Friday, February 29, 2008

The Order: The Next Right Thing

The Order had quite a lot stacked against it for me, right from the start. It was a part of the whole Civil War aftermath, an event I felt was so dependent on human cruelty and stupidity that I just began to ignore most things associated with it, lest I catch the stupidity like a virus. The Order was on the list of things I ignored. It didn't help, of course, that the only thing I had ever read by Order writer Matt Fraction was "The Immortal Iron Fist". IIF is an amazing book, mind you, but I attributed most of the amazing to Ed Brubaker, a longtime favorite writer of mine, and just assumed that Fraction was...there. Doing things. In the background.

The Order cements him as a writer to watch out for, however. On the recommendation of scans_daily, whose excellent recommendation strength led me to Annihilation, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, and Blue Beetle, I decided to pick up "The Order: The Next Right Thing", a collection of the first five issues of the series. And it was worth it, especially for the cheap asking price.

The Order deals with a team of superheroes in California. They are given powers by a process Tony Stark has invented. The powers last for one year. If they survive the year without dying or getting fired, they are forced into retirement, losing their powers forever. In the very first issue, a number of team members get fired, showing that Fraction isn't afraid to keep the line-up shifting, but despite the suggested impermanence of the characters, the book goes to great lengths to make you care about them.

Each issue is told in the style of TV hit "Lost", in that there is an overarching plot to the series, and an ensemble plot each issue, but each issue focuses on helping you 'get to know' one of the characters by opening and closing with the interview that character went through to get the job with The Order.

On top of the interesting storytelling decisions, there's also art by Barry Kitson, one of the better artists working in the medium today. His art is crisp and clean, the characters are differentiated by more than just the costumes they wear*, and most importantly, they look like people. They do not have triple the muscles of any normal human. The women are actually attractive, with some variance of body type, rather than two large sacks of fat perched atop a broken spine.

So, good art and good writing, with interesting new characters. Finally, the book avoids the pratfalls I was expecting from a CW spin-off: the heroes are genuinely good people. They aren't perfect; no one is. But they aren't megalomaniacal assholes who run roughshod over the wimpy human populace, and that's become too much the view of superheroes some books have taken on. The Order is culturally relevant in some ways, but it's also just a damn fun adventure.

Check it out.

*For a book in which this is a particular problem, read some recent issues of Teen Titans. Supergirl and Wondergirl are both angry, angsty, stick-thin blondes. You literally cannot tell them apart aside from the earrings Wonder Girl has.

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