Orphans #1: Stay Out Of The Light!

Starting off methodically – very, very methodically – and eventually leading us into a story of black ops missions, secret projects and plants-gone-rogue (more on that later), the first issue of Orphans is an intriguing one. It’s cautiously exciting, suggesting there’s a lot to come, and offering all the right teasers for issue #2.

By Eric Palicki and Branco Jovanovic, and coloured by Jesse Heagsta, the first issue gives us a look at an operative called Alexis Quinn who appears to work outside of the Government’s sight, and has been scientifically engineered to be a super-soldier type person – but, I think, only when he’s covered in darkness? When he gets a spotlight shone on him, or sees daylight, he weakens like Superman with kryptonite.

It’s a little unclear, because one of the problems with this first issue is that the creative team seem to know more about the characters and world than we do – but the story acts as though we’re fully aware of Alexis’ issues with light before he tells us. There’s a scene where he stumbles upon somebody, and is about to fight them… until they turn a torch on him. It’s only once we’ve has this twist that we then get the explanation for what has happened, and a brief origin story for the character.

We’re given the twist – that somebody knows Alexis’ origin and power-set – before we’re given the information which explains why that insider knowledge would be shocking. There are a few other similar little bumps along the way through this first issue, such as the resolution to an imminent stand-off near the end. As the leads are surrounded by members of the military, they seem to somehow appear a TV news crew from nowhere, who have live-streaming film cameras.

This is actually a really neat twist for the narrative, in that the lead character actively chooses not to have a standard fight scene, but to go for a more cerebral approach to problem-solving. It benefits the characters in the story immensely – from a more practical standpoint, readers will be wondering just where exactly the film crew came from, and how they got to the scene faster than the military.

But this is making it sound like I have major issues with the comic, when actually I mostly just have small nit-picks. Because although there are bumps to the story, here, you can see why they happen – it’s because Palicki is servicing the characters foremost, and in doing so he offers a story that feels genuinely quite tense, and confined. We spend a lot of time quietly following Alexis at the start, ramping up the sense that this is a practical, smart, interesting protagonist. Once he’s threatened, the fact he doesn’t use his science-based super-strength? That’s really involving.

And it helps as well that the artistic team are working so well together. Heagsta’s colours are a necessary part of the concept here – if he doesn’t convey the use of light properly, then he’ll have an audience of people saying “shouldn’t Alexis be depowered here?” and so on. His choice of a striking blue palette for the story, set against a tan/brown light thrown up whenever somebody uses a spotlight, helps clearly show the nighttime setting without having to resort to lots of shadows and blacked-out scenery.

For his part, Jovanovic has a strong sense of page layout, offering some interesting panel sequences which reflect some of the themes of the story whilst also progressing the narrative. There’s room here for a little bit of symbolism, but only just enough to be interesting, and never too much to feel like it’s encroaching on the characters. And the collaboration in storytelling between Jovanovic and Palicki is really quite terrific, with Palicki confident enough to leave several important scenes completely wordless, and let the artist tell the story.

It’s a confident first issue, telling a story which seems like it’ll be heading into some very interesting places indeed. By the time the first issue has ended, hindsight means the reader can ‘fix’ the slight bumps in narrative which happen, and place the story into a coherent whole. The creative team leave all the right questions unanswered, and have things set up so readers will likely be very interested indeed in where the story heads next. An impressive start.

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