I first encountered orcs in The Lord of the Rings novels, but as author Stan Nicholls points out in his introduction to this book, J.R.R. Tolkein didn't invent them. Instead, orcs, like goblins, trolls, etc., go 'way back in folklore. Nicholls has written a series of fantasy novels using a company of orc mercenaries as the protagonists, covering their adventures as grunt-level infantry in an ongoing war involving two different factions of humans and a number of races of supernatural beings.
FORGED FOR WAR is the first graphic novel set in this universe and serves as a prequel for Nicholls' prose novels. It's pretty good, too. This is grim and gritty fantasy, not the more sedate style of high fantasy I've never been able to get into. Stryke, the commander of the orc company known as the Wolverines, is a Sgt. Rock type, the world-weary soldier who just tries to get the job done and keep as many of his men alive as possible.
In this story, the Wolverines, who work for a cruel half-human, half-dyadd empress named Jennesta, are serving as bodyguard to a group of goblin scientists who are supposed to be testing a new sorcerous weapon of mass destruction. But there are all sorts of plot twists and double-crosses going on, so it's not surprising that eventually the orcs are just trying to survive when things start to go wrong.
As you'd expect, there's plenty of hacking and slashing going on, some touches of humor, and a nice, fast pace to the story. I'm not crazy about the art by Joe Flood, but it gets the job done. One problem is that so many of the orcs look so much alike, it's almost impossible to tell them apart. The only one who really stands out is Coilla, the lone female orc, who's smaller than the other Wolverines.
I enjoyed ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR quite a bit, enough that I'm going to look for the regular novels. If you enjoy graphic novels and dark fantasy, this one is worth reading.