universe, I realized that the Initiative is shaping up to become one of the best told storylines in comics today. I am a big fan of Avengers: The Initiative and the training that those super-recruits go through. I am also a fan of the idea behind The Order. Focusing in on a specific super-team in one of the fifty states opens up the possibilities for new characters and character development as well as a number of new and different stories without having to create a multi-verse.

While it may be difficult for a regular comic book reader to add another team book to his pull-list, the creative team of Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson should be more than enough to encourage you to give this book a shot. Matt Fraction’s work on Punisher War Journal and Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 has proven his clout as a comic scribe. Kitson has done extraordinary work for both DC and Marvel over the years and is a talent that I would love to see much more often. If you are going to check out any new team books hitting the shelves lately, The Order should definitely be one of the first for the creative team alone.

One of the things I am really looking forward to about The Order and The Initiative as a whole is the break from New York City. While I love New York City, and I am proud to call it home, it’s always nice when Marvel breaks away from the Big Apple and focuses on other areas of the country. The Order takes place in Los Angeles, which almost immediately opens the floodgates for a plethora of characters and personalities that should keep the character development and interactions fresh and interesting. The team is made up of celebrities, athletes and models, but this issue focuses primarily on the team leader Henry Hellrung, a.k.a. Anthem.

Despite this focus, Fraction avoids the current habit of most team books. Rather than spending an entire story arc about the formation of the team, Matt Fraction delves right into the action as the team has already been assembled and put into action. That’s a rare thing to see these days in comics, but the way Fraction tells the story of this issue is very effective. In the current Punisher War Journal arc, Fraction has a method of non-linear storytelling that both furthers the present time of the story and tells the past of how the story got to the present point. Fraction brings that style of storytelling to The Order, but it’s done in a different way. Rather than tell the back-story of the action involved with the team, Fraction uses the opportunity to tell the story of Anthem and how he was chosen to lead the team.

There’s a lot to like about this issue. The team is introduced during an actual battle with a new super-villain. During this battle, readers are treated to how unknown villains are given their names. It’s a small but interesting story point that should create some nice moments throughout all of The Initiative. Fans of Pepper Potts will be extremely pleased with this issue as Pepper takes an important role in this Hollywood based team. Fraction did a great job with Pepper’s character and really helped raise her stock in terms of importance in the Marvel U.

My favorite aspect of this issue was the character development and back story behind Anthem. He seems to be a mix of Storm and Superman, but it’s his back-story that really makes him interesting. He’s a former actor and close friend of Tony Stark, a relationship that shows the negative side effects of being a method actor and portraying a famous person who is still young and alive. I really hope that the first few issues of this series focus on each member the same way that this issue focuses on Anthem. Keep the character development and back-story moving along while advancing the story as the team evolves in the present time.

Barry Kitson adds to the style of storytelling by making a clear distinction between past and present. His artwork is detailed, clear, and captures a great deal of the action involved in this story. He is one of the greats of the industry and adds to the overall quality of this story.

This is an excellent start to the continuation of the Initiative. While I do fear that this series will have a very high body count, I think that the core team involved will be in it for the long haul. An interesting aspect of this series is that these people are celebrities-turned superheroes and should make for a few ego-clashes. There also appears to be another government agency involved in the Initiative that seems to be the “anti-S.H.I.E.L.D.” This series is off to a fantastic start in terms of creative team and premise. I hope that the future Marvel: Initiative team books live up to this one.

Nicholas Slayton:

Spinning out of Civil War, Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson give us the latest installment of Marvel’s Initiative umbrella line. In California’s division of the 50 State Initiative, The Order is started. They are a group of highly trained heroes competing for a spot on the main team. If one messes up, they are kicked out, and a new member is brought up to the front line.

The premise is great, but sadly the execution falls flat. The book opens up with the Order taking on a fiery bad guy they dub the “Infernal Man.” We meet the team, see their powers, and learn that the Order is based off the Greek Pantheon, in both powers and organization. Then we actually hear the characters talk and see them for who they are behind the powers, and well, it’s not pretty. Our hero is Henry Hellrung, a former actor who starred as Tony Stark in an Iron Man television show. Now, I’m sorry, but the idea of Tony having a show made about him just pushes the boundaries of arrogance and vanity. Also, wasn’t his true identity a secret prior to Civil War? Oh well. Henry, like our real Shell Head, is a former alcoholic. Unlike Tony, he manages to stay sober and is apparently the man who made “sobriety cool again.” Because of all his AA work, he is appointed as the Order’s field leader by Stark, for no reason aside from the fact that he played a hero on television. Sadly he feels more like a showman than a hero. He can’t even remember the names of his teammates and clumsily tries to hook up with Pepper Potts on his time off.

