The fourth season of Orphan Black is underway and over the years the show has garnered a solid fan base. As of this writing, 727, 809 individuals like the official Orphan Black page on Facebook, and 132,666 have shown support for the page dedicated to the show’s star, Tatiana Maslany. Message boards, a wiki, and individual fan sites host discussion after discussion. So far, Orphan Black hasn’t achieved monolithic status like franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or Doctor Who, but the journey seems to have begun. Finally, congratulations to all involved for winning the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Presentation, Short Form, surely a well-deserved feather in an already ornate cap. Enthusiasts, including me, want more.
Enter the Orphan Black expanded universe, kicked off by a six-issue comic miniseries from IDW. Each issue focuses on a specific clone, and while sharing plot details with televised episodes, the creators also provide added information from character backgrounds. I waited until IDW released the entire series in trade paperback format, so a few revelations first shared here had been revealed on-air as well. We meet for the first time Veera Souminen, who’ll star in an upcoming five-issue miniseries, Orphan Black: Helsinki, as well as joining the show during Season Four. Hopefully, this indicates that future comic ventures will provide fresh story arcs that stand alone.
Quite a large team supplied input. Graeme Manson, John Fawcett, and Jody Houser handled the writing while Szymon Kudranski, Alan Quah, Cat Staggs, Wayne Nichols supplied the art with colorists Mat Lopes and Chris Fenoglio. Other than for, of course, Graeme Manson, I know nothing about the writers. The artists I know a bit more. Kudranski’s familiar through his work with Spawn and Detective Comics, Staggs from her Smallville covers, and I’ve heard about Quah’s efforts on Vampire Diaries. Often details blur together or remain undeveloped, and critics have cited the “too many cooks” rule when voicing their disappointment. The point, however, is character expansion, a task not easily achieved via television due to that medium’s limitations.
So, die-hard watchers feel slightly chagrined, perhaps even cheated. Sure, I appreciated experiencing more about our beloved clones’ individual lives and psyches, but I would have welcomed an original adventure. Maybe this will begin with Orphan Black: Helsinki? Please, IDW. Historically an expanded universe serves not only to give fans a fix while waiting for future episodes or films, but to broaden the mythos as well. You’ve done so with character, at least temporarily, since I’ve seen some content has leaked into the television narrative. Now we want stories!
Cat Stagg’s cover portraits and alternative covers are lovely, and overall the artists stand united stylistically, choosing to present impressionistic images rather than direct representations. How appropriate, given Orphan Black’s conspiratorial nature. But in the end, the writing, the writing . . . I wonder how well the new material here enjoys a suitable level of independence, supposing that any new information will make its way on to our screens sooner or later? Original stories and substance exclusive to expanded formats – these factors will keep me buying Orphan Black comics and other media that might appear. That’s how other franchises with expanded universes have maintained their credentials. Now it’s your turn, Orphan Black.