Mark Millar is a major force in Hollywood, making bank on film adaptations of his creator-owned comics Wanted, Kick-Ass, and The Secret Service (which became Kingsman on screen) and playing a significant role in superhero movies by writing the comic-book source material that inspired Marvel’s Avengers franchise and Fox’s Logan. Entertainment juggernaut Netflix has taken notice of Millar’s skill for creating comics that are ripe for adaptation. Last year, Netflix acquired the Millarworld imprint with the intent of turning existing stories into movies and television shows while also releasing comics introducing new IP for the studio. The Magic Order #1 (Image) is the first book emerging from this new partnership, pairing Millar with artist Olivier Coipel and colorist Dave Stewart for a six-issue fantasy thriller that delivers shock and awe but lacks a compelling character hook.
Millar describes The Magic Order as “The Sopranos meets Harry Potter,” but this first issue doesn’t have the emotional complexity of the former or the heart and charm of the latter. Looking at it in terms of a potential TV series (currently in development), this debut chapter would cover maybe the first 10 minutes of a pilot, introducing the basics of the cast and the concept. Wizards protect the world from monstrous beings while moonlighting as performing magicians, and the Moonstone family is part of the titular inner circle under attack by a magical assassin. There’s a lot of tension within this family unit, particularly with the estranged son, Gabriel, who is dealing with a personal loss that has pulled him away from wand-swinging adventures. These relationships are broadly drawn, but there’s a deeper history waiting to be explored in later issues. The big question is whether or not Millar will actually create multi-dimensional characters, because this first issue has other priorities.
Sex and violence are core tenets of Millar’s writing, and The Magic Order opens with both to establish that this is a more “adult” take on modern wizards. The first panel shows a couple having sex. Two pages later, the man is stabbed through the head by a little boy, presumably his son. Coipel and Stewart make this moment very creepy, but long-time readers of Millar’s work will recognize this common trick of having young characters commit acts of extreme violence to make a work appear edgy. The same goes for the immediate sexualization of the main female characters. Cordelia Moonstone brags about fucking the father at a child’s birthday party. The villainous Madame Albany wears a leather fetish mask when she crashes the funeral for her latest victim, and the NSFW cover for The Magic Order #3 reinforces sexuality as the defining aspect of her character.
Millar regularly works with top-tier superhero artists, and The Magic Order has him snagging Coipel away from superhero comics to highlight different facets of his artistic talent. Suspense is the driving force of this first issue, and Coipel sets an ominous atmosphere at the start with thick shadows and stark compositions. His detailed inking reinforces the reality of this world, with Stewart’s coloring enhancing the texture of the linework while using a varied palette of pastels to emphasize the fantasy that runs underneath the grisly horror. There’s a particularly impressive sequence toward the end of the issue that has Coipel and Stewart depicting a spell with a very cool geometric special effect, breaking down the magic in a visually inventive way that energizes the story in the final pages. Even if the story fails to deliver on the promise of its elevator pitch, The Magic Order is worth checking out to see Coipel and Stewart build a new world from the ground up.