Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Law and Order

If you could be a super-hero for one year, would you?

Marvel's Civil War storyline has been accused of a lot of things. The continuity was confusing, characters appeared in seven different places at the same time, Sally Floyd was introduced, and to of course hear Steve tell it, every Marvel character is now complicit with the murder of Steve "Captain America" Rogers and any issue in which a certain character doesn't go over to Tony Stark's Helecarrier and punch him in the head is a travesty for the company. Not my words, mind you, but I say simply that Marvel seemed to drop the ball on what should have been a universe-changing event. Only two major changes have taken place: Almost all the heroes in the US are under the watchful eye of S.H.I.E.L.D. and only a few major players remain at large, BUT that will probably change before the end of next year; Also, Captain America was killed, BUT we'll see how long that lasts. Marvel's flip-flopped before, and there's really not any reason to think these major changes are actually that for the long run.

However, often overlooked are the many successes that came about after the dust settled. Avengers: The Initiative is starting off as a great series, the New Warriors story is extremely good, Mighty Avengers and New Avengers have both been solid titles, Ms. Marvel has been fantastic since the Civil War, and Immortal Iron Fist has been just wonderful. But no post-Civil War title has been more original and as interesting as The Order.

Of the 50-States Initiative that Tony Stark (Steve's nemesis) had started, California's program was the most unique. Instead of using established heroes, drug up from the bottomless annals of the Marvel Universe, they decide to draft volunteers. Civilian volunteers. People who want to be more than they are, do more than they can. And so these people are trained to be the best they can be, are given nanite injections that artificially create superpowers that last one year, and are tasked with protecting the state of California from anything that would threaten it.

And what a litany of threats California has. When the Order isn't defending the San Gabriel mountains from the flames of the Infernal Man, preventing a sleeper Russian nuclear team from accidentally blowing up the California seaboard, or protecting the shoppers on Rodeo Drive from a swarm of Zobos (think Zombie-Hobo hybrid), they're facing internal disputes (like the ones between speedster James "Calamity" Wa and psychokinetic Mulholland Black), political pressure (the California Historical Society wants them kicked out of the building they own because it's a historical landmark) and the ever-mysterious "M.A.N. from S.H.A.D.O.W." who would seem to like nothing more than to see the Order fail.

We enter issue 4 of this series written by Matt Fraction (Punisher War Journal, Immortal Iron Fist) and drawn by Barry Kitson (Legion of Super Heroes) with the the re-emergence of Zobo hordes once again attacking downtown Los Angeles. Even worse, there appear to be exactly twice as many of the loathsome bastards as when the Order faced them in the third issue. Then, to add insult to injury, the team is undermanned, with Calamity getting the day off (and off-grid) and Mulholland being placed on a special assignment to determine how and why a former Order operative was found dead less than 6 hours after being fired. It isn't long before S.H.I.E.L.D. sends backup, but big question still unanswered is who created these things, and why.

One of the best parts about the series so far is the attention to character development. Each issue starts with the "interview", the one these volunteers took before being accepted into the program. We learn a bit about their history, and get an insight into how they came to volunteer for the program. In this issue, we look at Magdalene "Veda" Marie, daughter of a German father and a Mexican mother, who at a young age decided she wanted to focus on tae kwon do and help orphans. Then she grew up, won tournaments, got noticed for modeling, transitioned to actress (one that could do her own stunts, no less), and used the money she gained to help orphans. Now she has the power to create golems from the earth and control them in battle. Quite a career so far.

While I question the need to artificially create superheroes for the state of California with the current super powered population exceeding that of several small cities (and why wouldn't any of them volunteer for California anyway?) it's only a slight nitpick. I unabashedly love The Order and how the series has progressed so far. Fraction is a fantastic writer, one that truly understands pacing, suspense, action, and the human condition. He plunges you right into this drama of normal people becoming something greater than themselves. Kitson's artwork is not always consistent, sometimes it seems like he spent more time on some panels than others, but is mostly very good, and his style compliments the story being told perfectly.

I can't stress this enough: The Order is a superlative series, and you should be reading this book if you love superhero comics, period. If you haven't yet, pick up the first four issues at your local comic shop, and ogle at what probably comes closest to perfection this side of the Marvel/DC threshold.


Elmo said...

I wholeheartedly agree with all your pluses! Barry Kitson, however, is being far more consistent here than he ever was on Legion (three consecutive issues was his record anywhere in the run). I think it's entirely due to inker Mark Morales, who is by and large a wunderkind, someone capable of tightening and teaching whichever b-list artist he's saddled with.

steve said...

Every issue that DOESN'T feature all of these new recruits saying 'hey! He killed Captain America! He imposed permanent martial law! He killed Bill Foster! He set up and runs a friggin GULAG!' and then fly/run/teleport to the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier and punch a whole in Tony Stark's head ... every single issue in which this DOESN'T happen is a TRAVESTY.

Doesn't matter how good the writing is or how good the artwork is ... any more than it mattered that your average Nazi officer usually put on a fantastic dinner spread. Marvel Comics is now a continuity in which the bad guys devised a secret plan to take over the country, ran into unexpected resistence from the good guys, and for the first time KILLED or JAILED the good guys and CARRIED OUT their plan. That would be repulsive enough to ruin a book drawn by freakin Michelangelo.

Elmo said...

Whatever you say, ass-clown.

brian said...

I think Elmo and Steve should fight. And, I'm just the guy to referee.

Elmo, fantastic use of "ass-clown".

I think I'll just skip the whole civil war saga.

brian said...

Steve, one more thing. Is the "Civil War" going to impede your enjoyment of Iron Man next year? That would be a shame.

Gianni said...

On a side note: Has everybody noticed how all the female members of the team have the exposed belly buttons? Is that just new superhero couture? I'm actually surprised not one of them has it pierced, or maybe there's just an Order mandate forbidding belly button piercings.