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‘Orcs in Space: Vol. 1 & 2’ (review)

Written by Rashad Gheith,
Mike Tanner, Abed Gheith

Art by François Vigneault
Created by Justin Roiland
Published by Oni Press


Back in the eighties—which is further back than I like to admit these days—comic books went through a wonderfully creative renaissance period where it seemed like new publishers were popping up every day with new series, new concepts, and new creators. Prices were still comparatively low but trying to keep up with everything still ran into money. You had to pick and choose. But there was so much good stuff to choose from!

One of the comic books I chose back then was called Trollords. The premise was essentially what if the Three Stooges were naked green trolls? Sure. Why not?

Another comic I was buying regularly then was the weekly UK sci-fi paper 2000AD which came to be widely distributed in the US due to the growing popularity of its flagship feature, Judge Dredd. That was also the period where a new young writer named Alan Moore was flexing his considerable skills with features such as Skizz, The Ballad of Halo Jones, and D.R. and Quinch. That latter strip was a purposely over-the-top violent punk/anarchist comic fantasy about two juvenile delinquent aliens running rampant throughout the galaxy.

Why do I bring up these two long gone and as far as I know never even collected strips? Because the new Orcs in Space, of which I’ve just read the first two volumes, comes across very much like a goofy updated combination of Trollords and D.R. and Quinch…and that’s not a bad thing!

Orcs in Space is the story of three troll-like Orcs from an uncivilized planet—one big, one little, and one mean—who accidentally find themselves in command of a Starfleet-style spacecraft whose A.I. takes them on various adventures. The Orcs, of course, have no idea what an A.I. is and one of the Orcs in particular treats it like another life form, which hastens the A.I. itself becoming more and more sentient and desiring to discover its Creator, its purpose in life. You know, like V’ger in Star Trek-The Motion Picture.

And that’s your basic plot right there, with all the big, loud, colorful, and gory adventures turning out to be just a fun background for a classic “man’s search for meaning” plotline. The big difference here is that in the end the A.I.—with the unwitting help of the Orcs—finds its Creator…who turns out to have issues of his own.

Throughout, the Orcs just want to eat and kill but for the A.I., it all leads up to a climactic battle against…well…God, in a way. Son against Father. Luke against Darth Vader? Only on a galactic scale.

And yet the background story—or the foreground story, depending on how you look at it—has a deceptively deeper meaning, too, as it’s the story of three very diverse friends who stick together and watch each other’s back no matter what befalls them in their travels as they learn about the world beyond the one in which they grew up. You know, like growing to adulthood and leaving your familiar childhood world behind.

The sharp, funny dialogue and characterizations, credited to three different writers, are the key to making this massive mashup of sci-fi and pop culture tropes work and the seemingly simplistic but energetic and constantly clever artwork from Francois Vigneault keeps the whole thing moving, usually at something close to warp speed.

There are nods to Star Trek, Star Wars, Transformers, anime, and possibly even Howard Chaykin’s ahead-of-its-time eighties series America Flagg! in the character Pepperfoot, a genetically altered talking feline reminiscent of Flagg’s cat boss, Raul.

Not really a children’s book and probably a bit too much gore at times to be considered appropriate for young kids, but I’d say the ideal audience for Orcs in Space would be space-opera loving tweens, either them or old folks like me who catch a lot of the callbacks—intentional or not.

The end of the second volume promises a third that logically looks intended to tie up some loose ends but it isn’t necessary. These first two books tell a self-contained story from beginning to end. So just sit back and run with it. You’ll have fun.

Booksteve recommends.




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