Everybody loves Matt Fraction’s re-revitalisation of the Punisher in his lunatic War Journal series and The Immortal Iron Fist is inarguably the coolest and most bad-ass title Marvel are doing right now, but what about the other book Fraction lends his name to? The Order? What’s that one all about and why does it have such a lousy, generic name?
Well, the unimaginative name is the only negative thing you’ll hear me say about this title. Everything else is, literally, perfect. The Order is Fraction’s own creation, a superhero team put together by Tony Stark as part of his “50 State Initiative”. They represent the California state team and each member is a ‘normal’ person given specific super-powers by Stark Industries. These powers can be revoked at any time (as we find out in #1 when most of the original team is fired and replaced for public drinking and excess in the wake of a successful firefight) and a new person will inherit them. The abilities, codenames and structure of the team are all based on those of the Greek Gods but, although this is a nice touch, it all pales by comparison to the fascinating characters that Fraction has created.
Their leader and mentor, Henry Hellrung, is a recovered alcoholic and retired actor whose claim to fame was playing Tony Stark in a popular Iron Man TV series. Rebecca Ryan is an ex-child beauty queen turned super-powered, shape-shifting socialite. She’s a bit like a Southern belle Paris Hiltion; sex tapes, daddy issues and all. Mulholland Black is the enigmatic punky girl whose superpowers connect her telekinetically to the nervous system of Los Angeles itself; her murky past makes her the archetypal emo chick gone bad. Milo Fields is the crippled young marine, disenchanted with the government’s war but still wanting to fight the good fight. These are just a handful of the rich, varied and original characters that make up the team.
In giving us a pack of young newbies, Fraction has created a group of sympathetic, eager hopefuls who battle against the odds to do good in a world gone very bad indeed. With a lot of Marvel titles right now, it feels as though the ‘big’ heroes have all gone away. The Spider-Man titles just seem as though the writers are trying their best to torture the character; Iron Man has turned fascist; The Hulk’s gone mental; Captain America’s dead and trigger-happy anti-heroes like Wolverine or The Punisher have always been a little bit morally ambiguous in spite of their cool factor. The Order gives us a team of heroes whom we can root for; ones we genuinely want to see win, to succeed, to overcome their problems and beat those bad guys. More crucially, ones for whom we would shed a tear if they died – and with all of these characters being so undisciplined – it always feels like a constant, terrifying risk (we already know that Fraction’s not scared of death or surprises in his writing).
In the first six comics – during which there has not been a single sub-par moment – the team have already grown up a little and are learning to work with one another and juggle ‘the greater good’ with their own struggles. With their age and ambitions, they make great role models for teen readers and many issues that are pertinent to young people are covered in the stories; from eating disorders and burgeoning sexuality to gang violence and even the wars overseas. Each character has baggage but their darker, more reflective moments are not treated exploitatively, nor are they glamourised (as dysfunction so often is, these days). We’re right there with them as they try to overcome and learn from their mistakes and improve. That’s what makes The Order so likeable. They all genuinely want to do better in their own way. Whilst some have doubts about Tony Stark’s great Initiative plans, each member of the team wants to save lives and make the world a better place, and you can’t ask for more than that in a hero can you?
Although it’s only been going half a year, I can honestly say this is the best team title on the shelves right now (if not the best Universe title altogether). There’s not a single panel so far that I’d change. Barry Kitson’s art is beautiful and Matt Fraction’s writing goes from strength to strength (in fact, I’d say The Order is his best work to date and that’s no small compliment!). It’s the story that Rick Veitch’s Bratpack could’ve been, had it not been so bitter and dark; a modern-day love letter to the teen superhero genre packed with vibrant characters and explosive storylines. The Order is exciting, original, moving and frequently very funny to boot. Please don’t let the name put you off. This is pure comic book gold.