‘The Order’ was a 10 issue series that tied into the ‘Initiative’. Written by Matt Fraction with art provided by Barry Kitson. Fraction was writing ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ so it is perhaps not surprising that the series featured not only Tony Stark but also Ezekiel Stane.
It was an interesting premise, with each member being given their powers artificially. After a year these powers would be removed and a new member would join. In issue 1 this premise is demonstrated when several heroes are fired and new recruits are introduced.
One of the reoccurring narrative tools used was to spotlight individual members by means of flashbacks to interviews carried ut with the various characters. This helped to give some insight into them and reveal surprising details.
Matt Fraction later stated that it was his choice to bring the series to an end after just 10 issues. This is a shame as I think the concept of ‘The Order’ has a lot of potential. I would have liked to have seen them deal with situations not related to SHADOW, their primary opponent during the run, seen new members join and how older members dealt with imminent retirement.
This untapped potential is why I think it can serve as source of ideas for a Marvel Heroic roleplaying campaign.
In the wake of ‘The Civil War’ Tony Stark oversaw the formation of the 50 state Initiative, designed to ensure that every state in America had a SHIELD sanctioned super team. The Order was a variation of that plan.
Rather than recruiting existing super beings The Order would create them from carefully selected candidates. This allowed each member of the group to fit a specifically selected role, modelled after the Greek gods (with Ares receiving royalties).
Members sign a morality contract, preventing them from drinking, doing drugs or otherwise indulging in behaviour that is unbecoming of heroes. Violating this contract is grounds for instant dismissal and deactivation of any powers.
The Order’s leader is Pepper Potts, taking the role of Hera. Cybernetics give her telepresence enhancements, allowing her to co-ordinate the team and give them information from the safety of their base.
In the field the team are expected to follow the orders of the person assigned the role of Apollo. The Poseidon role provides strength and tactical advice. The role of Hermes requires speed. Ranged attacks are provided by the role of Artemis. Close range attacks are handled by the role of Athena. The role of Hephaestus is the engineer. Energy projection is provided by the role of Helios.
At the conclusion of the 10 issue run Stark has decided that the team doesn’t work in its current form. He reinstates the teams powers but makes them part of the Initiative. This presumably means that they’ll no longer be making new superheroes. Any new members would have to have existing powers.
The question remains what will happen after the first year, when the majority of the team will have to be returned to normal? This would make a good story arc for a campaign focused on the Order. What do they do to prepare for retirement?
There is also question of what happened to all the candidates who had been training for months to be part of the team? Would they seek other avenues to gain powers? It is possible that Stark used his influence to secure them other roles where they could be heroes, possibly in SHIELD.
There is also a chance that Stark might change his mind. Certainly there are plenty of stories that be told about that setup. Alternatively games could be set prior to Issue 1, featuring previous members of the team.
The events of ‘Dark Reign’ would have major ramifications for the team. Norman Osborn spent a lot of time trying to take control of Stark technology. Was Stark able to prevent him gaining access to the Viral Genomech Payload technology or was Osborn able to create super beings that were loyal to him?
It is also clear that out of all the Initiative groups the Order was particularly important to Stark. This would be all the reason Osborn would need to make them suffer. Given his behaviour at the time, declaring Stark a traitor and a criminal, it would be typical of him to declare the Order collaborators and send HAMMER agents after them.
What the future holds for The Order is up to you and your players.
Viral Genomech Payload
Members of the Order were able to give input into how their super abilities were manifested. The transformation was achieved via nanobots which effectively hacked the hosts body to replicate biological superhuman abilities.
The drawback is that the human body was never designed to run under such a high stress level. It is for this reason that Order members only served for one year. Any longer than that and the transformation would become harmful.
The abilities that the Viral Genomech payload were capable of manifesting were varied. Most members could fly but it could also allow shape-shifting, weather control, super speed and the creation of sentient beings from inorganic materials.
This process could work in conjunction with mechanical devices, forming data input ports that allowed Supernaut to fuse with his robotic suit or Calamity to make use of Cheetah prosthetic limbs.
