Thursday, March 5, 2009

Black Orchid: Character Profile

The story of Susan Linden and the Black Orchid is a complicated one...

The original Black Orchid was a creation of the Silver Age of comic books. She is described as a mysterious beauty who fights on the side of truth and justice -- and that she does.

She was a nameless and (mostly) faceless woman. Black Orchid operated in a covert fashion wearing various masks and wigs to infiltrate the headquarters of the corrupt. When the moment was right she would don her purple and pink hued costume and attack -- in a floral fury!

The classic Black Orchid was highly skilled in the art of masquerade. In fact, it was never stated who she really was during any of her earlier appearances. She had the ability to fly and was able to deflect bullets with ease. It was never explained if these abilities were super-human or her costuming. Her calling card was of course -- a black orchid.

Highslide JSThe classic Black Orchid had (around) a ten issue run in Adventure Comics. She later made a back-up story appearance in an issue of Phantom Stranger (#31). A brief cameo in the Superfriends monthly also occurred. Black Orchid was also recruited into the Suicide Squad to aid in a mission alongside the likes of Vixen, Nightshade, and Nemesis. This is about the time when documented history begins to lose track of (or interest in) Black Orchid.

She doesn't reappear again until the late 1980's in a three part mini-series titled "Black Orchid". It is here that the character of Black Orchid takes a mighty leap forward in both story and design. The mini-series was penned by the very talented Neil Gaiman. Dave McKean was given art duties and his painterly dream like style would complete this lovely package. This mini-series pays homage to the original Black Orchid while introducing the new version.

The story began with a secret meeting of various big-time white collar crooks and thieves. Little did they know, a secret agent (Black Orchid) was amongst them! Or so she thought. They were expecting her arrival and planned accordingly. She was quickly bound to her chair with unbreakable metal cording. Her plain clothes disguise was then removed to reveal the classic Black Orchid costume. She was mocked and berated. A gun was held to her head and the trigger was pulled. However, she did not die. As legend states, she is immune to the effects of bullets; but she is not immune to fire. Black Orchid breaks free as the room burns. In her final moment of freedom the building explodes. Black Orchid, as she was known, was no more. It is discovered that Lex Luthor is partly responsible for her demise.

A body is later discovered but it's merely a plant based simulacrum of the woman who was Susan Linden. Who is skilled enough to create such creatures? Well the story goes something like this...

As a child, Susan befriended her neighbor Phil Sylvian. They would while away the days in the gardens of their homes -- finding refuge from Phil's playground bullies and Susan's abusive father.

During her teenage years Susan found the courage to leave her father and home. She traveled Europe and eventually ended up working as a card dealer in a Las Vegas casino. In need of money Susan skimmed the casino's profits -- but suspicions arose. She panicked and fled with a shady out-of-towner by the name of Carl Thorne. Susan would soon learn that Carl was a gun runner for Lex Luthor. She was willing to overlook Carl's questionable career choices until the physical abuse and cheating became intolerable. So she fled, once again, to Phil Sylvian.

Carl was eventually caught by the authorities and his criminal ways came to an end. Susan agreed to testify against Carl and this earned him seven years in prison. Sadly, he murdered Susan just before his incarceration. A distraught Phil stole biological samples from a lifeless Susan. But why, you ask? Phil's desire to be with her drove him to create half plant and half human hybrids based on Susan's physical and chemical designs. He called them Black Orchids. These sentient plant beings not only shared Susan's image but they also possessed her memories.

Seven years passed and Carl Thorne was set free. He again sought employment with Lex Luthor but was quickly dismissed. In a rage, Carl hunted down Phil Sylvian and beat him to death. (Carl had the mistaken impression that Phil and Susan were romantically linked.) While nosing around Phil's home Carl would stumble upon the resting orchids. When he saw these creatures that resembled his dead ex-wife Susan he freaked out. Carl tore the orchids apart and all but two perished. One orchid escaped (lil Suzy), and the other was gone before the invasion (Black Orchid). Luthor demands Carl's execution for destroying the creations of Phil Sylvian. Carl is thrown off of a pier but is (oddly enough) rescued by the new Black Orchid.

Yes...this is a lot to swallow! But there's more.

After Phil's murder, the remaining Orchids traveled abroad to learn more about Susan and her friends. They brought many of Phil's personal belongings including his scrapbooks and photo albums. Black Orchid also had a list containing a few names including Jason Woodrue, Alec Holland, and Pamela Isley. She failed to track down Jason Woodrue but she did find Pamela Isley locked away in Arkham Asylum. Orchid foolishly asks an angry Pamela Isley for help regarding Phil and his personal contacts. She also seeks out information about what she is and why she was created. The conversation went nowhere because a frustrated Pamela lashes out at Black Orchid. Pamela envies Orchid and her ability to thrive in the the sun. The guest is quickly chased away and an aching Pamela Isley is left to the darkness of her cell. Black Orchid later discovers that Suzy has been by Lex Luthor.

Black Orchid rescues Suzy from the grasp of Luthor and his goons. They flee to the jungles of South America and Carl goes on a killing spree -- taking out the majority of Luthor's squad who are hunting the orchids. Carl is eventually killed by Luthor's men. The remaining hunters refuse to kill the Orchids...because they're beautiful. Eventually Black Orchid finds some peace of mind in the presence of Alec Holland a.k.a. Swamp Thing. And there you have it -- Black Orchid!

This mini-series eventually spawned a 22 issue series under DC's Vertigo label. It was a rather unusual and abstract title.

Black Orchid also appears in a trade paperback titled “Totems” under DC Comics Vertigo label. She joins forces with some of DC’s more obscure characters.

The most recent appearance of Black Orchid was seen in a one-issue comic book called JLA: Justice League of Amazons. It was part two of the "Justice Leagues" event. She appears along with heroes like Wonder Woman, Huntress, Power Girl, Supergirl, Big Barda and Zatanna. They are called upon by Black Orchid to aid in the defeat of slash and burn operations within rainforests.

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David H. said...

i remember Black orchid from the pages of the Suicide Squad. she was quite impressive they always used her as some kind of back up in dicey situations. she was quite a mystery i sure wish they'd explain where she gets her powers.

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