The Order is one of the best superhero comics available on the stands today, and it’s also selling quite poorly at present. On one level, this is understandable, because it’s a superhero title trying new things with brand new characters and comics fans are so often reluctant to buy anything that doesn’t have Wolverine in it. On the other hand, this is ridiculous, because comics fans are known for complaining that they want new, exciting characters rather than the same old boring retreads. (I know, I know, comics fans claiming they want something and then not being interested in it when offered, go figure, right?)
To more firmly make the point, here are some very common criticisms of current superhero comics, and why, if you have made these criticisms, you should purchase The Order.
1.) “It’s all-death comics nowadays. Killing off people for shock value.” Now, granted, the first issue of The Order begins with four members of the team being fired for not being good people, and this led many to believe that the book was the new X-Statix and it was going to feature lots and lots of relatively comical (or at least extremely bathetic) death. This is not the case. The four individuals fired in the first issue are part of a larger ongoing plot, and their firing additionally happened to set the tone for the team as one where the members take their jobs as superheroes (and by extension public icons) seriously. Which brings me to point two.
2.) “Everybody in comics is a jerk now and it sucks.” Just about every major character in The Order is a deeply laudable individual, because the premise of The Order is that its members have chosen to apply superpowers they believe to be temporary in order to serve the public good. Anthem helps conduct rehab centres. Veda teaches orphans karate (no, seriously). Hypernaut is a disabled liberal veteran, for crissake. You might think that all this virtue might make the characters unsympathetic, but Matt Fraction understands full well that simply because somebody is good doesn’t make them be not complex or interesting. Given that Aralune, who as a teenaged pop star turned superhero should be the character everybody hates, is instead one of the most popular characters in the book… you see where I am going with this, I expect.
3.) “Comics aren’t cool enough any more.” Thus far in six issues of The Order, our heroes have fought both reawakened cryonized Soviet super-soldiers and zombie robot hobos. I trust you see my point on this score.
Now, some fans have suggested that they don’t want to pursue a series where the lead characters won’t be the lead characters in a year’s worth of comic time, since the powers are all “temporary.” I would counter this with the fact that Matt Fraction obviously knows how to write a book, and I doubt that he’d trash a bunch of perfectly nifty characters just because of a prior writing decision – in fact I tend to believe that whatever happens, the core characters in The Order are going to stick around for a while to come yet, because the time and care taken into writing them isn’t something I think Fraction intends to waste.
The Legion of Super-Heroes #37 came out last week, and I picked it up because the Legion is, ahem, something in which I maintain an interest.
And it’s pretty good. It’s not all-the-way full-on-brilliant, like (for example) the Grant Morrison JLA run was. But it’s definitely good. It’s already better than the flawed-but-admirable-in-retrospect Mark Waid run, and it’s much better than the dreadful fanboy porn Tony Bedard pumped out for six issues. (This is not meant to slam Tony Bedard, who I expect had a set number of editorial mandates to fulfill for his fill-in run and decided to just crank out six issues of what the hardcores would like so as to cause a minimum of fuss: IE, new Wildfire, new Matter-Eater-Lad, new Evolvo Lad even. But still: his six issues of Legion were the worst kind of boring, designed-to-be-inoffensive tripe that’s been killing the title for a decade at least.)
1.) Francis Manapul’s art is terrific stuff; a little Image-y, maybe, for the title in places, a little more cheesecakey than is to my personal taste, but he’s got a good dynamic sense of action (not unlike a less stylized Todd Nauck) and with this issue he’s already demonstrated he can handle the sci-fi and the superheroic aspects of the Legion with equal skill. Manapul wouldn’t have been my first choice for a Legion artist, in all honesty – I’d love to see a Western/manga hybrid artist like Takeshi Miyazawa (Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane) take a crack at the Legion, in all seriousness – but he’s quality, and you can’t argue with quality.
2.) Manapul’s art ties in with Shooter’s pacing excellently. In an age where a lot of major comics have only two or three panels per page, Shooter averages six; he’s recompressing the comic, writing like he’s the anti-Bendis. This is good, because the Legion requires a dense flow of information to handle all the extra concepts that come along with writing the book. The net feeling is one of efficiency – Shooter’s hitting all the bases he needs to hit, using about half the massive cast in a single issue without having any of them feel like afterthoughts.
3.) Shooter’s plotting and sense of story likewise get a thumbs up from me. New villains that seem bad-ass: check. Brand new character introduced (and although she “dies” during the issue, I am betting dollars to donuts she ain’t really dead) rather than going to “new version of old character” that makes the Legion feel horribly like an Ultimate Marvel comic book: check. Introducing sense of danger and scale immediately: big ol’ check. This is the first time in the postboot history that the title has felt like a Legion comic book is supposed to feel. (As I’ve said before and will say again: Mark Waid was writing something, and it was sometimes good and sometimes not, but it was never really the Legion in terms of tone.)
4.) Dialogue… okay, first let me say that the dialogue is very, well, Shooter-y. Which is to say it’s verbose (which isn’t necessarily bad), and there are some characters he’s obviously got a real handle on already: Projectra and Lightning Lad are the obvious examples. The problem is that, like the comics he wrote at Valiant, the characters he’s really got down to a science have to interact with all those other characters he doesn’t have as good a handle on, and the result is a bit of a trainwreck. The scene between Light Lass and Lightning Lad, for example, where Garth is speaking in naturalistic tones and Ayla’s responding with this incredibly stiff, awkward dialogue – it’s just painful.
Shooter also writes boring expository dialogue at times, some of his jokes just fall flat or aren’t as good as he thinks they are (“okay, KK” is a great example – as a piece of natural dialogue, something somebody would say because it amuses them, it’s good – as a joke to be repeated multiple times over the course of the issue, not so much) and definitely still has the 80s-ish tendency of telling with dialogue rather than showing or implying (the fight scene with Saturn Girl and Invisible Kid’s various expounding is an excellent example of this). I’m hoping these are kinks that can be ironed out, but I tend to think that this is where Shooter is at now and he’s likely not going to change that much, considering how much this reminds me of his Valiant work.
Still, even with the dialogue issues, Shooter’s plotting and technical mastery in other areas more than compensate. He’s got the spine of the Legion exactly as it should be for now, and that’s the most important thing.