It was able to replicate the mutant abilities of Mulholland Black, powers which she had lost during M-Day. After the Viral Genomech Payload was shutdown using SPIN (Super Power Inhibiting Nanobots) she believed that her mutant abilities had reactivated.
Stane throws doubt on this but it is possible that this could be a possible cure for mutants affected by M-Day. In theory the Viral Genomech payload would allow the mutants body to become accustomed to their powers, aiding in their recovery.
This technology can have an important place in your campaign. Firstly it can serve as the origin for new characters (heroes or villains). The fact that a candidate can select their powers means that a player can create the type of character they want.
It is remarkable that the science exists that can create virtually any power desired in the Marvel universe. This shows an incredible understand of just how these abilities occur. It means that this is a resource that is available to the major players in the superhuman community.
Aside from the 1 year time limit this technology has incredible advantages. It is unclear whether the artificial powers could interfere with natural abilities. Potentially it could boost the powers of a hero or give them a new set of abilities.
Shortly after ‘The Order’ came to a close the events of ‘The Secret Invasion’ occurred. During this the Skrulls displayed mixtures of super powers and it is interesting to think how using the Viral Genomech payload could have evened the odds for the heroes. This could be something you wish to use when running through the events of ‘The Secret Invasion’ or creating adventures to explain why they weren’t used.
Stane argues that Stark is wrong not to give the technology to the public, that he is wrong to restrict it uses only to those who meet his standards. There are good reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea to let everyone use the technology, chiefly the damage that they could do and the probable their expense, but what if it wasn’t restricted?
This could create a version of the events from DC Comics ‘52’ series, where Lex Luthor creates the Everyman project that allowed anyone willing to pay to manifest powers. This could be an interesting Event where the established Marvel characters have to deal with the sudden influx of inexperienced super beings.
Adventures set in the near future of the Marvel universe might see a development of this technology. In such a world the powers could have been integrated into everyday life, just another tool that professionals use.
In such a world healers work at hospitals curing diseases and mending bones. Firemen are invulnerable to heat or have the ability to summon water to douse flames. Couriers are blessed with super speed or teleportation and planes are no longer required when everyone can fly for the price of a ticket.
In such a world what role would heroes have?
Last seen in ‘Marvel Boy’ the Bannermen return here. Codenamed Green and Brown (or Captain Green and Brown) they don’t resemble the Bannermen that SHIELD used previously.
It is possible that they are different models, here they have an inhuman appearance and would seem to be androids rather than clones.
Pepper states that they billion-dollar pieces of Stark Hardware. While they were expensive they were also described as expendable. Notably they don’t have a role within the team and aren’t replaced.
Their existence does suggest that there continues to be a desire to have non-human super beings that can deal with dangerous situations and are easily controlled. Just as the government spent decades trying to duplicate the super-soldier serum it is likely that they will continue to try to perfect the Bannermen.
The M.A.N from S.H.A.D.O.W
From Issue 1 the Order were in conflict with SHADOW. Eventually they discovered the majority of the threats they had faced where created by the mysterious organisation.
The organisation began as S.H.D.O (Super Human Development and Operation). Their goal was to create temporary super-soldiers stationing them into 48 states. This eerily predicted the 50-state initiative.
SHDO was led by General Samuel Softly who eventually died in 1957. He formed the basis of the androids that continued the objectives of SHDO. Ezekiel Stane provided funding, with an eye to defeating Tony Stark.
They were the source of most of The Order’s problems, responsible for creating Infernal Man and releasing hordes of zombie hobos. This was intended to test the super team and find weaknesses.
One of their experiments was exposing animals to gamma radiation. These animals would then patrol the desert surrounding their secret base. Like the Hulk the animals could appear completely normal until angered, at which point it would take on a monstrous, super-strong humanoid form.
SHADOW had some influence with the military, no doubt due to its origins. Innocent soldiers would follow the orders of General Softly, protecting the assets of the organisation.
While Stane provided the majority of SHADOWs funding it is entirely possible that it was still carrying out secret operations for over 50 years. Given that their primary goal was to create super-humans they could be responsible for numerous villains and monsters.
