There might be a pretty good comic lurking inside “Orchid” #1, but it’s hard to find under some inconsistent writing and art.
“Orchid” #1, despite beginning with what amounts to a massive four page prologue info dump, actually starts well with strong visuals and an intriguing dystopian set up. However, as the story piles on more and more elements and characters and takes a variety of cliched short cuts, it becomes difficult to see the potential here. The mystery at the heart of “Orchid” — a powerful mask that can only be worn by a saint — is intriguing on its own, but the surrounding material is not living up to that one element.
The script by Tom Morello is unfortunately uneven, both in execution and also in tone. The writing at the beginning of “Orchid” feels deadly serious, dystopian, and appropriately dark, but later his dialogue feels almost light and humorous, and then it reverts back to sharp and mean. While it might just be a difference in the two characters we spend the most time with, there’s not enough here to know, and the result for now is that things feel decidedly erratic. Morello’s characters are difficult to connect to and understand, both their personalities and their motivations. Twenty-four pages isn’t a lot of time to set up a massive dystopian epic (especially with four pages of back-story) but the net effect feels like a lot of time wasted on stuff that is unclear and not that interesting, at the expense of characters we could really use a little more insight on.
The story, toward the end especially, relies heavily on cliches — the hard edged prostitute taking care of her family at all costs, the innocent younger brother, the evil pimp, a mother brutally killed in front of her children, etc. There’s nsothing wrong with some of those elements as story devices, but they’re not used particularly creatively or with the necessary emotional punch and thus feel awkward and forced.
The art by Scott Hepburn suffers almost the exact same problems as the writing. It starts out quite tight and well-considered but veers off path around page five and becomes progressively less clear as the story goes on. While the initial set up of dystopian landscapes and harsh conditions feels well-rendered and scary by the end the world building in “Orchid” feels decidedly less fleshed out and sometimes absolutely confusing.. For example I don’t have a sense at all of how these people live (except badly). Some strange inconsistencies — like the characters’ clothing — might be okay if it felt deliberate, but unfortunately it just feels sloppy. Additionally, backgrounds drop out or become overly sketchy arbitrarily and as a result it ends up feeling terribly inconsistent and uncontrolled.
I’m always up for a good dystopian story, and there’s an interesting idea in here somewhere, but it’s getting buried in a quagmire of conflicting elements and visuals. Hopefully the creative team can sort out the weaknesses and rebound in the second issue with something a little more focused.