Or – “Would It Be Unprofessional To Announce That This Issue Is My Last?”

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I often worry about the fine line between criticism and opinion, between “I don’t like it” and “I don’t get it.” Certainly, there’s no 100% reliable way to remove the subjectivity from my recaps, and I’ll always have my preferences and peccadilloes, but when a book comes out that obviously SOMEBODY thinks was a great idea, I wonder if it’s just me. The first issue of The Order left me cold, focusing on a character who is supposed to be a hero, but frankly comes across as a guy who got lucky because Tony Stark owed him a favor. Same goes for field leader Pepper Potts, and the whole “seven strangers who find out what happens when people stop being polite and start juggling tanks” conceit was more compelling several years ago when Image did it in “Wildguard.” The second issue is here, and for the first time in a while, my response to a comic was so virulent that I’m about THIS CLOSE to ignoring my usual “six months to get good” rule of thumb…

Previously, on The Order: California’s official Initiative-driven super-team fought a pyrokinetic whom they dubbed “The Infernal Man,” and after a sound thrashing, Ol’ Ferny was taken into custody by a mysterious man-in-black, and members of the Order TO1.jpgdecided to celebrate with a drunken night of revelry. The next morning, team leader Henry Hellrung (himself a well-known public face of sobriety) met with Tony Stark and his executive assistant Pepper Potts (also known as Hera, the comptroller for The Order) and FIRED HALF THEIR TEAM. The replacements were a carefully balanced cross-section of diversity and annoying stereotypes, including a fresh-faced little blonde Britney/Paris/Trishelle type named Becky. This pretty little thing triggers two impulses in the back of my mind: one to protect and nurture her, and the other to slap her sillier. The team is called into action almost immediately to face a group of villains who bear a strange resemblance to (but logically and continuity-wise cannot be) the Soviet Super-Soldiers. This issue kicks off like the last, with a team member in what seems to be a therapy session. Becky Ryan starts off in full celebutante mode, before realizing that she can turn off the act. “After a while, performing gets in the blood… I carried a message of love and understanding to the good folks of Texas and beyond…” When asked if she liked it, Becky immediately flashes back to being crushed to lose a beauty pageant as a child.

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Y’know, I’m three pages in, and my cliche counter is in the double digits. Loyal spoilerite Brent voiced the concern first, and I have to agree with it: having a pretty, vapid blonde girl with an eating disorder and a pop-star career just feels like a story we’ve all read a dozen times before. Hell, I think we just went through parts of this story in “The Loners” with Julie Power’s journey to self-awareness in Hollywood. Becky gets upset with the line of questioning, thinking that the unseen voice is making fun of her, before whomever it is informs her that he/she’s not making fun of her at all, they just want her to “be whatever she wants to be.” Wow… That’s just some terribly ham-fisted dialogue, there. I honestly am shocked that this book is written by the same man who is so brilliant on Iron Fist. We cut to Becky in battle, beaming like Rain Man in a wig, drawling “Oh, my god, y’all! I’m fightin’ a bear!”

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Y’know, they all LOOK awesome, save for Heavy, whose banded armor and shoulder pads is a bit too “Youngblood” for my tastes… The whole team leaps into action, but the hammer-wielding Mulholland Black (they claim it’s her real name, but they also say that about Gene Simmons and Wolf Blitzer) freezes up. Heavy coaches her quickly, pulling her out of her funk and reminding her to channel an earthquake. All these powers are strange, nebulous things like “all the powers of a supercell thunderstorm,” and “proportional strength of a sixth grade show choir.” None of that boring old “super-strength” or “spider-agility” here. Becky, for her part, calls herself Aralune (what?) and can shape-shift into whatever form she can imagine, slapping down the faux Ursa Major, and warning Veda to watch her back…

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Heh. “What a country!” There’s the spark of the Matt Fraction I dig… Pepper reports that she’s figured out what it is that they’re fighting: the first-generation of Soviet Super-Soldiers, kept in suspended animation off the coast of California all these years, waiting for the signal. Apparently, the heat given off by last month’s conflagration with the Infernal Man made them think that a nuclear strike has occurred, and they’ve come out of the woodwork to attack and take over the ravaged United States. Worst of all? They’re powered by NUCLEAR generators. “Maybe all the shooting and punching was a bad idea, then?” asks Heavy (one of the worst superhero names I’ve ever heard of.) Good line, though, and it triggers a flashback to six weeks ago, with Henry and Pepper hiring their new publicist. Flashing forward to a time which is still in the past, but not as far in the past as the first flashback, we see her spinning the loss of half the Order to the California press corps…

