As everyone who has taken fingertip to keyboard has written about this series, it would have been so much more powerful if it had been called “The Champions.” I won’t spoil the ending of this final issue for you, but there’s a moment on the last page that would have worked better with the former name. It’s a little thing, but you can’t help wondering if “The Order” was a title doomed to failure because of, well, the title. It’s just not inspiring. It’s like naming a comic “The Legal System.” Too formal for the vibrant aesthetic underlying Matt Fraction’s work.
If you haven’t picked up the series until now, you’re probably not going to decide to get just the final issue of the short-lived series. But if you’re wavering at all about picking up the trade, don’t. It’s definitely worth your hard-earned (or easily embezzled) cash. But since I’m talking about “The Order” #10 here, let’s use that as a case study as to why this comic was so good, even if it was underappreciated by the masses.
First, a disclaimer: the art in this issue isn’t representative of the Barry Kitson-ness of the previous issues. Kitson only does the breakdowns here, and penciler Javier Saltares adds an expressive line that Kitson adamantly avoids. Kitson’s linework is all control and restraint, and Saltares likes to draw people looking sassy or screaming, or both. He seems to hold back a little, which might be the tightness of Kitson’s layouts shining through, but it’s still Saltares characters in Kitson poses, and it works well enough. It just doesn’t quite match the look of most of the earlier issues. But since issue #10 is about bad stuff and emotional moments, Saltares is an appropriate choice.
The high-concept of “The Order,” although there’s no way Matt Fraction would have ever phrased it this way, is “Strikeforce: Morituri” meets “Youngblood.” It’s about a team of screwed up young men and women granted powers for one year, smack in the center of that den of celebrity intrigue: Los Angeles. By “The Order” #10, Fraction had given each member of the team a chance to tell his or her story, through the conceit of the “diary room”-style interview. The interviews are part reality television, part friendly interrogation, and part psychologist’s couch. But by giving each character an on-panel interview, Fraction was able to inject backstory and personality into each issue without sacrificing narrative momentum. It was an ingenious way to provide “spotlight” issues without having to derail the long-term train of plot machinations. Here, Pepper Potts, aka “Hera” (the Oracle-like electronic eyes and ears of the team), along with team leader Henry Hellrung, aka Anthem (the Chaykin-esque screw-up looking for redemption), have the last words.
Fraction uses Potts and Hellrung to frame a climactic story that ties up most of the loose ends from the previous nine issues. Sure, some of the stuff set up at the beginning with the concept of the one-year powers never went anywhere, and Fraction clearly had to refigure subplots into a shortened run, but the ten completed issues give a full story of a team of misfits trying to make themselves, and Los Angeles, better. Unfortunately, the climax is a lot of zooming around the city and fires raging and lighting crackling. We’ve seen it before. But Fraction gives the whole thing an apocalyptic feel, and since it’s a final issue, we genuinely don’t know who will survive. He also allows Henry Hellrung to have the heroic moment he needed, which is important for the character in the long term. Yes, Hellrung survives, and I hope he’ll make his mark in the Marvel Universe now that he’s accepted his role as a hero.
“The Order” may have looked too conventional or too marginal to survive as a monthly comic, but its readers know that it was one of the most interesting takes on classic superheroics in the last few years. If you missed this series, it’s a bit late to jump on board now, but at least you’ll have a couple of nice trade paperbacks to dive into.