Jun 18, 2008

Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

Black Orchid is the nickname of an artificially created half plant half woman who fights crime in Gotham City. At the very start of the book, her true identity is discovered just as she is on the verge of finding out who the leader of a large criminal organization is. But unlike most super heroes, she doesn’t manage to escape her captors at the last minute. She gets killed.

At the same time, one of her sisters, another woman-plant, reaches maturity and gains consciousness. She has some of the memories of her creator, a woman named Susan Linden, but she is confused about exactly who or what she is.

I have to confess that I’m not very well-read in superhero comics. Most of my knowledge of them is indirect – it comes from movies or T.V. series. I like how they have their own mythology, or rather, are a form of mythology. And I know, or think I know, that some of them follow certain conventions. When in the first few pages of this book we watch the heroine, after whom the book is named, being murdered, we know right away that these conventions are not going to be followed. We know that we are dealing with a different sort of story.

Black Orchid is in many ways a quest for identity. Our heroine, the second plant woman, travels around gathering clues that will help her sort out who she is and what she wants to do. In the process, she meets Batman, Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing (I really want to read the Alan Moore series), and has to watch out for Lex Luthor, who wants to dissect and study her. There were possibly other references to well-known comic book characters or places that I didn’t pick up.

Just like it is about identity, Black Orchid is also very much about choices: choices about how to respond to violence, choices about how to deal with others, choices about where to be, what to do, how to live. This is a story that contradicts one's expectations in even more ways than those that are immediately noticeable.

Mikal Gilmore, who wrote the introduction, included the following Neil Gaiman quote in it: "I think that tales of myth and horror are probably the easiest and most effective way to talk about the real world. It's like they are lies that tell the truth about our lives."

I think so too, and Black Orchid is yet another book that shows how well this can be done. I'll leave you with some of Dave McKean’s gorgeous art:

Other Blog Reviews:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Skillcrane's Longbox

(Have you reviewed it as well? Let me know and I’ll add your link to this list)


  1. I've wanted to read this for a long time. Thanks for the lovely review and illustrations!

  2. I've not read any graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, except The Wolves in the Wall which is illustrated by Dave McKean. But this story sounds interesting so I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth, as usual! :)

  3. Sometimes it is good when conventions get thrown to the wind... Batman is one of my husband's favorites and he can't wait for the movie (well, I can't either--who can resist Christian Bale???). Thanks for the review!

  4. I just love the fact that Gaiman can follow the format of modern comics and still preserve his vision. . .a great review!

  5. Nymeth - I remember loving this when I read it a shocking 15 years ago; I really must re-read it. Thanks for the review.

  6. like all of us, i've wanted to read this but haven't quite got around to it yet...

    not that i needed any more encouragement, but thanks for the review! you've piqued my curiosity even more. and the artwork looks gorgeous, as usual (for mckean)!

  7. Alessandra, you're welcome. I hope you enjoy it :)

    Melody: The Wolves in the Walls is great too!

    Trish: I'm looking forward to the Batman movie too. I always enjoy Batman movies. I have to get around to reading the comics someday.

    Ken: I love it too!

    Brideofthebookgod: A long time ago indeed! I hope you enjoy it just as much the second time around :)

    JP: I really think you'll love it. I look forward to your review! And yes, one wouldn't expect anything less than gorgeous artwork from McKean

  8. Love the art! I'm going to get this for my husband, I think, and of course read it myself when he's done!

  9. Is it even possible for you to review something and NOT make me want to go find it immediately?!! This one would have the added bonus of making Gray think I was really cool for reading it, too.

  10. I will have to put this on my TBR list. It will definitely be a new experience for me, but that's what I like. I'll be like you and probably won't pick up on all of the comic book references.

  11. Dewey, I hope both you and your husband enjoy it :)

    Debi: I'm sure it is :P Getting extra cool points with Gray is always a plus :P

    Andrea: I hope you enjoy it! Not picking up on everything definitely did not take away from my enjoyment of the story, and I bet it won't from yours either.

  12. I'll have to ask my husband if he has this one and if so, have him dig it out for me. It sounds good!

  13. I actually had no idea what this one was about, but it sounds intriguing!

  14. Literary Feline and Andi, I hope you both enjoy it!

    I had little idea of what it was about until I read it too. You don't hear about it as much as about his other comics for some reason.

  15. I've so got to start reading Graphic Novels!

  16. Strangely enough I've never read this one. I think I may actually have it though. Must keep an eye out for this during the upcoming basement clean!

  17. Stephanie: Indeed you do :P

    Carl, I hope you manage to find your copy. You will love this one for sure.

  18. I'm glad you enjoyed this without the superhero background. I loved the artwork in this book, it was one of the most beautiful comics I have ever read. I look forward to more combined work from this great team :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.