General Softly, the M.A.N from S.H.A.D.O.W is a good implacable enemy, especially if the PCs are unaware of his true nature. Not only will it appear that he is several different locations at once he can seemingly return from the dead, when in fact it is just another android taking his place.
SHADOW would make a perfect adversary for the Livewires. The two groups could engage in a secret war, unknown to the rest of the superhero community. That is until they get caught in the cross-fire.
The murder of a former Order member leads the group to the Black Dahlias, a street gang that Mulholland Black used to run with. She describes them as a group like the guardian angels, protecting women and girls on the streets of LA.
Since Mulholland was a mutant and given the appearance of some of the members of the group it is likely that some, if not all, were also mutants. It is also likely that they lost their powers on M-day.
This would explain why they stopped being vigilantes and joined forces with Stane, who offered them powers in a procedure not dissimilar to the one that Stark had invented. There were drawbacks to this process, requiring further treatments to maintain their power.
When last seen the Black Dahlias were suffering seizures due to the treatment. It is possible that they might have survived and could return to the streets. Like Mulholland they could find that their mutant powers are reactivated.
There is also nothing to prevent them from making an appearance in games set in earlier periods. They make good street-level vigilantes for other heroes to encounter. Certainly a meeting between the Black Dahlias and the Punisher or Cloak & Dagger would make an interesting adventure.
In the Marvel universe superheroes are always having trouble with their public relations, just ask Spider-Man. The Order are smart and hired Kate Kildare, head of the Hestia Public Relations firm.
Throughout the series she deals with the press, spins their news and quashes stories that could cause problems or ruin their reputation. Sometimes she has reveal her clients secrets in order to protect them.
If the PCs deal with the Order they could find themselves speaking with Kate Kildare. Other superheroes and teams might want to hire her, as long as they have the finances to do so.
When things go wrong the heroes know that there is someone covering their back, whose job it is to manage their image and perform damage control.This can elevate some of their stress and let them concentrate on the important business of saving the world.
The Order are surprised when they are attacked by a group of Cold War Russian super villains that no one had seen for decades.
What they discovered was that the Russians had put plans in place should nuclear weapons be fired.
Drenkov Island was part of that plan. Russian super villains were placed suspended animation. When they detected high levels of radiation in the US they would wake up and clean-up whatever was left.
Unfortunately when the Infernal man exploded this trigged the system on Drenkov Island. At the end of issue 2 the Russian forces are neutralised on the island. Further adventures could be set on the island, investigating what other secrets and contingency plans could be there.
There could be political ramifications, since Russia never decommissioned the island, despite the fact there was nuclear bomb there. Who knew about it and are there more out there?
Similar islands would be a good way to bring back older Russian super villains that belong to the era of the cold war. PCs could be tasked with locating them and awakening the Russian agents. These Russians need not be villain, they just have to be convinced that the Cold war is over.
This would make a good adventure for the Avengers and Secret Avengers. It could be particularly appropriate if Black Widow and Captain America were involved. Black Widow could reach out to them as a fellow Russian and Captain America knows what it is like to wake up in a different time.
Each issue has flashbacks where one of the characters is spotlighted. Through the means of an interview we learn about their background and what motivates them. When running a game based the Order or similar setup you may wish to try this as well.
For the most part these interviews were set in the past but in at least one case they were set after the events were shown. This is only important in regards to the subject of the interview (the characters past or their view of the ‘current’ scene).
These interviews can serve several functions. They can act as a transition scene, that occurs parallel to the current scene. This would allow the player to recruit resources or heal emotional or mental trauma (as they work through their issues in the interview).
The interview might be a means to trigger Milestones, especially those that relate to introspection. It could be a means to introduce a temporary Distinction (maybe one that only applies to the current scene) or create a Stunt.
Frequently the interviews were used to setup some doubt about the hero, whether it be their motives or their suitability for membership in the group. To emulate this players could receive a Plot Point (while adding a dice to the Doom Pool) to represent that mounting dread.
Interviews could be allocated to one player per session or everyone in the group could be allowed one interview during a session. This will be based on how well the group can co-ordinate the use of interviews.
The technique shouldn’t be abused. If the player is using an interview they should have something important to say about their character.