Slowly but surely a horde of Orcs spread forth from their southern territories. They pour over the map like a green stain, taking cities, land and more all beneath the rule of a single Orc. But as his power spreads and his forces grow an orc known as One-Eye thinks of things other than smashing and conquering.. Collecting the first five issues of the new series from James Stokoe, Orc Stain, vol. 1 is a visually dense, unique and action packed read.
On the surface the plot of Orc Stain is old hat. An evil warlord is threatening civilization and a prophecy leads him to seek out the key he needs to secure his domination, something that will lead him to an unsuspecting young man who possesses said key but who wants nothing to do with world domination. And admittedly, when you look at it like that it’s nothing amazing. What is amazing is how it’s all put together and the unique and fascinating twists that Stokoe heaps one upon the other. It’s not enough for Stokoe to focus simply on the orcs, a twist that’s not unheard of but rare enough that it could be fascinating all on it’s own. No, instead he builds an orcish society from the ground up that looks less like the orcs from Lord of the Rings and more like something you’d get if H.R. Giger did fantasy stories. Everything has it’s roots in the biological world and phallus’ are everywhere. More evidence of the time Stokoe put into world building comes out via the odd monologues from One-Eye as he reflects upon the ins and outs and the history of orcish society. For his part One-Eye comes across a clever but tired fellow, someone who doesn’t quite fit in with the other orcs and knows it, but someone who also doesn’t seem to have much motivation to leave it all behind. That said I don’t think that One-Eye is the real stand out character. No, the real show stealer is Bowie, a poison thrower who turns up about halfway through the volume. She’s smart, funny, an incredibly good fighter and has the benefit of a wonderfully grumpy companion for her to play off of. She comes across as delightfully viscous and incredibly competent and her talent for various poisons and toxins lead to some wonderfully entertaining fight scenes in the later portion of the book.
Visually Orc Stain is a jaw dropping piece of work. It’s thanks in part to the amazing amount of detail that Stokoe manages to pack into it. This is a visually dense book where every page and panel is brimming with detail. Incredibly intricate character designs, backgrounds and more will have your eyes popping out of your head. What’s truly amazing is that at no time does this detail every feel like extraneous clutter. Instead it drives home the previously mentioned biological element which permeates the title. Nearly every piece of orc technology seems derived from a living creature of one kind of another and it shows. Hide armor with faces or mouths, weird exploding creatures used as bombs, living beer cans, narcotic crabs, and more all give the book an incredibly unique visual hook which is both entrancing and repellent. You can’t help but get sucked into the world, but at the same time closer examination may have you squicking out at the phallus adorned throne room of the Orc Tzar or squirming at the rather digesting breakfast Bowie gives One-Eye. In addition the action sequences are clever, fast paced and entertaining with Stokoe doing a masterful job at keeping up the level of detail without it detracting from the combat. It really is a groddy treat for the eyes.
There’s a whole lot to love about Orc Stain but it’s absolutely not for everyone. The basis for orcish currency and the ubiquitousness of it’s source is sure to horrify and squick out the more puritanical readers. On top of that outside of Bowie, every other female who turns up is essentially a sex slave. Despite those facts anyone who does read the book will be rewarded by one of the most interesting and memorable takes on the fantasy genre to grace the sequential art medium in quite some time!
Orc Stain, vol. 1 is available now from Image Comics.
Skullkickers vol. 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body collects the first five issues of the new fantasy comedy series under one cover. Within you’ll find the adventures of a nameless dwarf and his equally nameless bald friend as they pursue the ever elusive payday they desire.
Skullkickers starts off with a bang and rarely lets up. It has a fast paced fantasy adventure feel mixed with two leads who feel like they stepped out of a buddy movie. The story itself is a constant build up, with each threat they encounter leading the nameless duo to an even larger and more problematic one. It starts off simply enough with a werewolf but snowballs from there to an assassin, goblins, zombies, demon lords and more. It certainly does a good job with the fast pacing and the roller coaster ride feeling but the humor often fell flat for me. There are some genuinely funny and amusing moments, ranging from surprisingly descriptive sound effects such as “imminent violence” to the violent antics of the dwarf, but a lot of times the book doesn’t seem to know when to stop. The sound effects are a good example of this. At first it’s cute and funny, but by the end of the book it’s just getting tired and annoying. Likewise a good chunk of the humor is just so over the top and wacky that it detracts from the action and adventure portion of the book. The dwarf’s possessed leg was a good example of something that left me rolling my eyes rather than rolling with laughter. Oddly enough, I felt the humor in the two original short stories included at the back of the book worked much better than much of the humor in the ongoing itself. It was a bit more subdued, had a nice dark edge to it and felt a bit more clever than a vomiting dwarf.
The artwork didn’t really work for me. It’s got a stripped down cartoony feel that does work well with the silly bits, but since I didn’t really like the sillier moments it’s probably no surprise that I wasn’t keen on an art style that plays that material up. That said, Huang’s action scenes are energetic and fun and he does a very good at conveying motion and impact during the battles. Likewise his character designs are simple but distinct with a wide variety of body types and facial shapes on display, something that’s often overlooked in both American and Japanese comics. The original two short stories that are included feature art from Chris Stevens. Stevens’ artwork is much more detailed and rendered than Huang’s, and I think the detail leant itself wonderfully to the fantasy setting and helped give the action and the violence a nice bite that clicked with the slightly darker humor.
Skullkickers is an odd bird. While the main story was ok with more misses than hits for me humor wise, the original back up stories where fantastic and I think they were closer to what I was hoping for and what I was expecting from the series. The over the top humor keeps me from falling in love with the series, but there is a part of me that’s vaguely curious to see what will happen next. I doubt I’ll pick up the single issues, but if the second volume comes out at the same low price I’ll probably give it another look.
Skullkickers vol. 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body is available now from Image Comics.