The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 129 | Orchid, Vol. 1 trade paperback review

Leaving Proof 129 | Orchid, Vol. 1 trade paperback review
Published on Friday, June 29, 2012 by

Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello’s comics-writing debut is collected in Dark Horse Books’ Orchid, Vol. 1. Find out if he’s as handy with a word processor as he is with a Fender Stratocaster by reading our full review of the book.

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Excellent art.
  • Setting is rife with potential for interesting future stories.

Cons:

  • Inordinate emphasis on exposition saps the narrative of its momentum.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Dark Horse Books (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
  • Publication Date: July 2012
  • Script by: Tom Morello
  • Art by: Scott Hepburn
  • Colors by: Dan Jackson
  • Lettering by: Nate Piekos of Blambot
  • Cover Art by: Massimo Carnevale
  • Format: 112 page full-color trade paperback; collects Orchid #1–4, originally published in single magazine format by Dark Horse Comics in 2011 and 2012.
  • List Price: $17.99 US (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale on 11 July, 2012

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Full Review

In the afterword to Orchid, Vol. 1, series writer (and Rage Against the Machine guitarist) Tom Morello describes the impetus behind his first published foray into comics thus

I’ve always been drawn to epic tales. Beowulf, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. But for me, there was always something missing. I could never entirely get behind the goal. “C’mon, subjects! Let’s get the king back on the throne!” Or “To arms, vassals! Let’s return the princess to glory!” In my book, kings and princesses are the bad guys. But what was really missing from these epic tales was the unspoken but ever present dirty five-letter word: CLASS. Who rules who and why?

Who has a lot and who has nothing? And why the hell doesn’t somebody do something about it?! In Orchid the cool monsters, the narrow escapes, and the epic battles are front and center, but somebody finally does something about the remorseless inequality that mirrors our own world. And that somebody is Orchid.

It’s an interesting and welcome deviation from the conventions of the contemporary action-adventure narrative, but given how many pages Morello devotes to world-building in the first volume of Orchid—a post-apocalyptic science-fiction/fantasy mash-up with class conflict as its central thesis—it is somewhat difficult for the reader to fairly judge whether or not it is especially successful. It’s always important to firmly establish characters, setting, and context when introducing a new IP, of course, but in the case of Orchid, Vol. 1, the exposition frequently comes at the cost of meaningful characterization and plot advancement. The pacing and atmosphere of the book would have greatly benefited from “incluing“—a contemporary expository approach that doesn’t require the main story being ground to a halt in order to explicitly impart information about characters and the fictional world to the reader. Instead, between the book’s omniscient narrator, its liberal use of character-narrated flashback sequences, and a point-of-view character who frequently speaks in “As You Know, Bob” mode, the plot moves incrementally in fits and starts and one is left feeling a little unsatisfied with the amount of non-expository story material over the book’s 112 pages.

All that being said, the world of Orchid does have a lot of potential going for it. The post-apocalyptic, ecologically-ravaged setting populated by humanity on the brink might strike some readers as a particularly tired trope but its versatility and the intrinsic ease with which it can be used as an emotional trigger are key reasons for its durability as a science-fiction and fantasy staple. The book’s protagonists and villains are less fully-realized characters and are more like heavy-handed caricatures at this point, but they should develop into well-rounded representations in future volumes, as Morello will more than likely find a better balance between storytelling, characterization, and world-building as he accumulates experience and aligns his comics-writing technique along more contemporary standards.

Artist Scott Hepburn’s linework and figure-rendering are reminiscent of that of a prime Greg Capullo in many respects, showcasing a good handle on “comic book anatomy” and a judicious, “old-school” control of solid ink blacks in defining lighting, space, and mass. The measured use of varied perspectives and viewing distances keeps the panels and pages dynamic but he never sacrifices clarity for spectacle. I’m somewhat lukewarm to most of the character and creature designs but the look for the eponymous Orchid, particularly in Massimo Carnevale’s covers, is quite distinct and memorable. Dan Jackson’s coloring complements the line art well, and he does a great job of supplementing mood and suggesting texture with his choice of mostly subdued tones and hues.

Orchid, Vol. 1 is a somewhat uneven introduction to what could still prove to be one of the more interesting takes on the post-apocalyptic comic book in a while, especially given Morello’s history of activism and his political outspokenness. Make no mistake, though, Orchid isn’t a thinly-veiled political screed and vanity project. As a science-fiction/fantasy action-adventure tale, this debut volume only partially succeeds because of hiccups in Morello’s narrative technique, but the technical work of the art team is exceptionally solid and there is every reason to believe that the few-but-glaring stylistic deficiencies that afflict the writing will be mitigated in future installments of the trade paperback series.

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