Had I not been so persistent in my search for Black Orchid, wanting – no, needing one more book to bring my total for the trip up to three, on account of being a tad OCD about these matters, I would’ve been better off. If my initial assumption, that another person had swooped in moments before I arrived to check it out, had only been correct, rather than it being a case of inconsistent alphabetization, Black Orchid filed under G for Gaiman as opposed to B for the title, like all the other graphic novels, I’m certain I would’ve found something else of superior worth.
At worst, my alternate choice would’ve had to end up being more comprehensible than this fragmentary mess, which I read to completion merely to try and make sense of the story. Black Orchid jettisons its readers from point A to point B to point C and so on, skipping the intermediary steps altogether, as if Gaiman’s editors pruned its crucial transitional sections, leaving none.
As if that weren’t detrimental enough to the story’s sense of cohesion and clarity, Black Orchid also consists of dialogue in which the characters espouse their thoughts and feelings in what one imagines is a purposefully cryptic fashion. It isn’t until Gaiman grants his reader a much-needed info-dump, which doesn’t come until the tail end of the work, that the fog began to lift and light was at last shed upon this exercise in ham-fisted mystery.
Then, case closed, his characters retreat back into the fog, leaving me to wonder what was gained from this whole excursion, what this was all meant to amount to besides futility. Towards the end, I sensed he was building to something, that his main characters would be cornered into making a stand, rather than, and I mean this more literally than you’d think, floating around on the fringes of their own story. Yet they remained the poster children for inaction, saying a lot while simultaneously saying (and doing) very little, before lucking into an overly neat and easy conclusion. How appropriate that one of them invokes the term “anticlimax” just pages prior, as no term more aptly describes the conclusion of Black Orchid.
Just as disappointing are the illustrations from Dave McKean which lack the distinctive touch of his better work, as seen with The Sandman. If I were ignorant to his involvement, and you were to ask me who I thought had illustrated the book, McKean would not have even made my short list. I’d thought he and Gaiman together made for a can’t-miss prospect, but Black Orchid proved that assumption irrefutably wrong. From now on, after Black Orchid and many others, I’ll be dubious by default of Gaiman’s every work. Maybe that’s for the best and my lowered expectations will actually help him out; I’ll find out whenever I bother to walk down into Oakland to check out The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables & Reflections from the only branch of the Carnegie Library with a decent selection.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.