Black Orchid
by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
(DC/Vertigo, 1988)

About the same time that Neil Gaiman took a little-known hero called the Sandman and created the rich mythology of Dream and the Endless, he reinvented another obscure character, Black Orchid, a plant-based heroine with ties to the likes of Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing. In this three-part story, Gaiman gives a whole new slant to the character, replacing a standard, gimmicky vigilante with a thought-provoking new entity entirely.

When the Black Orchid is exposed in her undercover investigation of a crime boss, she is brutally slain. Her death triggers the release of a "sister," a carbon copy of the original, grown from identical roots. But the new Black Orchid has only echoes of her predecessors memories and, when her creator/father is murdered, she is left to find answers to her identity and purpose on her own.

The story includes effective cameos by the Batman, Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy, as well as another well-known DC villain. But it's Black Orchid who remains the constant focus of Gaiman's graceful, introspective tale.

Gaiman's story is brilliantly and expressively told through the art of Dave McKean. McKean employs very little color in his art -- most of the characters and settings are painted in shades of grey. Orchid moves through her drab surroundings in hues of purple. Other colors accent the landscape -- glints of light, flecks of blood, shades of leaves.

Black Orchid is a beautiful tale, though at times violent, and I wonder why this character has been ignored in the years since its release. She deserves to see the light of day again. Soon.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 26 April 2003

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