Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fraction's The Order

My first instinct is to accuse The Order of being Peter Milligan’s X-Force but with all the fun sapped out of it. Or most of it anyway. It’s not a totally fair accusation, but it lingers with me. Here’s a team of people trained to be heroes by a massive corporation, who can be fired and replaced by members of the farm team, and who must be ‘on’ and play to the media at all times. They’re recorded by another, unofficial team member, and
their leader has lingering
doubts because of his self-destructive streak. Death is a constant threat and two team members are melted in the very first battle.

Another similarity that also provides a slight but meaningful difference: rather than a team beholden to an owner or stockholders, this team is beholden to the taxpaying public. This is perhaps where the decision to tackle the topic with some seriousness makes sense. X-Force was expected to act in outlandish ways, to be public with their personal problems and do outlandish things that would increase their Q-rating. So long as more people were watching or buying their products, it was all good. Not so much for the Order, though.

What the Order does particularly well is reveal the hypocrisy of a consumer-culture that pays money to see pictures of intoxicated celebrities but throws closeted politicians to the wolves. Once the team is paid with tax money instead of free capital, it seems, self-destructive behavior is no longer tolerated - much less celebrated - and the public’s obsession with the night-lives of these celebrity-heroes becomes a burden for the Order instead of a marketable angle. It’s a funny (or disturbing) truism that people will freely and readily throw their money at the same ethically bankrupt people that they would never allow anywhere near public service – as if they’re even mutually exclusive categories that are occupied by different folks to begin with – and the Order turns out to be no exception. And our irony tolerance is pushed to its limit when Tony Stark, a recovered/ing alcoholic, forces team-leader Anthem, another recovered/ing alcoholic, to fire four of his team for violating their morals agreement by – you guessed it – going out and getting drunk. The exchange is subtle but powerful, and full props to Fraction and Kitson for avoiding the melodrama that a weaker team would have milked this scene for. This is not the sort of ethical dilemma that would’ve made it into X-Force’s pages, and we’re better for it.

Much of the concept remains unclear to me – like why Stark and the government aren’t converting military-types into the Order, rather than punkish girls with pink hair who would seem to be less easily controlled; or what the deal is with the military stepping all over the Order’s authority – but Fraction seems to delight in filling his comics with more subtextual content than we’re able to consume on the first read-through, and I'm willing to give him the time to develop these stories. You can bet that my copy will be well-worn before the next one hits the shelves.

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