By Dan Traeger
For a writer who learned at the hip of Grant Morrison, you’d think by now Mark Millar would know better than to half-ass out a plot and try passing it off as a fully developed story. But that’s the fun and ultimately frustrating thing about Millar. He’s inconsistent as fuck. Back in the day, Millar was either brain bleedingly bad (The Ultimates, The Unfunnies, Nemesis) or absolutely on point (Civil War, The Authority, Aztek) and it was a pretty rare occasion where you’d find him phoning it in. Lately, though, he still has the great (Kingsmen, MPH, Chrononauts) and his bad stuff has morphed into an all over the map series of meh. (War Heroes, Kick-Ass, Starlight, The Jupiter Cycle, Huck.)
And that’s where The Magic Order falls. It’s just a big steaming pile of ho-hum. Millar drives me absolutely bugfuck because I know he’s far more capable a writer than the boring, dysfunctional family stereotypes he gives us here. He’s written a sort of sideways modern era adult version of Harry Potter mixed with the dumbest parts of The Sopranos and managed to miss the point of both series. What he should have done is mix the better parts of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians with Sons of Anarchy, light the whole thing on fire, put it out with the face of the last dolt who told him that he didn’t need any editorial oversight, and just given us something new.
Oh my God! There are parts of The Magic Order where Millar’s writing talent shines through almost in spite of himself. The opening murder scene is chilling, Regan floating around the supermarket on his personal cloud is subtle and cool, the scene with the poorly named “changing spell” is another flash of brilliance. There are little bits but the story is ultimately unfocused and muddled, and while Olivier Coipel has done his usual sensational job of making sure every cast member is visually different and interesting, the dialogue does its level best to homogenize that. It’s maddening to read. The last time I felt this way was watching Robocop 3 and seeing the flashes of brilliance peek out from under the slimy mess they made of Frank Miller’s script. The difference is that The Magic Order wasn’t re-written by committee.
Millar’s greatest strength over the years has been his ability to surround his work with great artists and brilliant co-writers. He’s worked with people like J.G. Jones, John Romita Jr. Frank Quitely, Dave Gibbons, Chris Weston, the list is stratospheric and Olivier Coipel is no exception. Between Coipel’s brilliant artwork and Dave Stewart’s moody brooding color palette the artists save this book from becoming a complete hot mess but just barely. Millar is capable of much better than this. He is the same writer who created Red Son, Skrull Kill Krew and one of the best Spider-Man stories ever told in Marvel Knights. He needs to stop screwing around trying to write what he thinks Netflix wants in a TV series, and just write good stories again. As Shakespeare so adroitly put it, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” You’re not a hack writer, Millar. You’re a brilliant writer, so start acting like one again.
The Magic Order #1