Written by Tom Morello, art by Scott Hepburn, colour by Dan Jackson
Dark Horse Comics
About 2 years ago I heard about Tom Morello doing a comic book for Dark Horse and decided to read up on it. I was sceptical, but as a fan of Rage Against the Machine and having seen that he’d be including bonus tracks at the end of each issue (see his site for more on that), I thought I’d give it a shot
Time passed, other announcements were made and I eventually forgot about it until I was given an opportunity to do an advanced review of the first two issues and I was hooked! I decided to stick it out with the series and twelve issues later here I am talking about the whole beautiful epic.
As I said, I was sceptical because ‘celebrity’ writers can often be let-downs as they just can’t transition and pick up all the nuances of really good comic writing, such as pacing, or not over explaining things with heavy dialogue and instead allowing the artwork to tell the story; it’s not a simple skill that anyone, famous or not, can just walk into.
The first issue showed me that my fears were unfounded.
Tom Morello is a long time comics fan, as I would find out from interviews, and had watched the medium evolve, so knew that he could give striking visuals and set-up the world/atmosphere of the story in two to three pages using very few words and Scott Hepburn’s visuals. The disconnected images of the dystopic future that the story is set in are haunting but meaningful, as writer and artist incorporate landmarks (such as Mt. Rushmore and Caesar’s palace in Vegas) to show that this is a world fallen into ruin and victim of natural disasters and a crumbling economic system.
The first issue sets the scene and then introduces two of our main characters; after that the story begins to unfold with Morello using a rather clever classic three act structure to show our main hero’s, Orchid’s, journey from destitute prostitute to Rebel leader and liberator – which is where my next concern was: Tom Morello is a man with strong left-wing political views and occasionally can get preachy, so I was troubled that this comic was going to be his political manifesto.
Unlike what his guitar playing would suggest (of which, I am a huge fan), Morello has a grasp of subtlety. The comic is a tale of political uprising and rebellion but Morello knows he has to have the comic elements and he needs to have relateable characters with stories to tell. To that end, the whole series has a clever three act structure that follows Orchid’s journey from escaping the prostitution ring she starts the story in, learning of the history of the rebellion and of her abilities, before leading the rebellion to take down the dictator, known as Tomo Wolfe (which I still wonder whether that’s a shot at Rolling Stone or at the outspoken journalist) and Morello even attempts to create a history and a story for him, rather than making him a generic facsimile for ‘greedy capitalism’.
That’s not to say that the writing is perfect; occasionally the dialogue can be hard to follow and there are times when a character will begin a speech that reminds you that this is Morello writing and he does have his own strong beliefs that he will want you to know! But for these moments, rare as they are, they’re salvaged, more often than not, by the gorgeous dynamic artwork of Scott Hepburn.
I’d never heard of Hepburn before this comic and a quick google search showed that he was more known for doing Star Wars work so I was interested enough to try out his art style. He is a great cartoonist, his movements are dynamic and facial expressions capture the mood. There is a beautifully done scene, early in the book where Orchid is trying to seduce a slave owner to save her younger brother; Hepburn directs the scene magnificently, pacing it right, capturing Orchid’s smoky bedroom eyes, her hand gestures on the Slave Owner are pitch perfect and the body language between the two makes sense. This is somebody who understands human anatomy and how people communicate physically – his panes almost read like choreography for a dance.
He also draws great fight scenes! There are big budget action shots galore throughout this comic complete with high tech weaponry, angry, rampaging savages and mechanical beasts! Hepburn not only draws fights between humans but fights between these creatures with thought into the differences in how they’d move and assault one another, as well as what a blast from a canon, or a bite from a mechanical jaw would look like on a body.
I could write a scroll on these twelve issues and gush like a fanboy, but I’ll refrain. For a first attempt, this goes above and beyond what I was expecting from Morello and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the musician and of the dystopia and rebellion genre (think Mad Max or even elements of Star Wars). There are two collected editions already on sale (volume one, volume two) with a third due this summer, which I would recommend getting, although personally I hope that they release an Absolute-style volume that collects all twelve issues in a good hardcover edition. I’d happily buy it and re-read them all collected together, I enjoyed re-reading the single issue back to back that much in preparation for this review.