(Part #1 - 1970-1989)
— Sub-Mariner Vol. 1 #23 cover blurb.
The towering Orka is one of the notable ocean-based baddies in the Marvel Universe. He first appeared in 1970.
This profile covers the first 20 years of his career. And thus stops as 1989 ends.
He doesn’t have that many appearances during these two decades. But I’d like to have enough room to discuss interesting things about him. Without ending up with a whale-sized article.
When Orka appeared, Roy Thomas was writing Sub-Mariner comics with a retro sensibility – a 1930s/1940s pulpsCheap, often lurid novels in the US during the 1920s and 1930s vibe. So Orka starts as the same archetype as other retro “men’s exotic adventures” giant henchmen. Such as Ubu, Attucka or Juno.
- Real Name: Orka.
- Other Aliases: Killer Whale.
- Former Aliases: Weapon-One.
- Known Relatives: None.
- Group Affiliation: Minion of Warlord Krang, employee of Roxxon Oil.
- Base of Operations: Atlantic Ocean.
- Height: 24′ (7.3m). Weight: 20 tons (18 tonnes).
- Eyes: Blue. Hair: Black with dark blue highlights.
Powers & Abilities
Orka seems to be a trained Atlantean trooper.
Though his limited intelligence might hinder some of his soldierly skills, he’s trained to pilot advanced Atlantean submarines. And, curiously, he’s fluent in English.
He had the normal abilities of a homo mermanus person. Being able to breathe underwater (but not air), increased body density, resilience to cold, underwater vision, etc..
But these became irrelevant when he was enhanced by… the Morphotron !
Indeed, the Morphotron !
The Morphotron is the same powerful super-tech that enhanced Tiger Shark (Todd Arliss).
But in Orka’s case, he was empowered with a version of the abilities of a killer whale (orcinus orca).
The sweeping electrochemical metamorphosis bestowed by the uncanny Morphotron (am I overdoing it ?) resulted in :
- Adding nearly two feet of height – and hundreds of pounds of muscle mass and blubber.
- Being able to breathe both water and air. Orka’s pre-existing gills were made unusable by blubber, but a whale-style blowhole was surgically added so he could circulate water into his respiratory system.
- The blubber, muscle, etc. allow him to exist in ice water. And, more generally, ignore temperature extremes.
- Orka can emit cetacean-like whistles and pulses. He soon learned how to communicate with killer whales, who have a strong tendency to obey him. He also learned to ride killer whales.
Tougher than the rest
Originally, Orka may have been stronger than the average homo mermanus specimen. “Class 3” is one possible, crude estimate.
After his original enhancement, his underwater strength and durability levels seemed to be a bit below those of then-contemporary Namor the Submariner. So he presumably would have been “Class 70” or so outside of water.
However, he needs to wear a special belt. Without it, his Morphotron-induced powers would likely have faded over time.
This strength allows Orca to :
- Swim almost as fast as the Sub-Mariner, who can do about 60mph (100 km/h).
- Fight Namor toe-to-toe. His technique isn’t great, but Orka’s mass, reach, aggression, raw speed, etc. more than compensate for that.
Yet as usually happens in superhero comics, his resilience toward certain toxins (such as nerve gas) lagged behind his overall durability level.
Isn’t it ionic, don’t you think
For a short while, he was ionically enhanced. The strength of a half-dozen orcas was drained to reinforce him, making him markedly stronger and more durable than Namor.
This level of power, and later events, suggest that this “ionic” treatment may have been similar to the tech used to enhance Erik Josten or Luchino Nefaria.
Notably, remnants of the ionic exposure may have been what allowed the Brand Corporation to increase Orka’s size.
A Brand new day
Said increase took place circa 1975. Once Brand was finished :
- Orka’s stature had tripled.
- His strength had increased to match. For instance he could one-shot Iron Man (Tony Stark) in a then-recent Golden Avenger suit of Iron Man armour. Though it is important to note that it was a surprise attack.
