“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige.”
—Christopher Priest, The Prestige
[***This review contains no spoilers for The Magic Order #6***]
The Magic Order #6 is the final, concluding issue to what has been one hell of a first volume by Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel.
I missed writing a review for issue #5 last month, but I read it a couple of weeks ago to prepare for the release of #6 this week and to catch up on what I had missed. #5 was a buildup to the expected showdown between the Moonstones and Madame Albany (one of the most fascinating villains in recent comics). It was an important issue in one particular respect, and while I enjoyed it overall it was my least favorite issue in that I found a certain surprise revelation difficult to believe. But given how much I love this title I let myself go with it and, fortunately, The Magic Order #6 is so dazzlingly good, and ends Volume 1 on such a strong note, that I no longer mind my initial quibble with issue #5. (And besides, #5 contained the cool surprise of having my #AskTheMagicOrder question answered by Mr. Mark Millar himself!)
It’s hard to talk about any of the major events in this or the previous issue without spoiling anything, but at the same time these events are so pivotal to the story that it would be negligent for a review to not allude to them at all. So this review is my attempt to acknowledge the key occurrences of issues #5 and #6 in a way that those who’ve read it will recognize but, at the same time, those who haven’t read them won’t have anything spoiled.
Looking back now on all six issues of Volume 1 of The Magic Order, the story arc seems to resemble, appropriately enough, a magic trick in a couple of ways. One way is how a certain event—a couple of events, actually—make you gasp and think, “Oh, no, did that really just happen?!” It’s like when the magician on stage seemingly saws through his assistant in the box and the audience thinks, “Did he really just cut his assistant in half?!” But then the magician grins, opens the box and says, “Relax, folks, I assure you my assistant Pamela is still in one piece!” and sure enough Pamela gets up, flashes a gleaming smile, and waves to the audience as they let out a collective sigh and break out into applause.
The other way Volume 1 is like a magic trick is in the way it makes you fixate on one of the magician’s “hands” which essentially distracts you while the other hand is up to some mischief or other. I can’t be less vague than this because to say more might spoil something. But I can say that the “hands” in this case are characters. You think that a certain character is the key to something when the whole time it was someone else.
Trust is also revealed here as a primary theme of Volume 1, at least, if not of the series as a whole—when it’s given but not deserved, when it’s deserved but not given, and the chance to amend these mistakes before it’s too late. There are also some interesting philosophical and existential questions such as how, when certain things are hidden from us or denied to us, it may be possible that in some cases it really is for our own good. Or how making all the wrong decisions in life may make you miserable but can nevertheless leave you with a certain wisdom that, in a critical moment, can save the day. Or how the willingness to do what’s forbidden or taboo can likewise also save the day. Oh, and there’s a nice line here that pays tribute to a famous Rorschach quote from Watchmen.
The Magic Order #6 confirms and consummates what I had hoped for since the very first issue, that the ending is as good as the beginning; that the Prestige fulfills the promise of the Pledge; and that, yes indeed, good magicians always have a trick up their sleeve.