Wednesday, March 2, 2016

You Should Read This: ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR.

  Orc. For Fantasy fans the word alone is enough to send a light shiver up the spine. Whether you first encountered them on the printed page or the silver screen, in the works of Tolkien or in the press of melee during an intense session of Dungeons & Dragons, we all know what Orcs are: brutes, monsters, savages. Cannon fodder for the forces of evil, wave after endless wave of largely disposal mooks for the intrepid (and mostly human) characters to charge through with drawn blades flashing. They are the foot soldiers of darkness, and deserve nothing but the scorn and righteous fury of all right-thinking beings in your typical fantasy world. Simple as that.

 Come say hi to the bad guy.

 ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR by Stan Nicholls and Joe Flood tells an epic fantasy saga, but posits a very intriguing "What if"? With history primarily written by the victors, what if orcs themselves were in fact a violent but nevertheless noble people? What if orcs are in fact fighting for the very survival of their way of life in the face on an encroaching humanity whose presence is slowly but surely snuffing out the magic in the world?

 Stryke leads the Wolverines, an orc war band sworn to the service of Jennesta, a despotic sorceress who has allied herself with the Followers of the Manifold (Manis), those humans who follow ancient pagan traditions and are (slightly) less intolerant than the humans who follow Unity (Unis), who adhere to a cult of monotheism. Under orders from Jennesta to escort a band of goblins to ostensibly test a weapon that could turn the tide of the war against the Unis, Stryke and his band soon find themselves neck deep in trouble. Damned if they fail, unlikely to succeed, it's the kind of fight that would leave lesser men broken. Good thing the Wolverines aren't men.

 Stan Nicholls has written a number of prose stories set on the world of Maras-Dantia (The ORCS: FIRST BLOOD and ORCS:  BAD BLOOD trilogies respectively), but knowledge of those works isn't required in order to enjoy FORGED FOR WAR. Nicholls writing provides each orc with their own distinctive personality, and Joe Flood's art makes the principal cast distinctive. Flood's artwork has a nice mixture of classic fantasy along with a Herge-like quality that I found highly enjoyable.

Favorite characters include Stryke, an orc with a gift for war who's far more than a hulking berserker, Jup, the sole dwarf in the Wolverines and one of Stryke's sergeants whose loyalties are ever-questioned in a world where dwarves have frequently sold out the Elder Races, and Coilla, a corporal in the Wolverines as well as their tactical genius, her plans save the orcs' collective bacon on more than one occasion. There are a number of characters you love to hate, from Jennesta's equal measure of condescending cruelty and magical malevolence to the bigotry and persecution of the Unis fanatical leader Kimball Howbrow. If there's one thing this graphic novel excels in, it's making humans look to be utter and complete bastards. One sequence in particular had my lips skin back from my teeth like a wolf in equal parts anger and disgust. When a creative team can pull that off, you know you've got a keeper.

 Well-written, well-illustrated, and with both an engaging premise and an entertaining story to boot, ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR is one to enjoy. Get ready to root for the bad guy.

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