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Okay… I’m sorry, but that’s just a step too far. It’s one thing to try and play a comic “realistic,” but an on-panel suicide just turns the whole thing into movie of the week territory. It’s more than just a little tasteless (and I’m confused as to why she was allowed to leave the team with a multi-million dollar piece of Stark Industries hardware like that sword.) Worst of all, we cut back to the publicist saying of all the fired heroes, “They’ll be fine.” Gyah. Tasteless…. seriously tasteless, guys. Meanwhile, back at the fight, Pepper contacts team speedster Calamity and gives him the 411 on what’s really behind the whole thing. He runs away from the fight (feeling like a big heel in the process) until he comes across something that I can’t believe even California is blase enough to have ignored for the past FIFTY YEARS.

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Calamity finds a group of Russian agents in stasis, and Pepper tells him that to save the day, he has to unplug them, effectively killing them all. Pep contacts Anthem, who quickly diverts Supernaut to back up Calamity, as the Gargoyle (and this is confusing, as the original Gargoyle died on panel in a Hulk story, and his son who looks just like him [The Gremlin] died on panel in an Iron Man story, and there isn’t even a Superboy punch to blame it on.) Back on the mysterious Island of Unwanted Spies, Supernaut arrives, and tells Calamity that he’s relieved of duty, explaining that these men are all soldiers, and they would understand this decision. Calamity takes off at super-speed, and leaves Supernaut to his unpleasant duties.

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Okay, once again, I have to ask… Is anybody else bothered by the combination of frivolous Hollywood frippery and contrived life-and-death situations here? It’s as though there are two books going on at the same time, one borrowing from ‘The Simple Life’ and the other borrowing from ‘Altered States,’ and the twain aren’t quite getting to the meet, if you’re picking up what I’m putting down. After a licensed agent of Tony Stark kills half a dozen people in cold blood, we cut back to the big fight sequence, where the last line of defense against an armored lunatic with a nuclear bomb in his chest is… Britney Spears Becky Ryan. She quickly turns into an ameoba, and surrounds the Dynamo armor…

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Every single member of this team is RIDICULOUSLY, INSANELY powerful, aren’t they? This girl just enveloped a NUCLEAR EXPLOSION, fer Rao’s sake! I don’t think even THOR has that kind of power, does he? Becky floats in the water, murmuring “I can be anything I want…” and we flash forward again, as Anthem comes to check on her the next night. He is concerned that in stopping the Dynamo, she was really looking to kill herself, but she plays it coy. “Wouldn’t all those psych tests have said something if I was suicidal?” she says coquettishly, but Anthem isn’t entirely sure she’s playing straight. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, he congratulates her on her victory, but across town, another bomb is about to blow, as Kate the publicist meets with a sleazy producer who has a little something he wants to see if Tony Stark’s might be willing to pay for…

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Oh, goody. The “teenager of the year” is in a homemade porn movie. The question was raised whether this book could stand another not-so-very original concept, and the answer is: naked girl on camera phone. Sigh… I’m trying to remain positive, because it’s obvious that Fraction really wanted to give us something unusual, something that would stand out in the Marvel Universe… Unfortunately, it wasn’t the GOOD kind of standing out.

The plot was a standard-issue slugfest intercut with some strangely dark interludes, sort of a super-powered Hollywood Babylon, but the effect was less enthralling than it was disturbing. It’s sort of the feeling I got when I searched for images of Leela from Futurama and found incredibly detailed pornographic images of a purple-haired, cyclopean cartoon character: It just felt voyeuristic and creepy. The saddest part of it all? Barry Kitson’s art is stunning, his costume designs are fascinating and intricate, and the facial expressions that he gives Becky do more to tell us about her character than even the extended series of flashbacks. It’s Kitson’s art that pushes this series into the tolerable range for me, but at a time when all the big companies are throwing out dozens of books per month that interest me, I can’t justify buying one that leaves me this cold every month. Matt Fraction is a good writer, in my experience, but this series just isn’t working for me. The Order #2 ranks a somewhat generous 1.5 out of 5 stars, and I urge Spoilerites who might continue reading the book to warn me if it gets awesome, as I’ll be happy to start recapping it again at that point… As it stands, I think we can look for something else to fill it’s recap slot.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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13 Comments

  1. Brent F.
    August 22, 2007 at 2:50 pm — Reply

    Woo hoo! I got a mention in a review!

