Influential activist musician Tom Morello has created a brand new world within the pages of Dark Horse’s Orchid. In a dystopian future, Morello is exploring a world where, much like our own, wealth and power decide your fate. Included within Orchid‘s pages is not only a tale about the relentless battles that the poor, hungry, and impoverished must face, but also a soundtrack recorded by Tom Morello to go along with each issue.
Writer: Tom Morello
Artist: Scott Hepburn
Colours: Dan Jackson
It is always fun when fans can follow an artist from one medium to another. In the comics medium, there has been a small trend where musicians are using comics as another outlet for the stories they want to tell. In this case, we have famed guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello. Morello and RATM have always championed the causes that they believe in, through their music and their actions. Each member of RATM is a firm believer in their own ideals, and one member in particular has always stayed true to his beliefs. Tom Morello, who even through the break-up of Rage Against the Machine, continued to make music and channeled his energy through the band Audioslave and his one man act, The Nightwatchman. Now, Morello has turned his talent and causes toward the medium we all know and love.
Now, if you think that when you open up Orchid you’re going to be force fed left-wing ideals or political mumbo jumbo, you couldn’t be more wrong. Orchid is a science-fiction story based in the future and includes plenty of action, drama, romance, and good ol’ ass kicking. The world had been through many changes by the time we get to the era where Orchid takes place. The Earth had been nearly completely submerged underwater at one point in time. When the water receded, very little was left. Humans turned to robotic animals to domesticate and high ground to survive. Some humans had only ever known the vast expanses of the oceans, and some have even turned to cannibalism in order to survive. Nearly all of the creatures on Earth are violent genetic mishaps due to the meddling of pharmaceutical giants and the natural progression of evolution. Survival is the key, and in order to survive you either live under the thumb of local warlords, or chance The Wild. The Wild borders every town, and is full of vicious creatures and treacherous terrain.
The warlord Tomo Wolfe rules Fortress Penuela. Through his own cunning, he has created a city in his image, where he rules absolutely over all. Villages on the border are used to mine humans for slaves, buy leeches (a narcotic), or prostitution. Unless you are a soldier or have wealth, you are considered no better than the savage beasts that ravage The Wild. General China was the only person to ever oppose Tomo Wolfe. China was able to strike hard at Wolfe, armed only with a supernatural mask and his army of the oppressed. Nowadays, China is just a myth, and as each day passes hope of his return fades. A small group begins to form, consisting of a technological genius, a hard-luck leader, and a few others. Most importantly, though, is Orchid. Using prostitution as a means to provide for her mother and brother, Orchid soon realizes that all of her rage and anger is only fuel to fight for freedom.
Once you read through issues 1-11, you would never have thought that Tom Morello was actually a guitarist by trade. Orchid feels like a well thought out universe, with a point and a story to be told. There are times when creators come from other creative outlets like music or television and their work feels exactly like someone just dipping their toes, testing out the comic book medium. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. In the case of Morello and Orchid, it definitely works. The Earth in Orchid has gone through many stages. It has been drowned by the world’s oceans, polluted by corporate power mongers, ruled by wild beasts, and the lesser people have turned to cannibalism and various other nefarious survival tactics. Morello put quite a bit of thought into these stages, and throughout the series slowly explores these past eras, creating a sense of universe. Hepburn’s art really enhances the feel of a world that has lived past its better days. The cast that Morello has put together is also intriguing and entertaining. Each character is unique and has their own personal motivations. A lot of writers tend to ignore secondary characters in their stories, but all of the great sci-fi tales have colorful b-characters. Morello uses a few pages in each issue to explore all of the important characters, which helps readers attach to some, but overall creates a deep and well-rounded cast. Some of the characters may feel a bit cliched, but they all fit the story well.
Orchid has a blending of genres as far as look and feel go, but at the end of it all you really get a sense of urgency, and ultimately the need for survival. When these kinds of emotions are drawn from a reader, they easily attach themselves to a character within the story that helps satiate that feeling. Orchid, the heroine, really helps drive home that feeling. She really embodies Morello’s ideals, but at the same time fills the role of reluctant heroine. Orchid comes from a family living in poverty, and works a less than desirable job to help her family survive. She was raised without a father, which nowadays is typical. Not the fatherless scenario, but the less than “nuclear family” idea. Ultimately, all Orchid ever wanted was to live a peaceful life helping her mother and raising her brother. Sometimes, though, people are destined for a higher calling, and even the lowest caste can be raised to a spectacular status. Through Orchid, Morello has crafted a relatable heroine in a relatable universe.
In order to create this universe, Morello would need some help. Luckily he found a great duo in Canadian artist Scott Hepburn and colorist Dan Jackson. The Orchid universe would have to be one full of wonder, as well as relics of times gone by. Hepburn and Jackson combine for just the right look and feel. A lot of the clothing and buildings look worn and familiar, but also accessible. The wild environments have a sense of impending doom, but also manage to feel like they hold hidden treasure. While the environments seem familiar but new, Hepburn really excels in his character work. Each character has a unique look, one that fits their character and their role within the story. The action poses are dynamic, and facial expressions, while a little exaggerated, really hit home. Jackson does a great job with the tone of the story through his colors. Hopeless moments are dark, while action and freedom panels are bright and exciting. Even the more mellow and introspective moments have mild colors which allow for more emotional moments. There are a couple moments throughout the 11 issues that when reading successive panels it feels as though a panel was skipped, but these are few and far between.
Orchid is a great read. If you tend to stay away from political tones, worry not, because while Orchid is written by activist Tom Morello, his creative side really shines here. He has created a fictional universe with a deep history and even deeper characters. The cast is likable, and explored enough so there is mystery behind each one, but motivations are clearly explained. The character work is enhanced by Hepburn’s ability to draw dynamic poses and colorful facial expressions. Colorist Dan Jackson is spot on with intensifying the mood and tone with his background colors. Morello, Hepburn, and Jackson have created one of the sci-fi sleeper hits of the year in Orchid.