Orphans is... old-fashioned sci-fi

I live in Italy and I have been noticing a comic book called Orphans. It is everywhere, you see it for sale in newsagents, comic book shops, and book stores. I've been meaning to given it a try, but my Italian isn’t perfect, and that kept holding me back. I was afraid of missing the nuances of the story when reading in Italian. Now I have found a collection in English, so I had no excuse, I had to give it a try.

The introduction to the collection is interesting because the editor talks about one of the motivations behind the comic book being an attempt to do something new and different in the Italian market. The editorial actually mentions an old-style Italian sci-fi comic book called Nathan Never by name, as an example of something they want to move away from.

I've read a few Nathan Nevers and I can only applaud the impulse to create something a little more modern. Nathan Never is very definitely starting to show its age. It is a black-and-white, monthly science-fiction comic book, first published in 1991, with influences that date from even earlier periods of sci-fi. Nathan himself looks like Billy Idol and dresses like Highlander. He is desperately in need of a fashion makeover.

A Message from the Author

I write sci-fi novels that belong to a series called Dark Galaxy, which starts with Galaxy Dog:

What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet brings to light an ancient archeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy.

The entire series is available to buy from Amazon.

The fact that Nathan Never is in black and white is no problem for me. I was brought up on British comic books of the 1970s, where color was limited to the cover and one or two spreads inside. In fact I think pencilers are sometimes more ambitious with a black and white comic book, not held back by the worry that some poor devil will have to color whatever complex scene they create. But there is one area where Nathan Never has to be updated, and that is the sexual politics. There is a lot of gratuitous female nudity in the comic book, and Never is sometimes written as a 007 kind of figure. Never's original partner, for example, has the Bond girl name of Legs Weaver. It was this leering at the female form that was the reason I soured on Nathan Never and stopped reading.

If they really are leaving behind the distasteful aspects of Nathan Never, then I am all in for a new sci-fi comic book. They are 92 pages of the Orphans comic book put out, every month. That is an impressive work rate for the creative team involved, that has to be said. It also describes itself as  military sci-fi, like Aliens, mixed with Lord of the Flies, which is an interesting concept. Not to everyone's taste, but right in my wheelhouse.

After having my expectations raised by the positive noises made by the editor in the introduction, I moved on to the comic book itself. And my initial impressions were mixed, to say the least. The premise is a bit odd, because the Earth's response to being hit by a death ray is to start training kids as foot soldiers. I didn’t follow how anyone thought this was a good idea. On the positive side, the cast of kids is pleasingly diverse, with a mix of male and female. But then we are introduced to some kind of scientist, who is obviously the boss. She is the only woman on the command team and has the most common superpower. With her high-tech eye patch, she looks like she should be in a Manga, so not an unreservedly good instant impression.

Then things get weird, when kid survivors of the alien attack on Earth are divided up according to where they were found and each group is tossed out into the wilderness. The kids have some unlikely adventures, as the writers strive without much subtlety to establish some character. Like I said, weird, but I was getting into this part of the story when suddenly...

The boss scientist lady gets naked, lights a cigarette and it is implied, again with very little subtlety, that she just enjoyed some sexy time with some guy from her team. There's a bit of exposition in the middle of the scene and then he holds her down, fully exposing her breasts, and tells her to shut up. I groaned and rolled me eyes as I was reading the scene. It's there for pure titillation and it is old-fashioned and unworthy of a comic book that is trying to move on from the worst instincts of old-school Italian comics.

The scene absolutely made me think twice about continuing to the end of issue one, but as a sci-fi blogger I felt I had a duty to at least read one complete issue before dismissing it. So things soon turn into a more normal sort of military sci-fi with a ground assault on an alien planet. It doesn't make any sense but at least it looks cool. They even have mecha, not giant mecha, but still nicely designed equipment.

 Then any pretense at being actual military sci-fi is thrown out the window as we get pure manga. We even get a soldier doing a one knee and one fist superhero landing with power lines coming out of him. It's dumb. Nicely drawn, but very dumb. He’s one of the Orphans, who seem to be some kind of elite squad within the invasion force. The Orphans dance through combat, completely unfazed by anything the enemy can throw at them, and all with cool superhero-type names, like Loner. It's just plain bad, and I decided based on just this first episode that I'm out. The art is great, but the story is as bad as the worst of... the absolute worst of Nathan Never. If they truly want to modernize Italian sci-fi comic books, they're going to have to try harder than this.

To end, just a reminder that the best way to support this blog is to buy one of my books. Simply go over to Amazon, or Kobo and get one.