Orchid, the name of an exquisite flower representing between 6 to 11 percent of all seeded plants in the world. Orchid, the name of which comes from the Greek ὄρχις (órkhis), literally meaning “testicle,” because of the shape of the root. Orchid, the lead character – beautiful, resourceful, and delicate all at once – in the graphic novel by Tom Morello. Coincidence? I think not.
Orchid is the brain child of Rage Against the Machine/Audio Slave guitarist Tom Morello, who also performs solo under the political folk alter ego, “The Nightwatchman.” Another comic coincidence? I would guess no. Morello, who grew up in suburban Chicago, went from there to be not only the first in his school, but the first in his town not only to apply to Harvard, but to be accepted. Afterwards, once moved to Los Angeles, he introduced a fellow high school student to some new friends out in LA who became the band Tool. Morello also in those early years worked as a male exotic dancer to pay the bills. Trying his hand in the Sunset Strip metal music scene, he was rejected at the time for his lack of 2-foot-tall, teased out hair and spandex. Moving on to the East Side underground music scene, he was embraced by accepting friends, many of which were prostitutes or drug addicts, all of which did not judge. Does Orchid hold a fun house mirror up to Morello’s own young personal life? The world may never know, but this old owl leans towards yes.
Orchid is a young, destitute, and impoverished prostitute living in a post apocalyptic world with her mother and younger brother. The seas have risen, animals have jumped centuries in manner and evolutionary scale, and a much wider gap has been wedged between the rich and poor. Class has become the name of the game. Own or be owned. Comply or die. A group of rebels try to liberate a mask from the ruling lord Tomo Wolfe, a blue soiled mask which belonged to General China, the Robin Hood of his time and great inspiration to those in need. Seven rebels, five of which were slaughtered, one captured, and one escaped to begin our story. This first trade volume and arc is comprised of the first 4 issues of Orchid, as well as some collaborative history provided by Tom Morello and a few rough beginning sketches by comic artist Scott Hepburn. This arc introduces the arc’s main characters, Orchid and her brother Yehzu, Simon the escaped rebel, and Tom Wolfe and his most trusted compatriots, Don Barrabas and Don Gletkin. It gives us a bit of their back stories, but not too much exposition that some would consider overkill. It also comes with its own soundtrack.
The soundtrack is an interesting and novel innovation to the world of graphic novels. The first that came to my attention was Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves and the accompanying CD, Haunted, by Danielewski’s sister, the musican Poe. Included as an MP3 download code in each issue, Morello, who has composed many pieces for film, decided to create a score that would work as a companion piece to each section of the arc. A very interesting number of pieces accent the content of the issues well. Welcomed, it didn’t come off as a gimmick to purchase the book, but as an added bonus to the reader, almost as much as a bonus as the reprint of Issue #1, which was sold out at all stores initially.
Volume One is out now and you can pick up the previous few issues of the second arc which started in March 2012 as well, as long as you can find them. It’s a welcome change to find characters who aren’t such cookie cutter, one note players in a story we’ve already heard a hundred times before. It’s also an interesting examination of how, with a few minor changes, your own life story can take on a life of its own.