THE BLACK ORCHIDMedium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1988
Creators: Neil Gaiman (writer) and Dave McKean (artist)
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As of the middle-to-late 1980s, The Black Orchid, who debuted in 1973 and almost immediately began spiraling down to near-oblivion, was about as obscure a superhero as DC Comics had, at least among those that had been seen at all during the lifetimes of most comic book readers, and almost as obscure as this one. She was so obscure that when DC editor Karen Berger attempted to woo up-and-coming writer Neil Gaiman (Miracleman, Medieval Spawn) by offering him any DC character
that wasn't in use right then, and Gaiman suggested The Black Orchid, Berger, who had never heard of that one, thought he'd asked for a juvenile version of one of their oldies, perhaps a "Blackhawk Kid", who didn't happen to exist.
Gaiman was encouraged by this response. It meant he'd finally, after many tries, come up with one that somebody else wasn't already planning to use. And the Orchid, whose many mysteries hadn't been explored (possibly because there wasn't enough interest in her), was the sort of character he could really make something out of. He was joined by artist Dave McKean, with whom he'd done an earlier graphic novel, Violent Cases, for a three-issue Black Orchid mini-series. The first issue, dated "Holiday 1988-89" (the odd date resulted from bringing DC's cover dates in line with the real world), set the tone by killing her off.
Also killed were biologist Phil Sylvian (who, as it turned out, had created her as a hybrid between a deceased woman and an actual orchid plant) and all but two of her hybrid sisters, one fully mature and the other the equivalent of a child. The series concerned the search by the grown one (i.e. the new Black Orchid) and her little sister (who called herself Suzy after the human they'd been developed from) for knowledge about their origin. The quest, ultimately successful, tied her in with Swamp Thing, a couple of Batman villains, and a few other aspects of the DC Universe. By the time it was over, readers had finally learned what was behind The Black Orchid. The story was collected into graphic novel form in 1991, and remains in print.
This treatment didn't make the Orchid a superstar, but it did perk up reader interest in her. She got her own ongoing series with a first-issue cover date of September, 1993, from DC's Vertigo imprint (which is aimed at older readers). But her creators were no longer involved — Gaiman was occupied with his highly successful Sandman series and McKean was working mostly in his native England, tho he did contribute covers. Here, she was written by Dick Foreman (who also scripted a few issues of Shadowman (no relation) for Acclaim Entertainment) and drawn by Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother). Later, the art was taken over by Rebecca Guay, who has also done a little work on Marvel's 2099 line.
The series ended when The Black Orchid was again killed off, leaving Suzy the last survivor of the breed and final heir to the name. The axe fell in #22 (June, 1995). The current Black Orchid has been seen occasionally since, notably in a one-issue, all-female version of The Justice League of America, which she shared with Wonder Woman, The Huntress, Power Girl and several others. She's never headed up a series of her own, but has recently been hanging around with Blue Devil, Detective Chimp and others as part of the group Shadowpact.