Neil Gaiman (author), Dave McKean (artist), Black Orchid (Vertigo Comics, 1991)

Before he became a household name among comics fans by rescuing the DC character Sandman from relative obscurity, Neil Gaiman -- collaborating with Dave McKean for the first time -- worked the same magic on another forgotten character, the Black Orchid. A character so overlooked, DC editor Karen Berger initially thought Gaiman was asking to work with an entirely different character.

Gaiman's Black Orchid has a few characteristics in common with her predecessor -- she's supposedly impervious to bullets, can fly and is a master of disguise. But that's where the similarities end. While the original Black Orchid was a human woman with superpowers, this Black Orchid is neither human nor plant, but a hybrid of both. The three issues of Black Orchid the comic explore her origins and nature, while allowing Gaiman to explore and expand upon the relationships between DCÕs various plant-affiliated characters: Poison Ivy, the Floronic Man (Jason Woodrue), Swamp Thing.

This exploration is seen through the lens of two of Black Orchid's hybrid sisters; the older, an adult, retains snatches of memories from the human woman who provided half their DNA. Driven by a need to understand both those memories, and her place in the world, she takes the child and sets out to find answers. Their journey takes them to Arkham Asylum, the swamps of Louisiana and eventually further south to Brazil. And they are being tracked the entire way; the ex-husband of their human progenitor knows of their existence, and is trying to use them as a bargaining chip to get in good with his ex-employer, Lex Luthor. Luthor, ever the sharp businessman, sees their potential, and has them tracked. Everything comes to a head in the Brazilian jungle, with the newly enlightened Black Orchid putting her foot down -- and ending the hunt, though not their adventure.

Fans of Gaiman or Vertigo who have not read this title will find much to like in Black Orchid. It starts with a bang and comes to a satisfying conclusion after a heroÕs journey of discovery. Dave McKean's artwork is exquisite, particularly his rendering of the hybrids themselves, human-like, yet so very Other.

[April Gutierrez]

Vertigo has its online home here. Neil Gaiman is here and Dave McKean here. And if you're interested in the original Black Orchid, you can go here.