Deep in the jungles atop the highest mountain in Orphan and the Five Beasts trains a young orphan in the ancient arts of Kung Fu. Her master keeps a present and critical eye as she navigates the ins-and-outs of the art form that he's dedicated both his and her life towards. As she trains in her isolated utopia, a vagrant springs forth from the jungle wrapped in bandages, bulging growths pulsate from beneath his bandages, and collapses at the feet of the young pupil. As his life leaves the mortal plain, Orphan Mo's master notices a symbol on the vagabond's head, igniting his mind in memories of bitter nostalgia – a time when a wolf-man tormented the land. Desperate for help, five villagers begged for the Kung Fu master's tutelage in exchange for their subsequent devotion, only to abandon the man in their victory. Embittered by their betrayal, the master took in a new pupil, the Orphan Mo, and instilled in her all the teachings that were once divided between the five villagers.
James Stokoe's (Orc Stain) newest work was released by Dark Horse Comics on March 17th and shows his typical dedication in creating his comics cover to cover. Lettering, inks, colors, covers, storyline, and more, 100% of this issue is done by Stokoe's hand. Stokoe created a comic worthy of multiple readings in the line-work alone and had consistently been a master of human expression. Despite the hero's journey being nothing new in the comic book world, what makes Orphan and the Five Beasts stand out is the unique layout and artwork gracing this issue cover to cover. Generally, backgrounds fade into the distance and lose any details which may make them stand out. Stokoe, however, gives the same ink weight and attention to every single panel he draws; the backgrounds especially keep up with this style and offer a gritty, raw, and dynamic art style. Similar to the cross hatchings and line-work of Maurice Sendak's art, Stokoe carries on these traditional and less popular stylings to add depth to his story.
Although Orphan Mo is nearly silent, the villains carry the dialogue and interest in this first issue in completely different ways. Mo's master discussed faceless villagers who defied him while she instead encounters an absolutely detailed and insane bandit called Thunderthighs. As the young Kung Fu student encounters her first foe, she is greeted by him scissor-squeezing his poor horse clean in half by brute strength alone. The dynamic and unequal pairings in Mo and Thunder Thighs help change up the previously mentioned hero's journey trope, and Stokoe's ability to write an interesting villain promises even more chaotic couplings in future issues.
Orphan and the Five Beasts is a four-issue mini-series hitting the shelves at $3.99 per issue and absolutely worth the read, especially on the cover alone.