Orcs can vary wildly from story to story depending on the kind of person writing it and the tale that they’re trying to tell. Tolkien’s orcs were twisted monstrosities lost forever to the forces of evil; the worlds of Warhammer depict them as roving warriors who love to fight; The Elder Scrolls games often portray them as skilled blacksmiths and crafters; and Dungeons and Dragons have gone from having them be brutish barbarians to pretty much anything that a player could want them to be. Whenever you pick up a book that has orcs in it you’re almost doing a lucky dip, having to hope that what comes out is a depiction that you like.
The opening pages of The Hunder and the Dusk makes it seem like perhaps this new fantasy comic series from IDW will be going for the type of orcs who travel the land, pillaging and killing in order to survive, caring nothing for the weak and pathetic humans that stand before them. We see them through the eyes of human children, who see a trio of orc warriors watching from the top of a hill, sizing up their small settlement. As such, the orcs instantly become a source of fear and hate, and it does seem like this group of raiders are prepared to cause havoc. However, a darker threat emerges from the setting sun, coming at dusk; something that slaughters the orcs and humans alike.
From here things change, and we see the orcs in a new light as we jump forward in time several months where this new threat, the ancient race the vangol, has begun to bring humans and orcs together. Knowing that neither race can defeat this new threat alone, a meeting is made to formalise the alliance. It’s here that we get to meet some of the lead characters of the series: Callum Battleborn, a human warrior and member of the mercenary band The Last Men Standing, who’s been selected to be the human representative by one of the orc leaders, Troth Icemane. Troth is bringing his cousin, Tara, to act as ambassador to the humans, to travel with Callum in their fight against the vangol.
The first issue of The Hunger and the Dusk is pure set-up, but it’s masterfully done. The opening scene plays with your expectations a number of times, setting the orcs up to be villains, before showing a more nuanced side to them. They’re then killed off by what you think might be the heroes of the piece, before you learn that their assailants are true monsters. It’s a tense sequence, and one that builds to a point where you’re almost holding your breath as the unseen forces come to the human village, waiting to see if they act as saviours or destroyers.
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Despite not previously knowing anything about this world that writer G. Willow Wilson has created, she’s able to use this opening scene to lay the groundwork for the warring nature of human and orc interactions. This means that as we move on to the meeting between the two delegations and get to see them talking about how important this alliance is, how each race’s very survival hangs upon it, it is completely believable. And whilst we only really get to know a couple of the characters in this first issue what we do learn about them makes them interesting. Troth seems like a man for whom honour means everything, Callum is a capable guy but definitely feels like he’s in over his head, and Tara is a character who doesn’t really seem to know who she wants to be yet, but who holds a ton of promise. Plus, there’s definitely some cute romance vibes between her and Callum.
The art, by Christian Wildgoose, with Msassyk on colours, looks absolutely gorgeous. The environments are beautiful, with gorgeous rolling countryside and cosy-looking farm homes in the opening scene, and more mysterious and foreboding settings for the latter half of the book as the two races come to meet. And speaking of the races, the orcs in this book are fantastic to look at. They have wonderfully interesting features, with parts of them that feel very classically goblin-like with their large ears and bright eyes, but there are times where they also look a bit feline too, with a beauty and grace to them. Each of them looks unique in their colours and their features, and it makes them instantly stand out from each other; and Tara is made to look very beautiful without losing her orcness.
The vangol, when we do finally see them, are an interesting creation; one that looks similar enough to both the orcs and the humans that they’re clearly from the same kind of world and don’t look completely alien. However, they manage to look twisted and monstrous to the point where you can see why the two races fear them and are willing to come together to fight them. It feels like there’s going to be a lot of visually creative and creepy moments to come in the series featuring them, and I can’t wait to see what those are.
The Hunger and the Dusk seems like an exciting new fantasy series, and one that will appeal to fans of the genre. Despite being a first issue that has to try and set up both the world and the characters we’re going to be following, you come away from it feeling like you’ve got a good grasp on things, and that this is a deeper, richer world that we’ve only just started to scrape the surface of. With the promise of frightening enemies to fight, epic battles for survival, the chance to get to know a really interesting version of orc culture, and romance blooming, this is a series that folks are going to want to keep an eye on.
The Hunger and the Dusk #1 is out now from IDW Publishing.