Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Written and Illustrated by: James Stokoe
Release Date: 17th March 2021
There are a select few comic creators whose name on a comic’s cover is pretty much a guarantee that I’ll buy it no questions asked, and Canadian artist James Stokoe is most definitely one of those names. On sale this week from Dark Horse Comics, Orphan and the Five Beasts is Stokoe’s love letter to classic Hong Kong action movies, and sees a youngster named Mo heading out into the world to slay five demonic monsters to stop the corruption which threatens to destroy her home.
The story itself is perhaps nothing too extraordinary, particularly for those already familiar with the aforementioned brand of cinema, but in Stokoe’s hands this ends up feeling like something truly special. The level of detail and expression in his artwork is nothing short of mesmerising, and the frequent escalation from calm, beautiful moments to frantic, overexaggerated spectacle keeps the pages turning throughout.
As intricately beautiful as his artwork undoubtedly is, an underrated aspect of Stokoe’s creative arsenal is his distinctive lettering, and that really shines through here, particularly during the more animated moments of the script (of which there are many). In many places the lettering becomes part of the artwork itself, from Mo’s master’s hacking cough to the eruption of violence at the conclusion of the issue.
Stokoe’s one-man-band outing here is rounded out nicely with some typically strong colour work, with a slightly muted palette which ebbs and flows in time with the story, particularly during the flashback sequence where Mo’s master recounts the origins of the titular beasts. It’s a striking visual package which continues to reinforce Stokoe’s place as a truly unique comic book creator, and if you can feast your eyes on the five-page preview below and not want to pick this one up… well, let’s just say you’re a stronger person than me.
The final pages introduce the first of the five beasts in gloriously over-the-top fashion, setting the scene for what promises to be a similarly outlandish battle in issue two. While I’ll admit that it was the name on the cover that first drew me in, Stokoe’s singular talents and clear affection for what he’s doing ensured that I was well and truly hooked by about the third page. If you like your tales of revenge to be packed with dynamic enthusiasm and immaculately rendered, this is most definitely the book for you.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]