REVIEW: Tom Morello’s Orchid #1

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Today sees the release of Dark Horse Comics’ Orchid written by Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave/The Nightwatchman. We received an advance copy of the book from Dark Horse, but copies on the shelves will include access to Nightwatchman music to accompany the book. The writer of the book being best known for his guitar work should have been a warning that trouble was on the horizon, but he’s always come across as a very intelligent guy so I held out hope for this series when I heard about it. Unfortunately, the writing turns out to have a very amateur feel to it.

Spoilers for Orchid #1 will follow.

KevinMLD: The first problem is that most of the first five pages in a 24 page book are spent on narrative exposition just explaining the world to us. This is not good writing though I love the idea of genetic codes getting smashed and new predators rising out of the sea to eat man.

PTB: I didn’t mind that so much but it’s entirely due to the art. The images of this shattered Earth are what really sold me on the rest of the book and I liked the quick pace and shifting locales. Throwing in an image of a flooded Mount Rushmore calls to mind the original Planet of the Apes and that really appeals to me.

KevinMLD: Predictably, even after the apocalypse, rich people are evil and have oppressed the poor and created a new slave class. I was expecting social commentary from a book written by Tom Morello, however, I hoped it’d be a little more subtle that what we get here.

PTB: I’m a long time fan of Morello’s music and its anti-establishment ideology, but it’s a little on the nose here.

KevinMLD: What exactly happens on page 7 when the first rebel puts on their legendary hero General China’s Star mask? Does his neck somehow magically break? Then the thug supporters of Tomo Wolfe (General China’s nemesis and oppressor of the masses) kill the other Shadow Rebels by also making them put on the mask?

PTB: It’s like his everything magically breaks. He just ends up in a contorted pile. It’s a confusing image, but brutal at the same time. I honestly expected them to put the mask on the rebels one by one until it didn’t kill one and the tables were turned. I was kind of glad that didn’t happen.

KevinMLD: This issue features some BRUTAL dialogue. One of my favorite lines, “I will take great pleasure in forcing that Greenfoot’s severed head down your bridge-scum throat.” Yep. That’s how Morello’s villains talk.

PTB: I know genetic codes have been smashed, but none of those head sizes seem compatible with forcing down throats.

KevinMLD: The main protagonist of this first issue, a rebel named Simon, does a lot of talking to himself in the issue. He spends half a page trying to figure out how long he’s been alive. Very strange.

PTB: I wondered if that was supposed to be the result of a head injury from his fall, or if there was some suggestion that some new mind was in Simon’s body.

KevinMLD: We get a decent look at life in Simon’s city and it’s pretty grim. I think this sequence really demonstrates the artist’s strengths. Morello should trust him more to convey what needs to be said with pictures rather than pages of exposition. Maybe Morello will become more comfortable with that in time.

PTB: I couldn’t agree more. Scott Hepburn’s artwork is the highlight of this book. I like Massimo Carnevale’s cover image as well.

KevinMLD: Two thirds of our way through the issue we finally meet the series’ namesake Orchid, a tattooed prostitute, who is the older sister of a little boy whose life Simon saves. Morello makes it very clear she’s tough by having her yell at other prostitutes, get beaten up by a man who seems to believe he’s her pimp, and demonstrate a complete distrust of Simon panels after meeting him.

We also learn late in the issue that other people think Simon talks funny, which I guess is good because I was thinking his dialogue was just pretty bad. It seems that’s on purpose.

PTB: She’s not particularly likable in the small amount of time she has on panel. I wouldn’t want her character to soften as the series goes on, but I think she’d benefit from a less extreme voice.

KevinMLD: Morello clearly wanted to end the comic on a happy note as we see Orchid and Simon forced into slavery, while Orchid’s mother is brutally murdered in front of them all apparently at the direction of her pimp. The issue ends with Orchid definitely not happy with their situation.

PTB: Bad things are happening to people everywhere in this book, but I appreciate that a lot is happening. The book goes a long way to establish its world and central conflicts and as a first issue it works well enough. A $1 price tag doesn’t hurt either.

KevinMLD: Overall, I felt like there were some cool ideas in the book such as the weird genetic freak animal predators and the magic mask that can only be worn by a saint. Having said that, Morello probably could have benefited from a better editor or a co-writer to help him craft his ideas into a more solidly written piece. Having said that, I definitely respect him for giving writing comics a shot without any such safety net. This isn’t a great first issue, but I’m sure Geoff Johns’ first book wasn’t great either. And honestly, this isn’t much worse than what Chris Claremont has put out in recent years. Maybe we’ll see Morello grow as a writer over the course of the series and like you said it’s a one dollar comic. There should be more of those.

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