The Magic Order (Volume One) by Mark Millar and othersThe Magic Order (Book 1) by Mark Millar (writer), Oliver Coipel (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Peter Doherty (letterer)

The first book of The Magic Order by Mark Millar is an engaging story with gorgeous art by Oliver Coipel. The Magic Order is comprised of a group of magicians who protect the world from the threats of other magicians and supernatural dangers. However, this is no Harry Potter story for young readers. Even from the beginning, violent acts are depicted quite horrifically: In the very first scene, we see two magicians killing a man remotely through very disturbing means. Mark Millar does his best to shock readers, and we see that in full display in these opening pages. The Magic Order, though not for kids, is an excellent comic book series for adults, and though I am reviewing only book 1 in this review, there are currently four books out, each book collecting six issues and illustrated by a different, though equally accomplished, artist. There are supposed to be future issues, but the four books that are currently available tell a fairly complete story. You certainly will not want to stop reading at the end of book 1!

The stars of this comic are the members of the Moonstone family. The leader, the father of grown children, is Leonard. He is both the head of the family and head of the Magic Order itself. He is an illusionist who travels the world putting on magic shows in old theaters, performing his tricks through sleights-of-hand and tricks rather than through true magic. It is against the Order’s rules to use magic for self-benefit, and apparently, putting on magic shows for financial gain falls under that rule. So, he is an accomplished stage magician of the normal kind even though he has great true magical powers that he employs for grander purposes — the protection of the world, though in this universe, they perform this service secretly. Non-magicians around the world have no idea that true magic exists and that true supernatural threats are a regular occurrence.

Moonstone’s family includes the unreliable Cordelia, who performs magic shows for children and yet constantly gets into trouble. She seems to be an alcoholic, and when we first see her, she is in the custody of the police, sitting handcuffed in the back of a police car. Luckily, she is a master of escape. Her brothers are Regan and Gabriel. Regan seems to be the reliable one of Leonard’s children and runs a nightclub when he is not saving the world. Gabriel, the other son, has married a non-magician and lives a very conventional life, opting out of participating in the supernatural world he was born into. His daughter died in an accident involving magic, and Gabriel has since shunned the world of the supernatural, even though he is said to be highly powerful. He and his wife are in mourning for their daughter, and he has promised his wife that he will have no connection with that world anymore. There are a few other Moonstones: Leonard’s wife — who doesn’t appear in book 1 — and uncle Edgar, Leonard’s mysterious brother who is trapped inside the castle that resides inside a large painting housed in a museum. He is said to have incredible power and is known to be quite dangerous. He is trapped in the castle for everyone’s safety.

The villain in this story is Madame Albany, an evil magician who opposes all the Order stands for. She seems to be behind the main plot to kill off one-by-one the individual members of the Order. She is backed by a host of magicians who take her side against the Moonstones and the other families in the Order. At the funeral of one of the magicians, she shows up and mocks the family, not even trying to hide her sinister nature. So, while the main villain is known, what is not known is who the Venetian is — the Venetian wears a mask, so we as readers do not know his identity either. He is elegantly dressed, works for Madame Albany, and is so powerful that he can assassinate the Order’s magicians with seemingly no resistance from them at all. The twist in this story involves the mystery of the Venetian. His identity surprises the reader and turns the entire narrative in a new direction.

Thematically, this story is tied to Shakespeare’s King Lear, who had three children, just like Leonard — Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril (instead of Cordelia, Regan, and Gabriel in The Magic Order). Therefore, like King Lear, The Magic Order is concerned with family and loyalty to the father. The comic not only deals with loyalty to the father, but also the loss of connections between siblings, as Gabriel wants nothing to do with Cordelia and Regan and the world of true magic. King Lear is not only about the destruction of the family; it also addresses the coming of a new order. King Lear/Leonard represents the old order, and Madame Albany represents a new one, challenging Lear-like Leonard and all that he and the Magic Order stand for — selfless assistance to the world versus selfishness and the use of power and magic for self-gain.

The art by Oliver Coipel with colors by Dave Stewart more than serves the story: It adds character and builds a world that is beautiful and believably magical, as is appropriate for this tale of magicians and spell-casting. The atmosphere is dark and moody, fitting for a comic that is almost a horror story in some of its depictions of violence, particularly the creepy first assassination. The funeral in the graveyard, one of my favorite scenes, is haunting. In addition to the settings, the characters are designed effectively. The women are beautiful and the men dashing — this is a world in which a tuxedo and a top hat are common costumes, particularly for Leonard Moonstone, the epitome of the nineteenth-century stage magician. Cordelia is always well-dressed in black as is Madame Albany, who also wears a full leather mask, perhaps more associated with bondage than magic. I could continue giving more details, but basically my point is this — the art is exquisite.

So, with a beautifully depicted, well-told story with Shakespearean resonances, The Magic Order is a five-star opening book. As with all Mark Millar books, decompression is eschewed for fast-paced plotting. In other words, in a Millar comic, things happen — there are quick developments in the story, sudden twists you do not see coming, and fast action. This author never drags out a story for effect. He does use cliff-hangers at the end of his issues, but only after twenty-or-so pages of high-octane, thrilling events. I never seem to be able to put down a Millar comic book. I want to tear through issue after issue and book after book. I read all four books — twenty-four issues total — in one day. My only disappointment was that I wanted more! The Magic Order is a five-star comic from a writer who sometimes puts plot over theme, but in this story, we get a thematically rich tale that I can give the highest of recommendations.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.