Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Who's Who: Black Orchid

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the Black Orchid story from Phantom Stranger #36

The reason behind the review? A 70s fan theory that perhaps Black Orchid was Supergirl in disguise. I have heard in a couple of places that Black Orchid had X-ray powers. And that story was the evidence behind that. She used xrays to reprogram a computer.

I was always a fan of Orchid. The mystery. That great costume. It worked for me whenever I ran across her. Only later when I heard the Supergirl rumor did my interest grow stronger.

As old as I am, I bought the first Who's Who off the rack as they off the rack as they came out. I loved Black Orchid's page. Art by Terry Austin! I know Austin as one of the premier inkers in the comic world. But he penciled this!

I love the almost playful pose Orchid is in as it emphasizes the crazy cape she has. And the surprint was supposed always show the character out of costume. So seeing all these different women made sense. Gorgeous.

Did the page bolster or dispute the rumor?

In powers they list flight, invulnerability, and super-strength.

But I thought this passage was worth pointing out. 

The X-ray power that was a strong basis for the rumor? Well, Superman saying it can only be discounted as hyperbole. So maybe it didn't happen ... even though we read it in an 'in continuity' story.

So next part in this mini side-mission? The comic where Superman says that. Because I think I found it.

Honestly, the more I think about it, I think DC could have side-stepped the 'death of Supergirl' in Crisis by making her be Black Orchid for a couple of years, unbeknownst to the readers.

Which Supergirl non-identity do you like her more as ? Black Orchid? Or Sensor Girl?


Martin Gray said...

Hmm, maybe Superman knew Kara had a side project, and was protecting her…


Anj said...

I love it!

H said...

What's throwing me is that bit about projecting force fields. I don't think Supergirl ever had a power like that. In fact, the only DC characters I can think of that can project force fields are Brainiacs. Hey, wait a minute …

Professor Feetlebaum said...

This "was she or wasn't she intended to be Supergirl" business is intriguing. That Black Orchid had Supergirl-like abilities (flying, great strength, invulnerability) makes me think that maybe Joe Orlando's and Sheldon Mayer's original plan was to have Black Orchid actually turn out to be Supergirl, but then those plans were aborted when Supergirl was moved into her own comic with a different editor. Kara's last appearance in Adventure Comics was in # 424, dated October 1972, and Supergirl #1 came out the following month. Black Orchid showed up in Adventure # 428.

As for the force field, in the original Adventure Comics run, 2 characters (Ken Ransom in # 428 and Barry DeMorte in # 429) speculate that a force field MAY be the reason bullets don't harm Black Orchid, but it's never confirmed. The whole idea was to keep her mysterious.

Black Orchid DID use a force field to protect Superman from Kryptonite in Super Friends #31, but that was years later, and probably not considered part of regular continuity.

"Superman (see Superman) has stated that Orchid was once able to reprogram a computer using X-ray powers, but that can be discounted as hyperbole."

This isn't too clear. Is SUPERMAN saying that the X-ray rumor is hyperbole, or is the writer of this entry saying that Superman's statement can be discounted as hyperbole?

As for DC "side-stepping" Supergirl's death in Crisis by making her Black Orchid for a couple of years...It's a great idea, but DC at the time was obsessed with the idea of Superman being Krypton's sole survivor, so Supergirl was cast aside like an old brown shoe. If Jenette Kahn didn't approve Sensor Girl being Kara, she wouldn't have given the okay for Black Orchid.

H said...

It says in the entry that she has the ability to project force fields though, and I think Who's Who is counted as official information until an update or continuity reboot says otherwise.

Also, Super Friends was in continuity (or at least reflected similar events that happened in continuity). I know there were at least two or three events that happened in the Super Friends book whose results showed up in other books.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

H, you're right. I agree that what was written in Who's Who was considered official, at least for that time. If Who's Who sez Black Orchid could project force fields, then by golly, Black Orchid could project force fields!

My point, though, was whatever became official later, it may or may not have been the intention of Sheldon Mayer or Joe Orlando back in 1973.

One person who may know something about all this is Paul Levitz. I believe he was working in Joe Orlando's office at the time.

Anj said...

I intentionally skipped the force field comment because it doesn't fit the narrative. I suppose that makes me a biased reporter.

I will be reviewing the Super Friends issue next in this side mission! So no spoilers here!

Steve said...

I still miss OG Black Orchid badly. Gaiman did a great book called Black Orchid but he ruined the set up that I loved. Current Orchid is just a flying brick.

H said...

That's a very good point, Prof- as more and more writers and editors work with a character, they change more and more from whatever the original intent of the creators was. We may never know what they wanted to do with Black Orchid originally but considering the mystery surrounding her in her stories, that's somewhat apt.