What On Infinite Earths is: Orc Stain
In the interest of fairness, I am giving everyone a warning; I am probably going to use the word punk at least a dozen times in reviewing Orc Stain. It goes with the territory.
Traditional fantasy stories have always been a big inspiration for rock music, there are whole bands devoted to recounting the canon of Tolkein through the power of ballads and god help me I have listened to most of them, but it is very interesting to see the reverse in action. Orc Stain is punk rock. From the zine and graffiti inspired art style to the hardcore lifestyle of the orcs, everything about it screams punk.
It makes perfect sense to centre a punk version of fantasy on the race of orcs, traditionally they are the most chaotic of all imaginary people and this particular version of orcs amps up that aspect to the highest possible level. Orc society is constantly being destroyed and remade as each powerful leader is deposed the moment they show weakness and on a personal level every single orc is in an almost constant state of warfare with every other orc, reaching its pinnacle in a special kind of vendetta which is said to grant the orc who has declared it clarity and purpose.
As if their terrible temperaments and instinctive desire for bloodshed weren’t enough incentive for their constant infighting, their entire economy is built around cutting off the genitals of other orcs, with whole “gronch” being a valuable commodity and the “chits” used in place of coins are slices of petrified gronches. It is coarse humour, but it certainly fits with the society being displayed.
The orc race present exclusively as male, although the species reproduce asexually by emitting spores every five years, but they enjoy copulating with “love nymphs” who are universally portrayed as scantily clad pin-up models interested only in pleasing the orc who is closest to them. That incredibly toxic portrayal of women is consistent with the aesthetic and culture being presented but the moment that you move slightly outside of that culture you immediately come across women with agency and personality, even if most of the orcs that she encounters completely ignore everything she is saying and stare at her chest.
The art style’s history has also suggested a wonderful additional biopunk element to the setting. The orc’s technology is exclusively biological in nature. Explosives, ballistae, mind control devices and air horns are all created from living creatures that just happen to fulfil the same purpose and yanking on the dangling testicles of a bird to arm it as a grenade has a certain childish appeal.
The central story is simple enough, with the comic relying mostly on the power of characterisation, coarse comical dialogue and setting to carry it forward but not every story needs to be a densely plotted epic, the simple story following a predictable arc of escalation is all that is required to showcase the comic’s strengths.
Hey look, I made it through the whole thing with only five punks. That could have been worse.