Sheppeard, Sallye. "Entering the Green: Imaginal space in black orchid." The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero. Ed. Angela Ndalianis. Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies. London, New York: Routledge, 2009. 205–15.
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|Resource type: Book Article
Language: en: English
BibTeX citation key: Sheppeard2009a
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Keywords: "Black Orchid", Gaiman. Neil, McKean. Dave, Myth, United Kingdom
Creators: Ndalianis, Sheppeard
Publisher: Routledge (London, New York)
Collection: The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero
Myth emerges from the depths of what we usually associate with the human imagination, arising de profundis in word and image embodied as ritual, which is to say that myth is verbal, visual, and visceral. Whatever other names, epithets, and actions we attribute to them, heroes, superheroes, and their tales always contain verbal, visual, and visceral elements. As mythic manifestation, the superhero exists not in transition but as transition. As transition or liminality, then, the superhero beckons us to that region Henry Corbin calls the ‘mundus imaginalis’, the very real imaginal world that is neither intellect nor imagination but both: the region of and. Yet to conceive of this world, to participate in it, one need not dwell solely in ephemeral theory, nor solely in reality as we know it. One must enter both worlds simultaneously. Myth does not speak of transformation within that region; myth is transformation within that region.
Born of the future and memory, Neil Gaiman's and Dave McKean's Black Orchid operates as vision and re-vision within this imaginal space. Its title character originates as human but becomes plant, a hybrid character named for a hybrid flower. She exists as human/plant, plant/human; she comes from the region of and. In its way, Black Orchid is a tour de force of comic genre transition, juxtaposing conventional bullying and violence with unconventional finesse and beauty, a modern tale of déjà vu and DNA. Regarded by many as a milestone in the development of adventure comics, Black Orchid takes the conventions of the genre and turns them inside out or, more accurately, turns them on themselves. At the mythic level, the work accomplishes a similar inversion. Black Orchid herself experiences the hero's journey more in the ancient tradition of Perseus than his successors, carrying forward major elements of two disparate cultures, one violent, one nurturing. Yet one can argue that Black Orchid's experience suggests something of a reversal of Perseus's journey. Her quest for self-identity leads her through Gotham City, Arkham Asylum, the Louisiana Swamps, and the Amazon Rainforest. Along the way, she encounters Batman, Poison Ivy, and Swamp Thing, familiar genre gods who serve as her psycho pomps as she descends from the world of heroic crime fighter to a nadir of violent madness and ascends to the world of “green” and, ultimately, a new vision for herself. It is this vision that makes Black Orchid's return to the world unique among her peers and Gaiman's and McKean's work unique within its genre.
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