Cover price $24.99
Originally released in 1988 by a pre-Vertigo DC Comics, this three issue prestige format mini-series was an important book at the time. Predating the Sandman series that would make Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean major forces in comics and graphic novels, Black Orchid was a bit ahead of its time. It sold as well as DC expected and was a huge critical success, but never managed to have the broad appeal and pop culture significance of Sandman.
There is a great deal here to enjoy, but this is far from Gaiman’s best work. It is at this point where he is learning his craft. The magical and imaginative “treasure-house of story” as Stephen King has called him, is very much evident, but the master storyteller he has since become is not yet here. McKean’s work was at a high point though. This book displays much of his earlier style, since abandoned for a more iconic, representational style. The art here is similar to both Arkham Asylum and Violent Cases, but this is much richer and more colorful. While very beautiful, the art has a fragile quality, very much like the flowers so much a part of the narrative.
This series was an attempt to revitalize another of the 1970’s oddball DC properties, and integrate an updated Black Orchid character into the DCU. While this part of the plan ultimately failed (much of the work Gaiman has done in comics over the years has floundered after he has ended his direct involvement), this series did not disappoint. It took the silly 70 era character and created a darker, more complex portrayal of the concept. Tying in to the DCU at the time, this book had narrative ties and debts to Swamp Thing’s series, and featured nods to or appearances by several DC players. While there is clearly the Vertigo pedigree at work here, the book does not quite manage to keep the character interesting beyond the 3 issue run. This is a fine self-contained work that never translated well into the ongoing series format that DC wanted.
The hardcover is a very nice looking book. The art is well served by the better print quality of the new volume, which is just a hardcover printing of the early 90’s trade collection, with a small addition of text supplements. Fans of the prestige series or the trade will be pleased here, as this is the presentation this book deserves. My only complaint on this book is that they did not include the complete original covers. The art IS used as chapter pages, and works. I can see why they did not include the full covers, they would stand out too much, but I am old-fashioned enough to think that their inclusion here as originally printed (in the back as bonus content) would have been a nice touch.
For those fans new to this world, this may be a hard book to enjoy. It’s appeal is most certainly limited, but fans of Gaiman or McKean will find it the perfect addition to their libraries. This is a rare DC collection that does justice to the original material, and to the deluxe hardcover format so often poorly used in recent years.