Rounding out the Order is a group of one-dimensional heroes who either lack personality or are party animals who ignore the “moral clauses” they had to sign and get fired quickly after spending the night partying it up. The Order is supposed to be made up of “ordinary heroes we give powers to,” but these guys act more like frat boys and spoiled children. As a character in the book pointed out, the Order feels a bit too much like “American Idol for Superheroes.” What happened to self-dedication to crime fighting, a moral purpose? Where are the real heroes? There’s also something about a secretive government group that hates Tony, but they come across as an over the top “Ooo-rah!” parody.

The saving grace of the book is Barry Kitson’s art. He brought his A-game to the title, and it shows. From heavily detailed crowds to fluid fights, every page is amazing. The character designs for the Order are amazing, even the minor members have great costumes. It’s a shame his art got caught up with a bad story.

The Order is a twist on the standard superhero team, no doubt about it. However, poor characterization and rather weak storytelling drags down some great art and kills the potential in the book. Frankly, I just can’t stay interested in what is basically superhero American Idol.

Dave Wallace:

The Order (originally conceived as a new Champions title) takes Civil War’s “50-State-Initiative” as its jumping-off point, depicting a government-sponsored superhero team on a massive scale, created for the purposes of protecting every province of the USA in the wake of the Superhero Registration Act. Matt Fraction, fresh from his successes with Immortal Iron Fist and Punisher: War Journal at Marvel, and Casanova at Image, is given the keys to the car and manages to turn what could have been another forgettable Civil War spin-off into something altogether better than I expected.

Framed by an interview with Henry Hellrung (a “one-time actor” who used to play Tony Stark on television) the issue explores the notion of celebrity, public relations and media spin as much as it does the concept of superheroics - all subjects that are ripe for examination in the modern political climate. My knowledge of Iron Man isn’t deep enough for me to know whether Hellrung is a pre-existing character or a new creation on Fraction’s part, but if it’s an original idea, it’s a very strong one, as the character mirrors Tony Stark - both in terms of his obvious charisma, and his history of alcoholism and womanising - but gives Fraction more latitude to take the character to places that Marvel might not be happy to take one of their A-list heroes (should he choose to do so in future). Hellrung’s past relationship with Stark also offers a window into the mindset of the SHRA’s figurehead, with extended cameos of Tony and the Black Widow allowing Fraction to outline one of the most convincing arguments yet as to why Iron Man is taking the stance that he is on Superhero Registration, and showing how he can still be viewed as a genuine - if flawed - hero.

A dense, wordy script manages to cope with the introduction of numerous characters and concepts without scrimping on action and spectacle, and considering this issue’s implication that the cast of this book is going to be in constant flux, it’s important to have confidence in the book’s writer to be able to cope with these many competing elements from the off. As with all of Fraction’s work, there’s also a lighter side to the book, from the inherent fun that can be had in treating superhero work as a regular day job, to Ares’ hilarious reaction to the Order’s use of his family titles as codenames, to the romantic comedy of Hellrung and the Black Widow (which looks like it could turn into a significant subplot).

The book’s artwork by Barry Kitson is also surprisingly good. This is the first real exposure I’ve had to Kitson’s work, and I’m already impressed: the anatomy is solid, the composition makes the pages interesting and attention-grabbing, and the body language and facial expressions - particularly during the bookend interview sequences - shows a solid awareness of how to convey unspoken emotional content. The artist’s superhero character models are pretty standard and (probably intentionally) generic, with the now-familiar modern ribbed leather approach - which always reminds me of Bryan Hitch’s Authority and Ultimates designs - fairly commonplace throughout the book. There’s also a hint of tongue-in-cheek humour to be found in Kitson’s adherence to certain superhero clichés, complementing the wry tone of Fraction’s writing, as he examines old-school superheroics through a more cynical, modern filter. Dean White’s colouring really enhances the visuals, making the action pop but also managing to pull things back to a more sombre and reflective mode when the script demands it.

I really didn’t expect to enjoy this issue as much as I did. The amount of new material that Marvel has put out in the six months since Civil War ended is intimidating, and even if there’s a sense that the publisher should be congratulated for pushing so many new concepts and creative teams rather than relying on the same old standards month-in and month-out, there’s also a real risk of reader exhaustion and overkill. However, this first issue of The Order has managed to convince me of two things: firstly, that the post-Civil War landscape of the Marvel Universe can be made as interesting and relevant as the concept always had the potential to be; and secondly, that the 50-State-Initiative can be more than just a throwaway “big idea,” developing beyond the vague roots of Mark Millar’s original conception to show the potential to support a completely new title. Kitson’s art makes the package look great, and Fraction’s clever insights into the media-driven, celebrity-ridden world in which we live gives this book an edge over the similar but more generic post-Civil War titles. Why wasn’t Avengers: The Initiative more like this?

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