Beyond the veil of our reality is a hidden world of magic, where wizards and witches live among us, hiding in plain sight. The premise probably sounds familiar to fans of an internationally renowned "boy-who-lived," but Millar and Coipel work to quickly dispel any tonal similarities to the Wizarding World. Without giving too much away, the book starts with the gruesome murder of a wizard that could not be more antithetical to the Harry Potter origin story.
The Magic Order centers on Leonard Moonstone and his adult children: Gabriel, Regan, and Cordelia. Their names are references to King Lear, and the comic shares two important narrative themes with Shakespeare's tragedy: children disappointing their parents and parents misjudging their children. In chapter one, the Moonstone siblings are divided, and each bears a different level of resentment towards their father. Regan is the hotheaded good son, Cordelia is the drunken train wreck, and Gabriel has turned his back on magic after the loss of his young daughter. The siblings are forced to reunite as more witches and wizards fall prey to a ghoulish assassin wearing a Venetian robe and mask. But confronting their enemy also means confronting the issues that divided their family in the first place.
Miller populates The Magic Order with a host of intriguing characters. I found the prodigal children, Gabriel and Cordelia, instantly appealing. Their backstories were given the most emphasis, and their individual relationships with Leonard were the most complex. And, like a great magic trick, their intertwining character arcs intentionally misdirect the reader. They distract you with one thing, while the important thing that you should have been focusing on goes unnoticed until the very end.
There's an incredible cohesiveness between the story, Coipel's art, and Dave Stewart's colors. The end result is a beautifully balanced blend of fantasy and reality. Coipel's representational style saturates the characters with realism and authenticity. At the same time, the misty and painterly backgrounds imbue the mystical elements of the story with believability. The most visually captivating scenes were the smaller, more intimate instances of magic, especially in the early chapters when The Venetian is using his dark magic to execute the wizards. Larger magic battles, like Gabriel's confrontation with a time eater in chapter four, had some beautiful individual panels but were somewhat underwhelming overall. I felt like a lot of the bigger set pieces eschewed smaller details in favor of simplified sequences.
The greatest strength and weakness of The Magic Order is its simplicity. The straightforward narrative is intense from the start, and the protagonist characters are all easily relatable, but some other important elements don't feel fully fleshed out. The main antagonist, Madame Albany (another reference to King Lear), fits appropriately into the narrative themes of the book, but, as a villain, she felt somewhat one-dimensional and ultimately toothless.
The final chapter of the collected edition ties up a lot of narrative threads, but Millar recently promised that the Moonstones would return. After reading the first six issues, I feel like this particular fantasy world and these characters have a lot of storytelling potential.
Creative Team: Mark Millar (writer), Olivier Coipel (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), Peter Doherty (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics
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