Black Orchid illustrated by Dave McKean.
Adventure Comics #428 (July–August 1973)
Black Orchid Vol. 1 #1 (1988)
Black Orchid Vol. 1 #2 (1989)
Sheldon Mayer & Tony DeZuniga
Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean
|Alter ego||- Susan Linden-Thorne
- Flora Black
Justice League Dark
Parliament of Trees
|Abilities||- Human plant hybrid with superhuman strength, speed, agility and durability
- Ability to fly, including into space
- Capable of reincarnation by mental transference to host bodies growing in stasis
- A master of disguise capable of altering her appearance and voice
- Mystical connection to the plant world through the force of nature called the Green
Fictional character biographies
Although she has a number of superpowers (including flight, super-strength, and invulnerability to bullets) her main ability is a mastery of disguise. She often spends an entire investigation impersonating an insignificant background female, such as a maid, a secretary, someone's girlfriend, et cetera, and the other characters only discover her involvement at the end of the story upon finding the bound and gagged woman she impersonated, and an abandoned disguise with her calling card, a black orchid.
After appearing in Adventure Comics #'s 428–430, the character next appeared as a backup feature in The Phantom Stranger #'s 31, 32, 35, 36, and 38–41 (1974–1976), after which the character appeared only sporadically, such as an occasional cameo in comic books as diverse as three panels in the Crisis on Infinite Earths 12-issue limited series and Blue Devil Annual #1 (both 1985), as well as Deadshot vol. 1 #1 and Invasion! #2. She also appeared in Suicide Squad as a member of the team in issues #4, 7, 11, 12, 19 (behind the scenes), and 22 (1987–1988). She also had an appearance in the non-continuity Super Friends #31.
Adventure Comics #428 proclaimed on its cover that it was an "origin issue," although almost no background on the character is given, not even her name. Until Neil Gaiman explained her origin, the character was, in fact, most famous for her lack of an origin. Instead, writers teased us with several possible origins, all refuted. In Adventure Comics #429, Barry DeMorte hypothesizes that either yoga master Lucinda "Cindy" Harper or anti-gravity specialist Daphne Wingate is Black Orchid, and kidnaps them both. When Black Orchid comes to the rescue, he learns otherwise. In The Phantom Stranger #38, writer Michael Fleisher posited racecar driver Ronnie Kuhn as a possible secret identity for Black Orchid. In the next issue, Kuhn was revealed to be simply an admirer of Black Orchid, who is soon seduced into "The Black Orchid Legion" (molecular chemist Karen Jensen, astrophysicist Stefanie Tower, Olympic gymnast and acrobat Barbie Henderson, criminologist Janet Grant, and psychologist and martial artist Lisa Patrick), a group of criminals who developed suits that would mimic Black Orchid's powers, because of her father's status as president of the World Bank, claiming that they are helping her to protect it from Communists. They bind her to the safe door, which they have set with explosives. The real Black Orchid rescues her, and when the cops arrest the Legion, one mistakes Kuhn for the real Black Orchid, claiming to "know how it is with you super-heroes." Although Super Friends was never considered canon, writer E. Nelson Bridwell made it fit, anyway. His story had Lisa Patrick purchase a large chunk of kryptonite on the black market, convinced that Black Orchid is a Kryptonian. Patrick tries to lure her to the meteorite display at the Gotham City Museum of Natural History, attracting the Justice League. Black Orchid places a force field around the kryptonite to protect Superman, but the force field harms her, instead, further convincing Patrick that she is Kryptonian, not noting the lack of effect on Superman. The latter takes the kryptonite into space, and Black Orchid follows him to take it as a brief hand-off so that the fragments will not kill him. When she survives the explosion, Superman inquires where she is from and how she got her powers; her answer—Earth.
In Blue Devil Annual #1, the usually reliable Madame Xanadu and Phantom Stranger provide competing origins for Black Orchid. Xanadu identifies her as Madeleine Moorcock, and her origin is a parody of Daredevil, while the Stranger identifies her as Paula Porter, whose origin parodies Spider-Man.
Her appearances as an auxiliary member of the Suicide Squad are generally limited to brief rescues or bits of spying. Perhaps the most revealing issue is #19, in which she does not actually appear, but a black orchid is found as evidence that she has been tapping into Task Force X's mainframe, which arouses suspicion, as she is there as support rather than as a rehabilitated criminal. Her disappearance was eventually noted by the Squad.
In 1988, the character was relaunched in a three-part prestige format mini-series called Black Orchid which was written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. The mini-series fleshed out the character considerably, providing an origin story which explained how and why she became known as Black Orchid. It also gave the character a civilian name in her origin sequence, Susan Linden-Thorne. Instead of being a normal super-powered human (or metahuman in the DC Universe), her background was changed to be that of a human-plant hybrid with ties to the Green. In this way she became related with other such human-plant hybrids as the Swamp Thing, Floronic Man, and Poison Ivy. The innovative take on superhero storytelling and the fine-art quality of the illustrations paved the way for the creation of DC's Vertigo Comics imprint.
