May 5th, 2008
I came to praise the Order and to bury them and now it seems neither action was mitigated.
They should have just died, really. Or at least most of them – that’s how it feels. The Order was a re-use of a trademark, like Marvel Boy, like X-Force under Allred and Milligan, that wasn’t really affiliated in any sense other than the vaguest to its priors: Marvel Boy was a Kree like Captain Marvel, X-Force were mutants – The Order… was actually intially a rebrand of the original Defenders. Because this incarnation was supposed to be called The Champions (of Los Angeles, as the Marvel site helpfully adds). That was the one thematic link: that they were not situated in New York City, but rather Marvel’s second locale: the West Coast, Bay Area, primarily LA and San Francisco. And the company failed to maintain, and lost, the trademark to the latter. It’s hard to feel sorry for a corporation (really, when is it not?) – particularly given their bullying and dubious joint ownership of the term “superhero”, enforced fairly regularly – but it was hardly to give this, up to its penultimacy, resolutely acceptable and likeable product the least troubled of launches.
Nevertheless, lemonade was made: the little black incision on the perpendicular right of the circular red logoes was chipped off and lo! There was an ‘O’ upon the chestplates of these champions (of Los Angeles, and sometimes San Francisco.) And they defended the state of California, and it was good: progressively improving, I should say, from issue to issue and evoking much mythography from a road less travelled. Natural disasters – firestorms, tidal waves, earthquakes – which seem that much more relevant to the geography, the complexes of the star system in La-La Land, class warfare…
It was an odd and quite affecting artifact, filling in these aspects in the mighty Marvel method quite modernly with the single issue focus on each of the cast intercut, VH1-style, and visualized through the straitened and reserved linework of Barry Kitson, making for an interesting tension. It could conceivably, without the latter, have been a deal more obnoxious and I almost wish it had been, in retrospect. This was a comic apparently from an alternative history where a publication house had set up on the left coast. The characters were all just innately decent: they’d signed their “morals clauses” – fallible, but plain nice, not bleak. Acted pre-Watchmen, affirming, looked like they were drawn in that time-period. There’s a point about Fraction’s idealism, or specific idealism for Bronze Age Marvel Comics to be made, probably more extensively, so the subplot from #3-4 (when you think Calamity James Wa might do something appalling to a rube but then it turns out, thankfully, he absolutely never would,) alongside Punisher War Journal #4′s paean to the more caperish and clearcut villainy of the Eighties seem to indicate.
Never a doyenne of the messageboards and blogs in the way The Immortal Iron Fist was, at least until David Aja‘s absentia, nor even something I could rouse myself to break out the hot endorsements for, but something where – when discussed – you’d say, the conversation would go: “It’s good. It’s consistently improving. I like it. Um.” Dick Hyacinth probably offered the most glowing appraisal of the series, but only then with a backdrop of lamentation as to why it had not succeeded. Co-creator Matt Fraction was consequently insistent, after the news of the cancellation, that financial realities with Kitson, who’s now I believe to be a regular on the Amazing Spider-Man reboot, and his inability to continue on the rates offered on the book meant he felt it necessary and correct to end the series.
Which is a shame, and a little sad, because new properties – even trademark maintainees, now – almost never gain even the remotest bit of suction in the world of big superheroes™. Runaways is about the sole exception from about the last decade, and the final issue of this hitherto vibrant and filled-with-potential title hits that point with dull and thudding accuracy. The arrow hits a red-headed bullseye and reports: The Order? Less important, less viable, than Virginia “Pepper” Potts. Which is… I liked her as portrayed in the comic, I don’t want to be dismissive of fictional secretaries or anything. She’s a lot more significant and useful in the sort-of Oracle role here than she was typing missives and sighing wistfully over the boss; I was initially confused by her pantheon assignation of Hera (rather than Athena) in that quickly, probably wisely, abandoned hierarchical model. But she’s in a movie, you know, which is a particularly abject lesson for LA supers – in a movie = much superior. Is pre-existent trademark, mother figure to Iron Man’s Zeus-daddy = double-win. It’s just i) ropey and ii) unsatisfactory to have the ‘natural order’ reasserted so blatantly and perfunctorily – The Order, in the end, were second and third fiddle, didn’t matter terribly much, in their own book. They served as a prequel to The Invincible Iron Man. Their unifying baddie, the man behind it all, was the son of that movie star’s antagonist, out to destroy them purely because he hates Tony Stark, the Iron Man.
But he fails to kill them all and it’s already like, it’ll be like, those ‘What they did next’ programmes after Big Brother: I hope I never see you again, demi-celebs. Under the deathless pen of the 21st Century’s answer to Peter David, Dan Slott, as the issue appears to indicate may be the case? I hope I never see you again, ninth-raters. Cameoing in the title you led into? I hope I never see you again, really. Fraction faked and ex machina‘d, almost literally, out on the prior issue’s cliffhanger which had grippingly appeared to indicate some, possibly dissonant but interesting and fitting, pathos and distress were in store, straight out the gate here and the book was already in trouble. One of the team goes then. Or, more correctly, in the timeframe between #9 and #10 (wherein, also, apparently insurmountable odds are duly surmounted) and is confirmed at the beginning of this ish. Then, blah blah, chaos ensues, the book’s themes are ill-unified and the team given sub-par power replacements, denuded of their specialities, and one has to make an Ultimate Sacrifice of another. The latter, somewhat troublingly, is the only gay protagonist in a fictional arena hardly overburdened with them. This is not the first time this has happened. It’s all so cursory and dismissive, formerly attractive characters scarcely apparent, a wrap for what was a very enjoyable newish comic. I should emphasise, of course I was buying #10 of a comic because I had enjoyed each of the previous issues, some of them a great deal, but the last panel – a wearisome group shot, crammed into the bottom fifth of a page, just served to emphasise how much goodwill this finale had chewed up. As a fate for these nouveau trademarks, death would have been a more fitting, apt and useful testament to what is proving to be an extraordinarily static milieu at present; rather that than this liminal consignation.