Review: Tom Morello’s Orchid

Rage Against The Machine's driving force comes to Dark Horse with a post-apocalyptic tale of monsters and the Spartacus of Whores.  BE WARNED:  Here there be spoilers!

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker


Back at San Diego Comic-Con when Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello announced that he was doing an epic miniseries called Orchid for Dark Horse, he proclaimed his tale was about "a 16-year-old street prostitute who becomes the Spartacus of whores."  If the Orchid #1 is any indication, she's well on her way already.

[Read my in-depth interview with Tom Morello about Orchid and many other things right here.]

The setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth, with the opening line "when the seas rose, genetic codes were smashed."  Society has collapsed entirely into the have-all ruling class and the have-nothing Bridge People, with the former living in cities in the highlands and the latter scrounging about in shantytowns of poverty, despair and the "commerce of lust."  Oh, and occasionally crazy monsters eat them.  There's a minor rebellion trying to take hold after a major one failed, and in the first issue, a small group of young men have led a suicide mission to reclaim the mask of their late legendary leader General China – a mask capable of granting great power or painful death.  A young British-esque scholarly type named Simon escapes with the mask and finds himself in one of these miserable places, saves a child from a monster and winds up getting accidentally sold into slavery because that child's older sister Orchid has just bloodied her pimp and watched her mother get brutally murdered.

There's a burning pit of anger there, plain on Orchid's face, that will come back to haunt these bastards.

First things first – anyone checking this out is going to be wondering how the guitar dude from Rage and Audioslave fares as a comic writer.  Will this just be another vanity project for a celebrity?  Well, when you meet Morello, 'vanity' is hardly your first impression of the guy.  You know it's going to serve his ideas about class warfare and social injustice, but we can see from this first issue that it's going to balance that with some epic storytelling.  Although this book is rough around the edges, as you might expect for a rookie comic writer, there is a lot of gritty detail and wild imagination present here that could really serve this story well as he and artist Scott Hepburn get their sea legs. 

Orchid's clan of prostitutes are called valks, which has to be short for valkyries (which has to mean we'll see them on horseback beheading bad guys with cool swords at some point), and they all dress in feathered headdresses and brandish huge PROPERTY tattoos across their chests.  In what is either entirely coincidence or perhaps the least expected nod to pro wrestling I've ever seen, when a rookie whore is weeping, the embittered Orchid flashes her arm branding that reads KNOW YOUR ROLE and basically tells her to shut her mouth.  At first glance, one goes 'hah, The Rock.'  But the more you look at it, the more you think how nasty the concept of knowing your role can be, especially when it comes with shutting your mouth. 

Hepburn's also not pulling any punches as far as violence goes, as we get a pretty good look at a beheading, and the monsters we see are really elaborate and eye-grabbing creations, and everybody likes seeing new and amazing kinds of creatures.  His people are occasionally shaky, but what's good certainly outweighs anything questionable.

The minor dings – it's a bit heavy on the narration and world-setting, but even though it can seem a little trite to rely on that and it might be more effective to break it into flashbacks or break it up into several other smaller exposition points, you have to admit it lets you get to the main story faster when you get all the set-up out of the way quickly.  The dialog is also spotty here and there, particularly with Simon being a little too 'good heavens!' to be believable, although it's nicely juxtaposed with him being a slick and cunning survivor.  The pacing's a little off, but this is all dinky stuff that will likely disappear with experience. 

Orchid #1 is mostly set-up, not only for the ugly world humanity now inhabits and the struggles they face, but also for the title character's journey away from flesh-peddling and towards some heroics that we know are probably going to be pretty damn savage.  This class division may seem a little extreme, but then you can watch things like this that are going on in the real world and suddenly these ideas are not so strident – in fact, they might be prescient, and hopefully we'll have some angry badasses like Orchid among the destitute to make a difference when those times come.