As the buildup to the release of the third season of Orphan Black continues, series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett have teamed up with IDW, co-writer Jody Houser and artist Szymon Kudranski to bring us a view of the world of the show not explored in the episodes. Does this venture into a new medium work for Orphan Black? Find out below in our spoiler free review of “Orphan Black” #1.
Written by Graeme Manson, John Fawcett and Jody Houser
Illustrated by Szymon Kudranski
One. Of a kind. Sarah’s life was changed dramatically after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looked just like her. Sarah learned that, not only were she and the woman clones, but there were others just like them, and dangerous factions at work set on capturing them all. Now, the mysterious world of Orphan Black widens, with new layers of the conspiracy being peeled back in this miniseries by co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson!
I won’t keep you in suspense: no, this venture into a new medium does not work for Orphan Black. The concept of adapting properties like TV shows into comic books is not a new one with shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and The X-Files continuing with extra seasons presented in comic book form after the show has ended. However, Orphan Black is still going and about to start its third season, so where does that leave the comic? What kind of story should it focus on? Series creators Manson and Fawcett make the wise choice to use the comic to explore alleyways and avenues of story and character background infered by the show the show, but never explicitly shown.
The first issue focuses on the backstory of Sarah Manning, the character who was ostensibly the show’s audience avatar in its opening episodes as she stumbles upon the strangest, most convoluted conspiracy this side of Metal Gear Solid. Now, that all seems fairly straight forward, right? Use the backdrop of the series as a whole to spill the beans on Sarah’s backstory that the show hasn’t really had a chance to explore in depth. Now, why would I say this venture didn’t work? Well, when you spin a TV show off into a comic, you have to make sure the story you’re telling works as a comic.
Despite what you might think or what the solicit might say, Orphan Black #1 is less interested in telling the backstory of Sarah Manning than it is rehashing the plot of the first episode of the show. This is something that took me by surprise; I wasn’t expecting the comic to just retell pretty much the entire plot of the episode. Maybe the basic premise in order to give context for the backstory of Sarah, sure, but here entire scenes from throughout the first episode are lifted wholecloth and played out here with little to no changes. This move simply baffled me and it brings me to the major problem of this issue: I have no idea who this issue is supposed to be for.
As a fan of the show, I was frustrated by the structure of the issue as it largely presented me with a story I’d already experienced already with only a handful of extra scenes thrown in that don’t actually tell me anything about Sarah I didn’t already know. On the other hand, it’s not really accessible to new readers as the way the story is presented, they’d be much better off just watching the show. The scenes that have been adapted from the show are chopped up and awkwardly paced in order to condense an hour’s worth of episode into a 20-odd page comic and the new scenes added will be incomprehensible as more than a few are in reference to a twist that occurs at the tail end of the first season. It seems like Manson, Fawcett and Houser wanted to strike a balance between appealing to both new and established fans of the show with this series, but missed the mark and have ended up with an issue that doesn’t really appeal to anyone.Continued below
Even talking about the issue itself is a difficult task as the majority of the scenes have dialogue lifted word for word from the show, meaning that the actual writing kind of takes a backseat. However, I don’t really know what it takes a backseat to as it’s certainly not the artwork. Szymon Kudranski gets the rawest deal here as he’s an otherwise great artist saddled with a script with so little flow that it would make Stan Lee blush. Entire scenes play out in one or two panels as the story is so condensed meaning that Kudranski is having to bounce from scene to scene to scene all in the space of a page and it never gives the artwork room to breathe.
This isn’t helped by the six panel, two by three layout that most of his pages employ as it feels rigid and uncomfortable, showing just how little flow from panel to panel the writing has. One of the few scenes where Kudranski really saves it is the first two pages which might trick you into thinking you’ve picked up a comic with some aspirations, but the strict layout comes into play soon afterwards and kicks that notion out. Kudranski’s bleak, noir-ish and rather gritty style should work with this series, but the colouring seems too flat, especially on the close-ups of the characters as a distinct lack of shading makes it feel like a certain level of detail is missing from the faces.
Overall, while the Orphan Black fan in me really wanted to like this issue, this is just not the quality that the show or the fans of the show deserve. Orphan Black is an inventive show that juggles high concept sci-fi that questions the nature of reality and individuality in the modern world in a very real world setting juxtaposed against very realistic characters with realistic problems. This issue just doesn’t have the spark that the show had and while I don’t want to start throwing blame around, I think this would have benefited if everyone involved had just let the comic be a comic instead of forcing what made the TV show work into a comic and expecting lightning to strike twice.
There are a lot of things that could have been done to improve this issue, but it would likely require a top down rethink about whether this series is tying into the show or simply adapting as trying to do both so far feels cramped and unnecessary.
Final Verdict: 2.9 – There was a lot that could have gone right here and not a lot of it did. I would even say that die hard fans of the show won’t find a lot here worth the price of admission. Might as well stick to the show.