- His blubber had been thickened and fortified. This offered enormous resilience toward many forms of impact. Even some of the punches thrown by Thor (Thor Odinson) had little effect. Secondary sources state that Orka can take a direct hit from an anti-tank missile without effect.
These enhancements were rolled back while Orka was jailed within the Vault prison. As was any additional ionic strength.
This reinforces the impression that the enhancements were based on a tech that Vault engineers had already some familiarity with.
In 1976, Orka demonstrated a curious resilience toward telepathic attacks.
It’s not that he possesses up-front resistance – his mentality isn’t particularly strong.
Instead, even the strongest psychic attacks (such as those launched by Moondragon (Heather Douglas)) can only achieve so much. And as the telepathic onslaught fails to inflict further damage, Orka will soon overcome the pain.
A caption states that this is because Orka has very little brain to affect, but that doesn’t make much sense. One suspects that it instead was an enchantment discreetly bestowed by the Serpent Crown.
For some reason I just spent *hours* with Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam’s Sad Lisa stuck in me head.
And as it happens it is contemporary of Orka’s first appearance in 1970. And it certainly sounds like 1970.
So heh, let’s just go with it.
Orka can command large forces of killer whales. These seem entirely willing to follow his orders, even when it comes to storming well-defended sites.
There frequently are dozens of orcas. This is notable – killer whales normally travel in familial groups of a half-dozen animals. Though they often ally as “pods”, these usually means maybe a score of individuals.
However, pods can associate to form “clans” or even larger communities. One suspects that Orka usually works with a specific large clan, or a pair of clans who know each other.
Early on, Dr. Lemuel Dorcas notes that he enhanced the killer whales working with Orka. These specific specimens can dive much deeper, and hold their breath for much longer, than normal orcas.
They may also have other enhancements. Particularly when it comes to durability and/or recuperative power.
So it stands to reason that it’s always the same large, enhanced clan. And that they’re tough enough to suffer few casualties even in all-out war.
But it’s never stated either.
In the 1970s stories, orcas are portrayed in an outdated manner. The story features them as savage killing machines, almost demonic in their bloodlust and strength.
This could be rationalised as Atlanteans having inherited Classical-era views of killer whales. “Orca” comes from “orcus” – an Ancient Roman demonic figure who also ended up as a demon lord in D&D.
That certainly played in Orka’s favour. Being attacked by killer whales seemed to shake Atlantean morale.
Intriguingly, even Namor seemed to fight cautiously — and more slowly than his usual tempo — against orcas. Which made him markedly less efficient against Orka’s allies than surface human Tiger Shark (Todd Arliss).
History (part 1)
The Atlantean Orka, apparently a soldier, was among the most loyal followers of renegade Atlantean Warlord Krang.
Even when Krang was (repeatedly) cast into exile, Orka would rejoin him to undermine the throne – and the hated King Namor.
In 1970, Orka stole a submarine cruiser and located his ostracisedCast out by one’s society master. They pillaged wrecks for treasure, then set off to find allies.
As it happened, they stumbled upon Dr. Lemuel Dorcas – another Namor enemy.
Behold, the unconscionable Morphotron !
Dorcas proposed to use his Morphotron to enhance Orka. He considered that Orka was so dull-witted and blindly loyal that there was little chance of rebellion. Unlike with the previous Morphotron test subject, Tiger Shark (Todd Arliss).
Whilst learning to give orders to killer whales, Orka randomly ran into Namor. Orka stunned the imperious prince, who wasn’t expecting such strength, and foolishly assumed he had killed him.
When the Sub-Mariner invaded Dorcas’ base, Orka could credibly fight him. He then received additional ionic strength, and overpowered and captured the King of Atlantis.
You come at the king, you best not miss
Dorcas then assembled an army of killer whales. Orka commanded this horde, which seemed quite capable of crashing through Atlantis’ defences and routing the military.
The plan would have succeeded, had not Lady Dorma convinced the mighty Tiger Shark to fight in defence of Atlantis.
Arliss and Orka eventually clashed – and their strength was such that they ended up fracturing the sea floor. They were both sucked within the crevices.
The assault fell apart, but Krang managed to flee with Dr. Dorcas.
In 1973, Orka was accidentally freed from his underground prison by Virago. The two allied and attacked Atlantis.
Realising that Krang had fled and abandoned him to his fate, Orka was bitter. He resented the master he previously adored, and claimed to now be a free man.
The ad hoc Virago/Orka alliance was a complete success. They rounded up an army of killer whales and stormed Atlantis. The military and Tamara Rahn were overwhelmed, and Namor — still weakened by his previous defeat at Virago’s hands — was forced to flee.
However, Atlantis was then accidentally blanketed by dissolved poison gas. The unsuspecting locals, including the triumphant Orka and Virago, were plunged into a coma by the chemicals.
Apparently Orka eventually was revived and got free. Though he was separated from Virago.
History (part 2)
Circa 1975, Orka was telepathically recruited by the Serpent Crown. This evil magical artefact of the Elder God Set was then worn by Roxxon Oil CEO Hugh Jones, as part of the Crown’s cosmic scheme.
Back then, Roxxon subsidiary Brand Corporation was actively developing superhuman agents. Orka agreed to let them enhance him, and they achieved spectacular results.
Jones code-named him Weapon-One, and based him at Roxxon’s Long Island HQ.
(It is possible that what Brand scientists learned by working on Orka was instrumental in later creating the Serpent Squad. Who all could operate deep underwater).
In 1976, the Avengers came to investigate Roxxon’s schemes. They easily overpowered the surprised Roxxon Oil paramilitary forces, but Jones then sent Orka after them.
The giant took out most Avengers with one surprise punch – including Iron Man and the Vision. Moondragon and Thor then came in, but Orka could handle even their attacks.
However Thor — who had mostly been slumming it on Midgard — then cut loose. He also started using energy and lightning attacks, toward which Orka wasn’t as resistant.
Eventually, the Thunder God prevailed against the rogue Atlantean.
Orka didn’t appear between 1976 and 1989.
It seems likely that he spent most or all of this time in superhuman prisons in the US. Since, by 1989, corrections engineers had a process allowing them to roll back the Brand Corporation enhancements.
It seemed that Orka could be imprisoned at about 7′ tall, and perhaps “Class 60” strength. As a loose estimate.
In 1989, Orka was back in Atlantis. The kingdom was by that point ruled by barbarian warlord Attuma.
If Orka had indeed been shrunk back to 7′ in US prisons, they found a way to roll this back. Though perhaps not completely.
Renegade Lemurian Llyra, and Deviant priest Ghaur, paid the Atlantean military to attack the surface world. But their real master was the Serpent Crown, scheming anew.
Green vs. blue
Several Atlantean raids hit the US, but were met by small teams of Avengers. Attuma knew that the raiders’ odds of success were poor, but Ghaur and Llyra’s payment was apparently too good to turn down.
Orka was easily taken down by She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters), with an assist by the Black Panther (T’Challa).
By this point, Ms. Walters was suffused by the Serpent Crown’s magical energy. It seemed to greatly increase her strength, body density and aggression.
Given the ease with which she took Orka down, one suspects that some sort of psychic magical assault (in DC Heroes RPG terms, Magic Blast) was also reinforcing her blows.
Big guy in the big house
During the 1989 breakout attempt at the Vault, the shrunk-back-to-8-feet-or-less Orka got out of his cell. But he couldn’t find a way to leave the complex.
He stumbled upon Tony Stark, but was defeated. Stark was by then operating the Mk9 Iron Man suit (aka the “Neo-Classic” model), and ruthlessly hit Orka with dual point-blank energy blasts in the eyes to take him down as quickly as possible.
