In late-2007, you could already tell that Matt Fraction was going to be a big deal. He’d already released the cult-favourite The Five Fists of Science with Steven Sanders and launched the critically acclaimed Casanova with Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, both at Image Comics. At this point in his career, he was starting to make waves within the Marvel Universe; he launched a new volume of Punisher War Journal alongside Civil War and had began co-writing Immortal Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker. In a year’s time, he’d be launching a brand new Iron Man ongoing launched to capitalise on Marvel Studios’ cinematic adaptation of the character, but there’s another ongoing in between those two points that a lot people forget about, The Order.
The premise for The Order was first established during Civil War itself as we’re briefly introduced to a new superhero team being developed by Iron Man and Hank Pym, although at the time they were referred to as the Champions. I believe The Order was originally going to be titled Champions but there was a dispute over the name with another publisher that wasn’t resolved until fairly recently, hence the last minute switch. The idea behind the team is that regular people sign up to join the Fifty State Initiative and those who qualify get granted superpowers and a spot on California’s superhero team The Order for a one year tour of duty, provided they survive that long.
The Order, which Fraction co-created alongside Barry Kitson, was exactly the sort of thing Marvel needed in the wake of Civil War; something totally new. Tony Stark shows up occasionally and Pepper Potts serves as the team’s operations leader in a similar capacity to Oracle in Birds of Prey but the rest of the team are brand new creations. What’s particularly great about the cast of The Order is that for the most part, the individuals who sign up to be superheroes aren’t typically the kind of people that get to be superheroes.
The leader of The Order is Henry Hellrung; he’s one of Tony Stark’s best friends and the man who played Iron Man on TV until his drinking ruined his career. He got sober and instead of going back into acting, he dedicated himself to helping other young, vulnerable celebrities from going down the same dark road as he did. Fraction and Kitson even establish Henry as the guy that got Tony into A.A. which is why Tony trusts him to lead the team. Most of the members of The Order have some level of celebrity to them; Magdalena Neuntauben aka Veda is a movie actress turned philanthropist and Rebecca Ryan is a teen starlet striking out on her own away from the control of her father/manager.
What I find really interesting about The Order is that of its seven member team, three of its heroes are physically disabled. James Wa, aka Calamity, was an engineering student/baseball prodigy who got hit by a drunk driver and lost his legs; Milo Fields, aka Supernaut, was an US Marine who got shot in the back protesting the government’s use of his story for propaganda purposes and Dennis Murray aka Heavy was a navy officer who got caught in the same explosion as Tony Stark did but was left with full-body paralysis.
What’s great about how The Order incorporates disabled heroes into its team is that it doesn’t do the typical superhero comic thing of curing them of their disability and instead they get accomodations that allow them to be super. Calamity has prosthetics of his own design which allow him to run as fast as Quicksilver, Supernaut has, essentially, a Hulkbuster suit and Heavy has a suit of his own that allows him to walk and move while suspended in a special colloidal fluid. It’s worth pointing out that Milo does regain the ability to walk towards the end of the volume but it doesn’t change the fact that The Order introduced and established more disabled superheroes over the course of ten issues than many comics have over the course of decades.
I started reading monthly comics with Civil War, so when it wrapped up I was really excited by how much it changed the landscape of the Marvel Universe and if anything, I wanted more books like The Order. If I would have had my way, Marvel would have put out a book for each of the fifty Initiative teams in each of the fifty states and I would have bought them all, because I was so into the idea but in hindsight, I think The Order stands out more for being unique among the post-Civil War landscape. Avengers: The Initiative did a great job of showing the ins-and-outs of training to be on those teams but The Order was a great insight into what it was like to be on the ground fighting for a state that didn’t particularly ask for you.
Unfortunately, new characters and concepts are always going to be a hard sell and The Order failed to find an audience. However, Fraction did use the final few issues of the series to seed what he had planned next and Ezekiel Stane — the big bad of Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s Invincible Iron Man — actually shows up first in The Order #8 where it’s revealed he is behind all of the threats the team has faced. Stane carries his grudge against Tony into Invincible Iron Man but his first strike against his father’s rival took place in The Order as he tried to discredit and destroy Tony’s grand idea for a superhero team in every state.
I also like that there are characters in The Order like PR agent Kate Kildare and Mayor Sadie Sinclair that Fraction carries over to his Uncanny X-Men run and then stick around after he leaves the book. I think WandaVision is currently doing a great job with this but sometimes it isn’t the superheroes that give us a sense of a shared universe, it’s the supporting characters; the people who have to live in the world alongside superheroes and Fraction has always been great about finding that balance in his work. Kate and Sadie probably actually have more appearances post-The Order than the stars of the book, who have only shown up a handful of times since its cancellation.
The Order isn’t the most revolutionary superhero comic in the world and if you didn’t read it at the time, you didn’t miss out on anything absolutely spectacular but it’s a good comic that deserved an audience and starred good characters that deserve a place in the Marvel Universe. I don’t really see any of the characters getting brought back anytime soon, — and given the whole “one year” aspect of their powers they probably aren’t superheroes anymore — but I’m sure eventually someone will reach back for the deepest of deep cuts and we might get to see Henry acting as Tony’s sponsor or something. If you’re a fan of Fraction’s work and want to see where he really cut his teeth on superhero storytelling specifically, I do really recommend this book. Also, there’s a bear in a jetpack in the second issue, so it’s got that going for it.