Monday, November 5, 2007

The Order #4

As California’s representative of the Initiative, Tony Stark’s dream of housing a government-trained superhero team in every state of the union, The Order is an important squad. As government-appointed guardians of one of the most populous states in the union, they’re the closest thing to a public face the Initiative has, and as such are under tremendous public scrutiny every time they make a move. Recently, that’s been more of a curse than a blessing, as the team caught hell for unwinding after a battle by holding a drunken party and various members have begun to crack under the pressure inherent in such a high-profile gig.

The big problem with this story, and with the ongoing story of the Initiative as a whole, is in the sheer number of previously undeveloped characters involved. Before this issue, what was Anthem doing with his life? Had anybody even heard of the Supernaut? What about Calamity? It’s a collection of new faces and also-rans, and it’s tough to empathize with them when I’ve never heard of them before. Writer Matt Fraction is a guy I’ve been a big fan of thus far into his career, but he isn’t given a whole lot to work with as far as starpower is concerned.

Fraction takes an approach to his characterization that’s very similar to Marvel contemporary Brian Michael Bendis. He takes these larger than life action heroes with superpowers and gives them a decidedly human slant, giving them lengthy opportunities to introduce themselves to their readers and distinguish their personalities from the pack. The first two pages are a frank discussion with Veda, a former Hollywood starlet-turned superheroine, and provide tremendous insight into her motivations. Unfortunately, Fraction can’t exactly fill the book with these “getting to know you” segments, and when the focus shifts back to the battlefield we’re left with one recognizable face and six nobodies.

Barry Kitson’s artwork is solid throughout this issue, never something I’d call spectacular but always impressive. His treatment of the women of this issue frequently reminds me of the work of Frank Cho. Where the trend in the past was to illustrate superpowered ladies as tits, ass, legs and muscles, Cho and Kitson share a softer, more realistic approach. The T&A is still there, for better or worse, but much more attention is paid to the characters’ faces and surrounding physique. Rather than inhuman androids with off-center nipples and blank facial expressions, these women are confident and intelligent. Their musculature doesn’t look out of place, they just look like they hit the gym a lot.

This is a book that could really do something with a more identifiable cast. I’m not even talking about upper-tier characters here. Even a former West Coast Avenger castoff would be enough, the story just needs one or two faces with some visibility. Matt Fraction is slowly building a good story here, but that lack of star power is really holding it back. The one page in which Tony Stark appears is probably the most successful of the book, for that very reason. He brings a recognizable personality to the proceedings, and when that bounces off of one of the team’s unknown characters, good things happen. Without that kind of presence, the book feels wishy washy and kind of dull. Flip through this, think it over and maybe give it another look in the event of a shakeup in the cast.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

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