Originally, Orka seemed a bit larger than Krang – though he had poor posture. Perhaps 6’2″ (1.88m) and 350 lbs. (158 kg), to account for higher body density.
After being enhanced, he seems to be about 8′ (2.43m) and 2.2 tons (2 tonnes). His stature was later tripled.
Orka’s skin is the usual pale blue for an Atlantean. The darker, more saturated blue is his costume.
Originally Orka was dim but unfailingly loyal toward Krang. He defended the “great one” against any attack or insult, and sought to support his struggles by any means he could.
He’s your basic blustery barbaric brute. A goon, confident in his immense strength and tending to deploy excessive force.
Orka seems to seek an employer or partner that he can actually trust. One who will take care of the thinking, and lead him to a life of fighting and conquest.
He’d rather serve a master who clearly treats him like crap (as Krang did) than be on his own. Orka will try to rationalise that by being terribly enthusiastic about his employer’s goals, making the mistreatment seem worth it.
“Here is the puny surface-man, Great Warlord… though I do not see why you need him so !”
“Of all those who walk the sea-bottoms, only Orka can mentally command great killer whales !”
“Anyone who strikes the master must answer to Orka !”
DC Heroes RPG
Tell me more about the game stats
Orka (in 1970)
|Dex: 05||Str: 18||Bod: 14|
|Int: 03||Wil: 02||Min: 04|
|Inf: 04||Aur: 03||Spi: 04|
|Init: 012||HP: 050|
Cold immunity: 16, Growth: 02, Speak with animals: 06, Swimming: 06, Ultra-vision: 06, Water freedom: 07
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Growth is Always On and Already Factored In.
- Speak with animals may be restricted to killer whales.
Animal handling (Killer whales): 05, Martial Artist (no Techniques): 08, Vehicles (Sea): 03
Bonuses and Limitations:
Martial Artist has some mathematical relationship with his STR score, but there’s no data mate.
Familiarity (Atlantean military equipment and protocols), Language (Atlantean), Rank (equiv. Captain).
Partial Attack Vulnerability (toxic gases/underwater suspensions, – 4 CS RV), Creepy Appearance, MIA toward serving a master.
1970 ionic boost
Dr. Dorcas clearly states that Orka must wear his belt to maintain the connection with his power source. What does it mean ? No idea, mate. Likely some sort of gradual Loss Vulnerability.
When the ionic boost is used, the strength is drained away from multiple killer whales and “downloaded” into Orka. At this point he likely had STR 22 and BODY 16, and my sense is that the STR boost raised his Martial Artist score to 09.
How long did this strength last ? No idea, mate. It was clearly conducted into Orka by the belt, but that’s all we know.
1975-ish Brand Corporation boost
What we can observe :
- 5 more APs of Growth, for a total of 07. Note that it allows him to do Sweep Attacks with his bare hands, which is exactly what he does (as a Blindside) against most Avengers.
- (My suggestion is that 7 APs of Growth allows for hand-to-hand attacks with a 0 APs Area of Effect. The maths work better if that’s what he did for that attack).
- This brings him to STR 23 and a Physical RV of 19.
- There’s also a Partial Attack Vulnerability against energy attacks (- 1CS RV). As his increase in Physical RV doesn’t fully scale against those, since it’s blubber.
One notes that there’s no mention of Orka getting strong, or recuperating, when Thor douses him in torrential rain. So I doubt that at this point Orka’s strength increases when submerged.
Tanking psychic attack
What seems to be going on is that Moondragon cannot actually inflict more than 4 RAPs with her Mental attacks. Orka keeps LDDing it, but it’s enough to stun him every Phase. Then he becomes able to overcome that.
This is a non-standard situation in that I strongly suspect that a much less powerful telepath would have gotten similar results.
If you don’t share this suspicion, then he simply has about 10 APs of Mind Field (Always On, Self Only). What happened can then be simply a result of dice rolls and Hero Points spending on both sides, nothing to it.