    Too bad it had to be a review for this title. Using headlines to influence your stories can be a good thing, but when you’re basing your characters on the headlines of celebrities most comic book readers.. nay, the general public couldn’t care less about then you’re just asking them to not care about your title.

    Also, I’m glad you pointed out how ridiculously powerful some of these Order fellows are. I was beginning to suspect someone was going to be thrown into the sun by the end of the issue.

  2. Maximus Rift
    August 22, 2007 at 2:54 pm — Reply

    Are you sure it was suicide? ~Dun Dun Duuuuuuuuuuuun~

    Seriously, I think the book’s problem is the shifting between pun and dark. Too many things going on for the first 2 issues.

    I also consider you a bit “pure” if the worst thing you’ve seen is Leela porn pics. :P

  3. tavella
    August 22, 2007 at 7:29 pm — Reply

    I think Marvel has bulldozed the entire base concept of their universe; the concept used to be “with great power came great responsibility”, and the prototypical Marvel hero was someone who got powers not of their own choice; mutant, spider, whatever. And the fundamental choice they made every day was whether to use them ethically or not.

    Now? Powers are just what Tony Stark gives you or takes away from you. There’s no internal moral responsibility, there’s just Big Brother smacking you down if they don’t like what you did. And now the prototypical Marvel hero is an egotist. That doesn’t mean they are *evil*, it just means that they do what they do for their own self-image, not because of empathy with other people. Yes, even the New Warriors. Peter Parker doesn’t need to angst over the tension between being a hero and a good husband and son; all he has to do is let himself be depowered and he can live a perfectly ordinary life. And it’s not like a dozen spider heroes can’t be created to replace him.

    Now, tons of people love this concept: look at how popular Ultimates is, and that’s a team packed with raving egotists “just want to be big.” So Marvel’s sales may very well remain strong. But it’s not a universe I’m interested in anymore.

  4. Rowan
    August 22, 2007 at 8:04 pm — Reply

    This comic makes me think of Lex Luthor and his everymen situation in 52 and these guys are just a crappy infinity inc , I don’t know if anyone has said that before but booooooo

  5. Wirehead26
    August 22, 2007 at 10:03 pm — Reply

    I don’t know, I liked this issue. The characters being powerful I don’t mind due to the Order being such a high priority for the Initiative as mentioned in Civil War #6. Plus I like speedsters and I’m glad Marvel is putting one in a prominent position.

  6. Baal
    August 22, 2007 at 10:33 pm — Reply

    No! You’re my source of info on all the books I think are too crappy to buy. Tell me you won’t be dropping any Geoff Johns books, okay?

  7. August 22, 2007 at 11:57 pm — Reply

    I also consider you a bit “pure” if the worst thing you’ve seen is Leela porn pics. :P

    I’ve never seen any online pornography…

    …as far as you know. :)

  8. August 22, 2007 at 11:58 pm — Reply

    This comic makes me think of Lex Luthor and his everymen situation in 52 and these guys are just a crappy infinity inc , I don’t know if anyone has said that before but booooooo.

    The thought had occurred to me, but I felt like I had enough negative things to say already…

  9. Fredy
    August 23, 2007 at 3:22 am — Reply

    HMMMMM overall the series is just one giant cliched train wreck, but i like seeing it happen. The names are god awful as well as the enemies. I dont mind the characters being overly powerful (anyone heard of Superman? Animal Man? Flash? MARTIAN MANHUNTER???), but in the end ill continue buying it. I like predictable cheesy trainwrecks with humor.

  10. Brother129
    August 23, 2007 at 7:44 am — Reply

    Tavella you said exactly what I was thinking as I read this book and Matthew’s review. Whatever happened to being a super hero because it was just the right thing to do. Your assessment of the current Marvel Universe is blistering but accurate. I can only hope the pendulum begins to slowly swing its way back. As far as this title goes, I’m going to hang for a little while longer because of the creative team. Matt Fraction’s Iron Fist and Punisher War Journal are among my favorite reads each month…

  11. Kurt Fenreer
    August 23, 2007 at 7:30 pm — Reply

    Amen, Tavella.

  12. Anthony
    August 29, 2007 at 5:10 pm — Reply

    “now the prototypical Marvel hero is an egotist”

    Finally. Sounds like Marvel’s progressing.

  13. August 30, 2007 at 3:25 pm — Reply

    Is this a bad time to say I told you so?

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