Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 is published by Dark Horse Comics, and is written, drawn, colored, and lettered by James Stokoe. Orphan Mo has been raised by her master for many years, training her in the art. Until one day when a dying man stumbles upon their home bearing a haunting mark, a sign that evil has returned. And it will fall upon Orphan Mo to set things right.
Do you know a concept that gets played out too frequently in entertainment for me? The hero’s journey. Don’t get me wrong, when done well, seeing the everyday person take their first steps towards heroism can be amazing. However, it also lengthens the time it can take to get to the cool stuff. Sometimes, I just want the hero to start the story ready to go. I want the action now! Happily, Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 is more than willing to oblige me.
As the story opens, we see an injured man fleeing a jungle. He has been beaten badly as he stumbles into a clearing where Orphan Mo and her master live. Mo is currently training in the yard. As we see our protagonist move between training dummies, we can already tell she is no pushover. Upon finishing her routine, she notices the man collapse at the edge of the clearing. She rushes to his side, but it is too late. The man has passed. When Mo flips the man over, he is revealed to have a brand on his forehead that resembles an oni grinning wickedly. When Mo’s master sees the brand, he is immediately troubled by its presence.
From here, Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 jumps ahead to Mo, tending her master in some form of a cauldron-like bath. As she tends to him, her master tells her a story from before her time of the valley they live in. A story of five individuals who came to the temple looking for the power to defeat an evil bandit king who was plaguing their homes. The master agreed to help them by training them enough to defeat their foe. But afterward, they would have to return and devote their lives to the art they had learned. But they broke their word and never returned. Now, darkness dwells in their hearts as their glory and power have corrupted them. Mo’s master informs her that she must go forth and right her teacher’s failure and defeat the five false students. With that, Orphan Mo’s journey begins.
While there is a lot to like about in Orphan and the Five Beasts #1, my favorite part has to be Mo herself. She is a style of hero that has become rare in this day and age, doubly so in comics. She is stoic. Not to be confused with a silent protagonist, either. Mo speaks little but says much. This is made clear shortly after leaving her home and running afoul of some bandits as they harass a group of monks.
Rather than the witty banter and verbal jabs that litter most comic book fights, Mo remains virtually silent. Her actions speak for her as her martial superiority is made abundantly clear. The casual way she dispatches her assailants is portrayed wonderfully by Stokoe’s art. She is casual in her body language but never sloppy. Precise, but never tense. The expression “poetry in motion” comes to mind.
Aside from the excellent portrayal of Mo’s martial prowess, the art of Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 is a bit of a mixed bag. While I adore the vibrant and ever-changing colors present in these panels, the lines often feel a bit too busy. Between panels being overfilled with objects and lots of hashing being used for shadows, the panels frequently become cluttered and a bit confusing.
Rounding out the presentation is the letters. While the letters are not as clean as most books, the roughness feels like a natural fit for the artwork. And while the lettering isn’t perfectly crisp, I never had a hard time reading it either. The lettering also does a great job of leaning into moments of exclamation and visually presenting heightened emotions.
When all is said and done, Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 delivers a cool classic feeling start to this story. As Mo sets out to defeat her five foes, it feels like Stokoe has only scratched the surface of this character. I, for one, cannot wait to see what else will be revealed.
Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 is available now wherever comics are sold March 17th.
Orphan and the Five Beasts #1
Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 delivers a cool classic feeling start to this story. As Mo sets out to defeat her five foes, it feels like Stokoe has only scratched the surface of this character. I, for one, cannot wait to see what else will be revealed.