I first tried to review the first four issues of James Stokoe’s comic as a video filmed by Paul but came off as sounding like Chester A. Bum. So another attempt one trade paperback later and a new issue out last week. As issue # 5 lingered on some shelves for months, untried, I was worried this comic wouldn’t get the audience it deserves. Now issue #6 provides a great jumping on point and another well-deserved chance for new readers.
Praise for Stokoe’s latest work seems to be pretty across the board, including one review at TCJ (the link’s been lost since the site revamped) that made me feel silly, making me realized I missed the countless phallic symbols throughout the book. But again, when literal phalluses are the literal currency in the world of Orc Stain, you tend to not look for the Freud hiding in the bushes but stare at the symbol dangling in your face.
That little fact about currency was spelled out further via two bonus pages in a trade paperback, showing how “gronches” are made into “chits,” which most critics with good taste didn’t show as part of their excerpts. So here they are now!
The idea of Orc junk as money is just one of the examples that illustrate the reason why I like this book so much. It’s a singular vision that allows itself to be twisted, something I have not been subjected to via fantasy comics in a while.
Most of the swords and sorcery fantasy I have been subjected to in recent years has been designed or subjugated by committee. JR. Tolken’s The Lord of The Rings is now identified with a director and a cast of actors. The first of the Dragonlance books friends recommended when I was young took three authors to write, inevitably becoming just another campaign as all the Dungeons and Dragons affiliated books did. The Conan saga has been around longer than creator Robert E. Howard lived on this earth. And World of Warcraft has the same problems as any other comic book franchise: There’s no real way the story will ever truly surprise if the property is to survive as a continuing whatever. Having played the initial Warcraft games due to the interesting graphics and animation, I’m convinced if things were going to end naturally, all the humans should have been wiped out, but what about Leeroy Jenkins and all those other people who’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years maintaining their Paladin characters?
If someone were hired and allowed to do their own Warcraft series and have it be interesting, it might come close to James Stokoe’s work over the last year. I get a strong sense that he is making up a lot of this as he goes, which is why the strength of the first five issues is in the non-stop action, following the orc known as One-Eye (the closest most orcs get to a name at all in Stokoe’s world) and all his adventures, from scurrying for tribute to a tribal lord, to getting swindled, to getting even, to starting a blood feud that wrecks a village (issues #1-3 folks), to getting away and poisoned for his efforts. He gets turned in by Bowie the Poison Thrower, a witch-type character living in the swamp (and likely the other recurring protagonist character for the foreseeable future), who is in turned swindled out of a reward by servants of the Orc Tzar, the latest in would-be rulers who seeks a one-eyed orc among thousands with the gift to open the way to some time of God Gronch. Yes, a really big piece of junk. I think the women who read Orc Stain like it for what they see as its honesty in war and conquest.
Issue # 4 felt like a let down just for the reason that One-Eye was on his back for most of the issue recovering from being poisoned. Issue #5 picks up again and as expected, ends with a cliffhanger. It was a strange place to end on the soon after published trade on. One-Eye is placed into a living prison/test chamber for all one-eyed orcs in hopes that one will free themselves and help to claim the Orc Tzar’s prize.
That reminds me to bring up why I love Stokoe’s world so much. For all its token violence, he instills a comedic Flintstones-like technology with nearly every mechanical device coming from a living creature. This is done throughout regardless of conventionality or logic or inherit cruelity in using bird-like creatures as rifles or bear-like creatures as safes or even gerbil like…things as beer cans. It’s pure eye candy, and it, along with the aforementioned action, helps moves the story forward without having the reader dwell on questions about the world that Stokoe isn’t ready to answer (yet).
When issue # 6 came out recently, without getting into too much detail (including revelations of other connections between characters), it served as perfect ending to the story arc and what would have been the perfect ending to the already-out first Orc Stain trade. It promised future battles, future conflicts, future mysteries, and some of the most amazing dramatic scenes and splash pages I’ve seen in a while. I’m telling you, Zach Snyder would love to put these pages to film and fuck them up.
Why wasn’t this issue the end chapter to the first trade? There are two theories. One is that the traded needed to come out to keep Stokoe afloat so he could get this far. The other is that Stokoe is really really making this up as he goes.
The former theory makes me want to push this series on you more. The latter just makes me dismiss the perhaps prematurely released trade as a forgiveable mishap. Stokoe’s website for Orc Stain shows that he is continuing to flesh out the the nature of the world, including it’s geography, the history of One-Eye, and the nature of the Love Nymphs (the only other females besides Bowie, and why are there no female orcs?) among other things.
Maybe we’ll even figure out why orcs aren’t one color and seem to even change colors when under certain stages of duress. Maybe not for a while. Point is, Orc Stain is turning out to be an excellent and lively singular vision, something I haven’t seen in a while in the realm of comics in the fantasy genre.