When I first heard about Orchid (blurb and facts are down below), the brain child of Rage Against The Machine‘s Tom Morello, I had low expectations. Admittedly, I thought he was already skilled in one area, music, what were the chances he would be skilled in another completely unrelated one, comics.
I’d read interviews and press releases that made me think Orchid would be a heavy-handed political and social diatribe vilifying politicians and the rich and babying the rest of us, barely held together with pictures– pretty much a Chick Tract for social revolution.
When I finally got my hands and eyes on Orchid Volume 1[1. A copy of this title was provided for review by Dark Horse Comics.] I found myself wrapped up in a fast-paced action-adventure starring the quirky and blindly optimistic nerd, Simon, and the surly whore, Orchid, with nothing and everything to lose.
Volume one, covering issues 1-5, is a proper set up of the characters and why we should care about them. This post-apocalyptic world is vast, feeling vaster than the current world at times.
The first couple issues start with historical exposition set over elaborate, intricate scenes. I was reading on my kindle fire and often found myself zooming in to see what all was going on. Tom Morello (writer) and Scott Hepburn (artist) brought this somewhat over done setting new life. From fascinating creatures roaming the wild to the concept of people spending generations on “the derelict barges,” it all felt fresh and exciting.
But once the characters took center-stage it was hard to notice much else– though the art stays well done throughout– with the snappy dialogue and constant progress.
Orchid, Simon, and The Mask (this is an actual, literal mask but with so much legend and power it is pretty much a character in its own right) face more than their fair share of foes and near misses. At some points the adventuring hits a lull and I realized this is seriously heavy, seriously sad, and just generally serious.
That’s one of the greatest things about Orchid; it takes the path of children’s stories and parables, the lesson and the story work so well together that I didn’t realize I was being taught.
I was attached to the story and the characters and the world as not only a fantastic place but also the home of these people who deserved better. Before I knew it, after experiencing their world, watching their struggles, triumphs, and failures, and even getting a glimpse at the antagonists, I’d joined their revolution.
Almost every character — the exception being some villains who do seem to be more symbolic power hoarders than individuals– is fleshed out with a back story, from being a simple bridge folk whore to a nerd who wouldn’t be so out of place elsewhere where he was a slave specially trained because of his aptitude[2. I thought Simon was a time traveler when he was first introduced, until his manner of being was explained away sufficiently enough to re-suspend my disbelief].
You’ll be hard pressed to read Orchid and not to be moved or inspired on some level. Maybe simply by Simon’s unwavering courage and idealism, maybe by Orchid as a strong woman, or even by one of the “villains[3. Issue #5 SPOILER: I’m not willing to call Don Barrabas an actual villain so much as a survivor/victim/pawn who aligned with a man, Tomo Wolfe, willing to do right by him to accomplish much greater wrongs.]” who was somewhat of an ugly duckling (if the ugly duckling turned out to be a duck hunter-chef).
Sure, you might not feel you’re now expertly educated about class warfare or moved to “damn the man, save the empire.” But I can definitely say through Tom Morello telling Orchid’s story I felt heard, and seen, and important as a woman, and a person of color, and a nobody with no power or clout. Generally, as a person with things that can be or have been used to marginalize me. In Orchid, all those things that they use against us were the building blocks to make powerful characters, powerful ideas.
At the end of most comics the writer includes a short essay about their thoughts on the work. While I don’t really I care about nearly any issues, including class, in the real world, the passion Tom Morello shows for this project and this message is the kind of passion that can only create great things.
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 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 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.
Orchid is successful as something new and different, something intriguing and engaging, and something worth reading.
I’d stand up to The Hangman for it.
When the seas rose, genetic codes were smashed. Human settlements are ringed by a dense wilderness from which ferocious new animal species prey on the helpless. The high ground belongs to the rich and powerful that overlook swampland shantytowns from their fortress-like cities. Iron-fisted rule ensures order and allows the wealthy to harvest the poor as slaves.
Delve into the first chapter of Orchid, the tale of a teenage prostitute who learns that she is more than the role society has imposed upon her.
Writer: Tom Morello
Artist: Scott Hepburn
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Cover Artist: Massimo Carnevale
Publication Date: July 11, 2012
Format: FC, 112 pages; TP, 7″ x 10″
Age range: 14