A “never more than 4 RAPs” setup would be more complex, and there’s little data to guide modelisation. A possibility :
- A big Damage Capacity (Mental only) pool, but one that only kicks in to soak the fifth (and further) Mental RAP on any given Phase.
- A Defensive Adaptation Power allowing him to get used to the mental onslaught over 4 or 5 Phases.
If you want to model that, Mental Blast: 15 seems about right for Moondragon, barring further research.
Orka had his Brand-enhanced size, but it’s entirely possible that his durability and Martial Artist were significantly lower. Not enough material to say, mate. Especially since something screwy was very much going on with Jen Walters – the only person to benchmark him against.
In prison, use his baseline 1970 stats. But :
- One less AP of Growth.
- STR is 16, BODY is 12.
- Some other scores such as Swimming APs, Martial Artist APs, etc. may have been lower as STR dipped.
Here I’m still relying on our stock Namor the Submariner stats for benchmarking. Said stats chiefly are about “classic” 1970s/1980s Namor (since they are derived from his TSR stats), so they’re chronologically appropriate.
If the placeholder numbers for Namor turn out to be wrong, Orka will have to be adjusted. But that should be straightforward alignment of Physical Attributes values.
(I never was comfortable with the systemic impact of having Ben Grimm have a Fighting score of 40, which among others impacted Namor. So a TSR-based estimate of Namor’s AV and OV likely is too generous. Also, the in-comics material about underwater Namor vs. underwater Hulk isn’t consistent. Anyway).
Splish splash, I jumped back in the bath
The norm for Marvel’s Atlanteans is that they have a markedly higher strength level estimate when submerged than when on dry land. This is how “submariner” mutants (like Namor or Namora) work, as well as baseline homo mermanus folks.
Therefore, secondary sources list two levels for him.
However, there’s no material to draw DCH estimates. Or even assert, based on primary sources, that the strength level difference does exist for morphotron mutate Orka. So there’s nothing about that in the stats block, for lack of data.
If you think that such a difference exists, a Loss Vulnerability lowering his STR and BODY by 3 APs when he’s on dry land is a workable rule of thumb.
To me, my maligned cetaceans !
Orka’s Rank Advantage is a simple way to note that he can take command of a pod of killer whales, if there’s one nearby. They seem to be about the equivalent of a well-equipped company of Atlantean soldiers.
Sometimes, there are no orcas nearby. Sometimes he can muster the equivalent of one or even two battalions – enough to overwhelm Atlantis in most circumstances. So the Rank is more, like, an average.
In these stories, orcas seem tougher than the killer whale stats in our ever-handy Animals File document.
|Dex: 01||Str: 09||Bod: 08|
|Int: 03||Wil: 02||Min: 03|
|Inf: 03||Aur: 02||Spi: 03|
|Init: 009||HP: 000|
Claws: 11, Extended Hearing: 05, Growth: 05, Jumping: 01, Sonar: 07, Swimming: 05, Water Freedom: 04
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Growth is Always On and already figured into STR.
- Water Freedom is already factored into the Initiative.
These are Dorcas-enhanced killer whales, so they have full Water Freedom. There might be an upper limit to how long they can hold their breath, but if so it likely is hours.
I suspect Regeneration: 02 is a thing for Dorcas-enhanced orcas, but it’s poorly substantiated.
Another possibility is Martial Artist: 06, but only when fighting Atlanteans (and other cultures scared of killer whales). This avoids giving a niche, ill-demonstrated penalty to all sorts of Atlantean characters. And it allows for inconsistencies in the material — only some killer whales might have APs of “favoured enemy” Martial Artist.
In these stories, orcas are also clearly capable of Team Attacks. Which isn’t usually the case for animals. A quartet of killer whales once executes a flawless Team Attack against Namor, who sure seems to take RAPs. Go orcas ! Rah rah rah !
Source of Character: Marvel Comics.
Writeup completed on the 3rd of February, 2022.