Susan Linden had been killed by an abusive husband named Carl Thorne, whom she met while a croupier in Monaco. She had been a teenage crush of botanist Philip Sylvain, who later became a colleague to Pamela Isley, Alec and Linda Holland. When Thorne became abusive, she retreated to Sylvain, who cared for her until Thorne succeeded in killing her. Sylvain used Linden's DNA as the source for plant/human hybrids, and kept an entire greenhouse full of them. While working with the Suicide Squad, Flo Crowley caught Black Orchid, or rather her calling card, after she had been messing with Task Force X's mainframes. She had been attempting to infiltrate Lexcorp, but her cover was blown. She had been masquerading as a secretary, but her wig and mask were removed to reveal her in her classic costume. She was bound to a chair inside a burning building. Black Orchid undid her bindings but died of smoke inhalation before she could escape. Her unrecognizable corpse was determined to be plant material by the fire department. Linden's consciousness was again killed by Thorne, this time a plant that merely thought that she was Linden. Thorne destroyed the greenhouse and killed Sylvain, leaving only two surviving hybrids. Thorne pursued the survivors to Brazil. A squad, sent by Lex Luthor to capture the hybrids, kills Thorne in self dense. The survivors, enamored by Black Orchid, bury Thorne and leave.
The surviving Black Orchids, both having the consciousness and limited memories of Linden, become as mother and daughter, one being significantly smaller and younger than the other, and although the younger is initially more aware of Linden's memories, these swiftly degenerate. The elder goes under the alias of Flora Black to meet with Sherilyn Sommers, her closest friend.
An on-going Black Orchid series, published under the newly created Vertigo imprint, featuring the new Black Orchid, ran for 22 issues from 1993 to 1995. Written by Dick Foreman, it saw the second version of the character use pheromone manipulation as mind control to become a femme fatale, breaking and marrying millionaire Elliot Weems to claim his fortune and company business as her own. She then became the series' major villain in the closing story arc, before perishing in the final issue. Her companion, a child version of Black Orchid heretofore nicknamed "Suzy", had matured over the course of the series, taking up the mantle of the Black Orchid as a young adult. Suzy features prominently in The Black Orchid Annual #1, part 2 of Vertigo's Children's Crusade crossover. The Annual was published between issues #4 and #5 of the on-going series.
The grown-up Suzy is identical to her "sister" and carries on the tradition in both the DC Universe and related Vertigo titles. She has appeared in four event titles: 1999's Totems one-shot, 2001's Justice Leagues limited series, 2005's Day of Vengeance limited series, and 2006's Infinite Crisis limited series. She is at present an ally of the Shadowpact and the Birds of Prey.
The New 52/Alba Garcia
A new Black Orchid resembling the original (with a slightly modernized costume) appears in The New 52. She is assigned to the Justice League Dark by Steve Trevor and is an agent of ARGUS. Her name has been revealed to be Alba Garcia, formerly an army private whose arms had been amputated.
Powers and abilities
The first Black Orchid had super strength, a degree of invulnerability, flight, and was a master of disguise. The second and third Black Orchids had super strength, flight, and can absorb nutrients from the air. The second version could generate seductive pheromones.
The New 52 version of the character seemingly possesses all of these abilities, as well as the power to change shape at will, providing a modern explanation for the elaborate disguises of the original.
JLA: The Nail
The original Black Orchid briefly appears in the 2011 limited series Flashpoint: Secret Seven. She is a member of the original Secret Seven who had been killed years earlier. Black Orchid apparently returns from the dead to contact her former teammate Shade, the Changing Man, but is ultimately revealed to be a monster who had merely assumed Orchid's form.
The 1988 limited series was nominated for the Squiddy Award for Favorite Limited Series in 1989, and for the Squiddy Award for Favorite Limited Series of the 1980s. The 1993 ongoing series was nominated for the Squiddy Award for Favorite New Continuing Series in 1993, the Squiddy Award for Most Improved Series in 1993 and 1994. Issue #8 of the series was nominated for the Squiddy Award for Favorite Single Issue Story in a Series in 1993. The trade paperback collection of the mini-series was nominated for the Squiddy Award for Favorite Reprint Volume in 1991.
In other media
- Black Orchid appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "The Mask of Matches Malone!" In keeping with her mysterious nature, Black Orchid has no dialogue or credited voice actress. She rescues Batman by assuming the identity of one of Poison Ivy's henchwomen and infiltrating her gang. After helping Batman stop Poison Ivy, she disappears without a trace, prompting Batman to comment "Now I know how Commissioner Gordon feels." Black Orchid makes a cameo appearance in the series finale, "Mitefall!" She is shown with The Creeper at the show's wrap party.
- Black Orchid makes a non-canon cameo in the game Fallout: New Vegas, on the cover of the Skill Magazine ¡La Fantoma!. The magazine cover itself is a mirrored and re-colored version of Black Orchid's debut on the cover of Adventure Comics #428.
- Although not appearing in Super Friends, she did appear in some of the related comics with the show.
- Jimenez, Phil (2008), "Black Orchid", in Dougall, Alastair, The DC Comics Encyclopedia, London: Dorling Kindersley, p. 52, ISBN 0-7566-4119-5
- McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010), "1970s", DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle, Dorling Kindersley, p. 156, ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9, "Very little was known about the Black Orchid, even after writer Sheldon Mayer and artist Tony DeZuniga presented her so-called "origin issue" in Adventure Comics."
- The Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #40-41
- Super Friends #31
- Irvine, Alex (2008), "Black Orchid", in Dougall, Alastair, The Vertigo Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, pp. 32–34, ISBN 0-7566-4122-5, OCLC 213309015
- Suicide Squad #19
- Black Orchid #1
- Black Orchid #2
- Black Orchid #3
- The Continuity Pages: Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Black Orchid Accessed January 11, 2008
- Justice League Dark #14
- JLA: The Nail #3
- Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1
- 'Super Friends' #31 guest-starring Black Orchid