Orphan Black: The IDW Comics and Hopes for an Expanded Universe

Over five seasons, Orphan Black earned a massive fan base.  Message boards, a Wiki, and individual fan sites have hosted discussion after discussion.  We can’t get enough of the show’s star, Tatiana Maslany, a powerhouse deserving every accolade laid at her feet.  However, Orphan Black hasn’t achieved monolithic status like Star Wars, Star Trek, or Doctor Who, even after netting the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Presentation: Short Form, surely a well-deserved achievement.  Enthusiasts, including me, have hoped for an expanded universe like those enjoyed by other franchises, and while not as extensive as those listed above, we’ve received servings here and there. Books related to science, philosophy, feminism, sexuality, and behind-the-scenes insights have entered print.  Realm has produced an audio show that continues where the television series ended.  And, of course, comics have appeared.

In February 2015, IDW began its Orphan Black comic enterprise by releasing a six-issue miniseries.  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 to me already.  We meet for the first time, Veera Souminen, who stars in the later five-issue miniseries, Orphan Black: Helsinki, as well as having joined the show during Season Four.

Graeme Manson, John Fawcett, and Jody Houser handled the writing while Szymon Kudranski, Alan Quah, Cat Staggs, Wayne Nichols supplied art with colorists Mat Lopes and Chris Fenoglio.  Other than for Graeme Manson, I knew nothing about the writers.  I was a bit more familiar with the writers, though. 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.  Cat Stagg’s cover portraits are lovely, and overall, the artists involved with each issue stand united stylistically, choosing to present impressionistic images rather than direct representations.  How appropriate given Orphan Black’s conspiratorial nature.

IDW wasn’t finished with Orphan Black.  Next came Orphan Black: Helsinki, a five-issue prequel to the television show starring the Finnish clone, Veera Souminen.  The story’s set in 2001, and we learn much about the dreaded Project Helsinki that led to six clones dying.  As with Orphan Black: The Comic, this one has multiple contributing authors – Graeme Manson, John Fawcett, and Heli Kennedy.  Wayne Nichols and Alan Quah supply artwork.

I originally read Helsinki upon its release in 2016.  Like the previous miniseries and those to come, this one provides additional content, like Star Wars or Star Trek novels, or delves into story materials from different angles.  I was well hooked and wanted more comics and hopefully novels, anything to fill voids between seasons, or maybe a better metaphor involves receiving maintenance fixes until full servings become available.  I sensed the beginnings of an expanded universe, and, boy, was I thrilled.

Star Trek has the mirror universe, and Marvel, historically the comics but now the films as well, has presented several alternate destinies throughout its multiverse, posing the question “what if?”  Why shouldn’t the budding Orphan Black expanded universe have similar outlets?  Orphan Black: Deviations #1, penned by Heli Kennedy with artwork by Wayne Nichols and Sebastian Cheng, hit shelves on March 29, 2017.  This miniseries explores what would happen if Sarah had saved Beth from dying.

Quite a bit would change with Beth’s extended presence.  Some from the main television story who live now die.  The Clone Club discovers Dyad more quickly, and, sadly, Helena doesn’t undergo her famous redemption.  If anything, this series help cement facts from the show, serving as a review.  Beyond that, I felt less connected.  Graeme Manson’s departure here has affected my appreciation.

August 12, 2017: BBC America aired the final episode of Orphan Black.  Although the show’s runners did an excellent job concluding major plot points, Clone Club members continue weeping across social-media platforms years later.  Only five seasons?  No sixth season?  Sorry, gang.  Although the online world flourishes with fan sites and fiction, the real world only contains three comic miniseries, a few nonfiction books, and an audio series — not much of an expanded universe.

But then possibilities arrived!  Entertainment Weekly correspondent Nick Romano posted “Orphan Black Continues with Sequel Comic Crazy Science,” dated March 3, 2018.  He reported:

Orphan Black lives again . . . in comic book form.  After the fifth and final season left Clone Clubbers in mourning for the Tatiana Maslany-led sci-fi series, the story now continues in Crazy Science, a six-part miniseries from writer Heli Kennedy and artist Fico Ossio.

Picking up after the events of the series finale on television, Orphan Black fans will be     able to read about the adventures of Cosima and Delphine, who travel the world to help cure the other sick 274 Leda clones.  Crazy Science will debut this June [2018].

For emphasis, Romano quotes Heli Kennedy, now a well-heeled Orphan Black comic writer:

“I’m so excited to send Cosima and Delphine around the world. A scientist-superhero couple, saving clones in amazing locations — I couldn’t ask for much more, story-wise,” Kennedy said in a statement. “And I can’t wait to delve into who they are, outside of science.  Both as a couple and individuals. Their intense love-work relationship is the    perfect ‘in’ to explore their dreams, fears, families, the skeletons they keep hidden . . . all the good, challenging bits of a complicated relationship.”

Cosima and Delphine, Clone Club’s favorite couple, traveling the world, helping other Leda clones toward wellness, taking up right where the television show ended.  Happy days, indeed . . . no, sorry.  Wrong!  In June 2018, IDW canceled Crazy Science after one issue.  The cause of death is listed as low orders from comic shops.

Interested readers can find that first issue via ComiXology or Amazon, and cover art pops up online, but so much for a generously developed expanded universe.  I’m writing this in February 2022, and while calendars and other merchandise remain available, sadly, we have no more comic series or a single novel.

Comic and literary ventures may have stalled, but fear not.  Clone Club will never die.  Fans continue bombarding online message boards, and their fiction pours forth like Val de Loire wine.  There’s that audio series from Realm, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, now with two seasons available, starring Maslany and written by Madeline Ashby, Lindsay Smith, E.C. Myers, Malka Older, Heli Kennedy, and Mishell Baker.  A powerhouse team, most assuredly.  Moreover, AMC has been developing a television series first announced in 2019, and in February 2022 the network hired Anna Fishko who’s been supervising producer and writer for Fear of the Walking Dead.  Joe Otterson from Variety explains that details are hazy, but, “It is known, however, that the project is not a reboot of the original show, but rather a new story set in the same world. Boat Rocker Studios, a division of Boat Rocker Media, will produce.”

So, expanded universe?  Not quickly, perhaps, but these efforts prove that Clone Club will never die.  One passionate soul, Humberto Montes, encapsulates the diehard nature of the show’s fandom by starting a petition asking IDW to release Crazy Science.  To date, Montes has only garnered 375 out of the 500 signatures needed. Nonetheless, I’ll say it louder for those sitting in the back rows: Clone Club will never die!

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