48 Black Orchid, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

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Black Orchid, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, DC Comics Vertigo, 1991, ISBN 0-930289-55-2, $19.95

I picked this up for three dollars at a remainder fair in Denver while I was there for Anaconism, and read it on the plane coming home. It was a whim purchase, based solely on my good impression of Gaiman from Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) and his comic series, “Sandman.” Black Orchid is a comic, and unlike “Sandman,” it is set in the superhero-populated DC Universe (Batman, Swamp Thing, and the current inhabitants of the Arkham Asylum feature prominently in the story). Gaiman’s treatment of the superhero genre is similar to Alan Moore’s (“Swamp Thing,” “Watchman”)–much grittier, much more introspective than the usual porcelain doll pip-ups engaging in the endless slugfest. You know from the beginning, as stated in the introduction by Rolling Stone writer Mikal Gilmore, that something is different: the villain captures the heroine and, instead of revealing his plans to her, he kills her. It is startling in its suddenness and its other-worldliness (at least for superhero comics). Nudity? Sex? Language? These are not taboos anymore in the comic world, but to actually kill a character, and in such a matter-of-fact, realistic way, that’s shocking. The rest of the book (actually a collection of three comics published in series in 1990) tries to live up to that moment, and sometimes comes close, but ultimately it isn’t quite satisfying. Gaiman’s willingness to find the trigger makes him someone to search out.

[Finished January 1997]

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