Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quick Hit Review: Orc Stain #2

Written, Drawn and Colored By: James Stokoe
Lettered By: Unlisted
Publisher: Image Comics

If the fantastical world, title or insanity of the artwork has not gathered enough attention; then, let me add that there is some actual subtext in development within the pages of Orc Stain.

For the unknowing, Orc Stain is the latest creator-owned spectacle from Image Comics. Artist and writer, James Stokoe, is bringing his talents from Oni Presses’ Wonton Soup to tell the tale of One Eye – a loner orc who works as a looter in a world buried in the blood of war. One Eye has a special gift though: he can unlock the secrets of objects. It is a gift which aids One Eye in his day-to-day business, but also has attracted the unwanted attention of the Orc Tsar. The talent One Eye possesses makes him the perfect candidate for the Tsar’s ultimate goal. The goal of unlocking an organ which once belonged to a powerful Orc-god. One Eye must avoid the Tsar’s grasp.

The first exposure of this book left my mind impressed by the creativity. Works which instill a sense of “Wow, there is a world here” always stand out, and Stokoe accomplished that sensibility very well in the first issue. The combination of his artwork and premise weave together so well to establish this sense of existance within the pages: the existance of something large. As a reader, I can feel that this universe carries its own rules even though they are not technically being presented to me. It holds life, it holds balance, it takes care of itself and it evolves by itself. That is the sign of a true cartoonist – when the lines laid on a page spring life rather than just being lines. This attribute immediately made James Stokoe a stand-out comic book artist in my mind, and it made him an artist well worth watching.

So, the second issue has finally arrived, and even though I did not need another reason to love this project, I found one. The orcs are more then meet the eye.

With this second issue Orcs are no longer just a high concept but more of a metaphor – a metaphor for humanity and the typical male persona. We live in a world that prides itself on the ideals of the “macho-man”. The guy who can bench-press two hundred and twenty-five pounds and bong plenty of beer is the one who seems to rule the social atmosphere. Much of our view of the modern man (and man really throughout time) relies upon these aspects of savagery which we try to think as civilized and correct. Our youth is subjected to this ideal and pushed to live it. Stokoe finds his fuel from this source and underlines his work of Orc Stain with it. His commentary subtley breathes an air of cynicism, with a side of potential warning and a dash of sarcasm.

So far, the character of PointyFace exists as his main bullet. Pointyface is a slime ball who prides himself on his ego and his loud attitude. It is not so surprising when we see him in this issue rallying the crowd of a local bar, proclaiming the ways of his dangerous adventures. In all reality, it was One Eye who was the hero of such stories, but Pointyface is a liar and desires the attention and repuation. He will lie as long as the drinks and women are at stake.Even though a mythical creature, the character resembles the common roughneck we all stumble so easily upon. Stokoe uses this connection and the character’s actions to show the reader this “ideal” male persona really is not so great to be. It is more savage than anything. Just like the Orc is a savage creature.

Stokoe also continues the idea of the “ideal man” with the theme of acceptance within the society. Execution in the world of Orc Stain is not death (in a literal sense) but (for lack of a better word) being neutered.

When One Eye and Pointyface return from their mission of grave robbing and have not a coin to present to their mob-like boss, they find themselves in a predicament which implies severe punishment. A trip to the chopping block. An appointment to loose their “gronches”. This piece of commentary works so well because it forces a reader to sense a hint of the ridiculous.The idea of a man having his manhood taken from him is a worse punishment than death itself. Yet, if applied to what society accepts as a “man”, a dude without his dick does not meet the standards of the “ideal”. With this event in the book, and the extreme circumstances present, Stokoe comments on the fact that too many men, and society in general, focus too much on that aspect of the body. In the world of Orc Stain, an Orcs’ “gronch” seems to be his soul, and without one, an Orc may as well be dead. I think this idea probably holds true in our world as well. How many times have we all joked with our friends and said, “Oh, dude, if I lost my dick, I’d kill myself!” Again, Stokoe wants us to see the oddity of this mindset: the idea of our entire person is in our dick.

I truly loved this issue - pure imagination and a bit of depth. This title is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The combination of Stokoe’s artistic style and personal commentary make this a project hard to look away from. People, you must find this title and read it.

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