Ancient review law requires me to spew a few hundred more words. But the executive version of my opinion is above. James Stokoe has put together one of the most chaotic and inventive comics I’ve read in a long time. I wish I could have jumped on the fanboy bandwagon earlier.
The comic’s world is overrun by orcs. Not in the usual vague-horde-in-the-distance sense that permeates novels in the genre. Almost every inch of the globe is overrun by the anarchic Orc clans. If you step in a puddle, you’re probably standing on an angry orc’s head. The twist is that these are less the fearsome creatures of Tolkien and more a disorganized gaggle of muscle-bound lunatics. Orc Stain paints an oft-hilarious picture of what a world where the savage unthinking horde actually won would look like. Individual orcs don’t have names, simply receiving fleeting nicknames based on rank or appearance. The most popular job seems to be looting. The second most popular seems to be robbing looters.
Stokoe’s Orcs have the phallic fixation to end them all. Try to recall the largest number of dicks you’ve ever seen in a trade paperback. Unless you take your pornography in comic form, Orc Stain has that number beat. Orc buildings look like dicks. Orcs hunt monsters for their dicks. Orc coins are petrified dicks. It starts out feeling puerile, becomes amusing, and finally graduates to fascinating. A civilization driven almost entirely by dick envy is a beautiful train wreck to watch.
While I’m in love with the worldbuilding, it wouldn’t mean much without a perspective to match. The comic follows One-Eye, an orc thief with a constant tired look and a rare three-digit IQ. He doesn’t share his society’s enthusiasm for slashing and burning, so he makes his living opening things. As-of-yet unexplained juju allows him to see the “break” in anything and crack it open like an egg. It’s a seemingly straightforward abilty that Stokoe takes to entertaining extremes. Including making another unlucky Orc’s junk fall off.
Change hits One-Eye’s world in the form of a poison dart to the chest. The shooters are elite minions of the Orc Tzar, the only orc to hold an empire together for more than five minutes. To unify the rest of the orc tribes, he’s after the largest petrified phallus on the planet, and needs a prophesized one-eyed orc to get it. The only prospect more terrifying than a world of orcs is a world of organized orcs. To achieve this end, his takes the brute force method of kidnapping every one-eyed orc in the world. What could be easier?
This leads One-Eye to a “Swamp Ramba” named Bowie. She quickly poisons, prevaricates, and plots her way to onto my short list of favorite supporting characters. I’m cutting off the plot summary here, because the chaos she effortlessly inflicts upon a hapless orc settlement should be seen for itself. But hints are given that she’s only getting started.
The visuals explode off the page. The savage personality of the world shines through in every panel of Stokoe’s art. Everything is fantastically detailed. Even at the briefest glance, Orc Stain is unmistakable for any other other book on the stands.
This is one worth watching. I want to say “it has potential”, but I honestly feel that it’s already there. Image Comics has a winner on their hands here, I only hope it gets all the recognition it deserves.