IDW Publishing presents The Hunger and the Dusk, an original fantasy comic from G. Willow Wilson and Chris Wildgoose
Orcs and men, enemies as old as time, especially since Tolkien’s Middle Earth took the world by storm and forever reshaped the fantasy genre. But what if there was a greater foe? That’s the question that the legendary G. Willow Wilson asks in The Hunger and the Dusk from IDW Publishing. And her answer? Shaky alliances, romance, and gallons upon gallons of blood.
At face value, the world of The Hunger and the Dusk feels like many other stock fantasy worlds. Some mercenaries fight with swords and shields. Priests solve problems behind closed doors. Spellcasters exist, and orcs roam in groups. But that stock feeling does not apply to the world’s politics and its unique threat. Humans and orcs live separately, with a pair of stones marking their borders, or at least they did. That all changed suddenly as the Vangol appeared, wreaking havoc upon both races. The Vangol themselves (a sort of vampire/elf/ghoul hybrid) are, as of now at least, simply plot devices. A horde of man/orc-eating beasts to bring those previously feuding people together. What they lack in depth, they make up for in utility; they do everything they need to while allowing the dialogue to focus on the characters instead of potentially unwieldy exposition.
Speaking of the characters. As I said, this story is a romance. On one side, we have our bachelor, a human man by the name of Callum Battle-Child. He’s the leader of a D-list mercenary group, The Last Men Standing, a group specifically requested to serve against the Vangol. On the other side, we have our bachelorette, the powerful healer, and orc princess Gruaktar Icemane (for the sake of my sanity, I will be referring to her as “Tara” and Callum as “Cal” from here on). As to our supporting cast, there’s the orc leader Overlord Troth, who requested The Last Men and happened to be Tara’s cousin. Finally, Sev, The Last Men’s bard, plays the rare dual role of the voice of reason and comic relief.
Wilson, as expected, paints each character with their own unique voice. As an example, Cal and Tara both have an awkwardness about them, but that same feeling has different roots for both of them. Where Cal’s comes from how in over his head he is, Tara’s comes from the extreme social weight she was raised under. But that’s not all. In stark contrast to his awkward mannerisms, Cal has a battle-hardened darkness to him, a rare mix that’s resulted in him occupying my mind for days. Likewise, Tara’s awkwardness functions as a perfect subversion of her otherwise “snobbish” royal upbringing. She’s impatient, blunt, and at times rude, but with Cal she’s in a situation she’s never been in before, and that awkwardness breaks through it, making her just as distinctive as he is.
I’m also happy to say that Wilson is not the only one on this book to successfully marry the genres. Chris Wildgoose‘s art hits just the right notes in its style to function equally well for romance and action. Every facial expression is rendered expertly, at no point does the comic feel hurt by a lack of thought bubbles or boxes, you can always see how people feel. I found the environments a bit lacking in visual spark, but that didn’t really drag the art down given how good everyone looks.
The expressions and faces aren’t everything though, this is just as much sword and sorcery as it is romance, and how are the sword fights? There’s only one in this first issue, but its excellent. Wildgoose uses an array of motion lines to portray a staggering sense of speed. Further, he moves from a standard grid paneling system for dialogue, to a much more dynamic style that moves the pacing forward. The action is rapid and brief, but that works to its favor, again adding to that staggering speed. The humans are fast, as are the orcs, but the Vangol are faster, and this fight really sells it.
One final thing I wanted to touch on is the orc designs, they look amazing. I’ve often found that orcs in media either look entirely too similar, or so different you doubt they’re the same species, but that’s not a problem here. Each one of them has a distinct face, shape, hairstyle, and, thanks to Msassyk‘s wonderful coloring, skin tone. But they also believably share a species, with common traits like their goblin-esque ears bringing them together.
The Hunger and the Dusk #1 establishes a great foundation for the remaining 11 issues to build upon. The art is, sparing the environments, absolutely superb, with great character designs, panel-to-panel illustration, and top-tier action. The writing is just as impressive, taking massive stakes and working them down to focus on the relationships of a small, distinct cast. The romantic plot never feels at odds with the grander story-line, and will likely boost it in the long run. With writing and art this good I can’t help but recommend you pick this up, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Editor’s note: If Morgan’s review left you wanting more on what IDW Originals is publishing, check Carlos Alvarez’s review of Codex Black: A Fire Among Clouds here.