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Dark Horse Comics: Orchid #1 Review

Set in a dystopian future, Tom Morello’s Orchid aspires to tell a story on the epic scale of Lord of the Rings, injected with a class consciousness. According to Morello, he wanted there to be a great disparity between the social classes. All of the characters are either live in extreme poverty or excess. The story follows a hardened, 16-year old street prostitute named Orchid, who eventually discovers she’s destined for more than what she was born into.

Brought on by excessive pollution, a catastrophic climate change has caused the seas to rise eliminated much of the land. The rich and powerful live high above all others, as this is the only land safe from predators. Those that live closer to the sea level can only hope to survive for as long as possible. Ferocious beasts live in the surrounding wilderness. Those that survive becoming some creature’s dinner are always potential fodder for the slave trade. Previous attempts at rebellion have been quelled without mercy.

The story begins as another small rebellious faction, led by a man named Anzio, attempts to escape their pursuers with a pilfered mask of tremendous power. They fail to evade the soldiers and the head officer punishes them by placing the mask over their heads. The mask, which we’re told is not meant to be worn by all people, kills them almost instantly by crushing their heads. Anzio, attempting to save at least one of his followers, attacks the soldiers. His efforts allow a gentleman named Simon to escape with the mask in hand.

Simon sneaks into the shantytown where Orchid lives. The town’s denizens are referred to as the “Bridge People”. Simon saves Orchid’s younger brother and is invited to stay in their home by her mother. Orchid, as we mentioned earlier, is a young prostitute. The sex trade workers in this story are owned by their pimps and do not seem to be allowed to keep any of their earnings. After arriving home from a hard day’s work, she’s none too pleased to find this stranger around her brother, Yezhu and mother, but has very little time to process his presence before slave traders storm in and capture Orchid, her younger brother and Simon.

Orchid uses a lot of basic science fiction conventions in its set up. It’s an interesting enough start, but I’m more intrigued by how it’ll begin to set itself part from other stories of this genre. I thought the phrase, “genetic codes were smashed” sounded a little silly. There have to be better, but equally concise ways to describe the change of the genetic landscape brought on by extreme and sudden change to the environment. Also, I found it somewhat unlikely that the surrounding creatures and fauna would be subject to such extensive evolutionary changes, but the humans would remain unchanged. Minor qualms with the set up aside, I did appreciate how the story didn’t shy away from some of our more immoral tendencies as humans. 

The dialogue of some of the characters was a little unnatural, particularly Orchid’s mother. She seemed a little soft for someone who lived in such tough circumstances. Also, some of the random dialogue exchanges used to establish the difficulty of living in the environment of the Bridge People veer towards the maudlin. Orchid was portrayed as hard has her surroundings. Yezhu exuded a youthful innocence that balances out his sister’s tough exterior. It wouldn’t surprise me if something untoward happened to him to set her off balance down the road. Simon’s personality is a little uneven. Sometimes he’s portrayed as decisive and tough and others as scatterbrained. He does, however, have a great line towards the end of the issue.

Scott Hepburn turns in solid art for the first issue. He does an excellent job with the establishing shots, conveying well the results of the humans’ folly with panels of Mt. Rushmore just barely above sea level, cities lost to the sea and the state of whatever land is left dry. I can’t wait to see what he does for the rest of this series.

Orchid is off to an uneven start with it’s first issue, but it presents some promising ideas and it’ll be interesting to see what Morello follow’s up on and how he does it. 

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