Being a fan of a story in one medium doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a fan of the same story in a different medium. Orphan Black the TV show is a highly entertaining techno-science fiction romp which keeps its secrets and reveals little as each episode progresses. IDW present Orphan Black #1 which broadly mirrors the opening episode of the TV show. Importantly for comics fans, you don’t need to have seen the show to understand the premise. Issue #1s are never easy and harder still if the audience already know the narrative. They need to grab you and hook you in.
This is the story of Sarah. She is a bit of a rebel, and has a mysterious and less than salubrious past. Of course, she’s an orphan. After an introduction when twins are born in unusual circumstances, we meet Sarah as she encounters her doppelganger on a train station. What happens next leads Sarah on a journey of discovery. The reader is as in the dark as Sarah, despite the narration. We learn she was brought up with a chap called Fe, and she also has a daughter. There’s a funeral, an incident in a police station and the violent introduction of Helen at the conclusion of the issue. Of course, the nature of the comic suggests the science fiction roots but there’s nothing explicitly revealed at this stage, despite four characters who look identical.
Orphan Black is written by Graeme Manson, John Fawcett and Jody Houser. The former pair are the TV series writers. Jody Houser (Avengers: No More Bullying) brings the comic book knowledge into the mix. They do a fine job, working together. This makes sense as a comic, not just a TV adaptation. The story moves along swiftly with some nice dialogue, although nothing special. For my taste, there is a little too much narration and exposition, but that is tainted by the fact I know the story from the TV show. It’s a hard recipe to get right – pleasing the fans and allowing an entry point for newcomers. Some lines and scenes are direct from the TV show while some are new, used as backstory and clarification.
The art is by Szymon Kudranski (Spawn, Justice League and Arrow) with colours from Mat Lopes. The characters are well drawn and are reminiscent of the actors without being replicas or caricatures. The panelling is basic. Most pages have 6 even panels, with those in flashback shown with ragged edges. It has the feel of something that was designed for digital platforms and not paper comics. The backgrounds are almost non-descript in many cases, while others are clearly matched to the TV sets. There is no real colour theme or mood displayed throughout.
There’s nothing at all wrong with Orphan Black. It is a highly enjoyable story well written and well drawn. It is sadly, however, unremarkable. There’s nothing wow or original about it. Consider though, my perspective is sullied by my knowledge of the TV show. I did enjoy the comic and I’ll read more (issue #2 promises to be Helen’s story) but I think I was expecting a whole lot more. The TV show was really intriguing but I think the additions to the comic story take away a little of the mystery. Good, with plenty of potential.
Title: Orphan Black
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson