Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Phantom Stranger #39

While the core of this site will always be Supergirl and the super-family, I do like my side missions. The deep dive into the history of Mark Shaw for instance. Or my latest little excursion, reviewing Bronze Age Black Orchid stories and holding them up to the fan theory that she was Supergirl.

Today I'll review Phantom Stranger #39, the second installment in a four part Black Orchid story that starts out like an origin tale! 

The story is scripted by Michael Fleisher with 'script continuity' by Russell Carley.  I am not sure what that job entails. Art is by Fred Carrillo bringing some 70's Alex Nino vibes again to the proceedings.

This is a standard middle chapter pushing the plot towards. As noted before, this ties into the Super Friends issue that Black Orchid guest starred in. E. Nelson Bridwell sure was the continuity wonk! 

While this chapter doesn't necessarily add anything to the Supergirl theory, it leads into that Super Friends issue which directly dealt with it and does add to the Orchid mythos. So off we go!

'The Legion of the Black Orchid'  starts with race car driver , stunt pilot, and member of the international jet set Ronne Kuhn in her home dressed as Black Orchid. We just met her last issue.

She is surprised when another Black Orchid flies into the house. 

Kuhn says she admired the Orchid's adventures and so made the suit on a lark. 

The other Black Orchid says she has something to show Ronne, scoops up the driver, and flies off to a remote headquarters. Is this flying Orchid our hero?

In this slick mountain sanctum, a sort of barracks with a huge picture of the Black Orchid flower adorning the roof, is the titular Legion of Black Orchids.

Karen Jansen, a molecular chemist, is the Orchid that flew Ronne there. 

And we meet the others.
Stefanie Tower, astro-physicist. Barbie Henderson, Olympic gymnast and acrobat. Janet Grant, criminologist. And Lisa Patrick, psychologist and martial artist.

These women were bored and unfulfilled despite their accomplishments and so became the Orchids to fight crime.

Now I like this idea of many people being the Orchid. It would allow each one to use their skills in part of a crime-fighting adventure. It would give the illusion that the Orchid could be many places at once. It is sort of nifty.

And for a book from 1975, I love that these are 5 incredibly smart and capable women. 

But what about all the powers? How did Karen fly Ronne here?

Within the headquarters, we see how Stefanie created a belt that allows the women to fly on magnetic waves. And micro-circuitry allows it to appear as if bullets bounce off the Orchid. It even acts like an exo-skeleton to boost the strength of the wearer. 

Hmmm ... an answer for everything it seems.

But even more exposition.

There is a huge crime computer in the place to help explain how the Black Orchid anticipates and stops her crimes.

And Jensen, the chemist, created the rubberoid compound to create the masks. It all makes sense.

Now we know who the Black Orchid is ... a whole Legion. And her powers aren't because she hails from Krypton. They are devices and tech.

The crew invites Ronne to join them.

After all, what crew doesn't need a vehicle expert?

But after Ronne flies out in her new fancy-powered suit, the others cackle. Ronne Kuhn, sucker of the year.

Hmm .. maybe they aren't as nice as they seemed to be. There is no denying they have the gear to imitate the real Black Orchid. Maybe they are the real Black Orchid. But they sure don't seem heroes when you end on that cliffhanger.

I haven't mentioned Carrillo's art yet but he draws every one of the women sleek and athletic. The design of the suit allows artists to add flourishes to action. It is just gorgeous. 

But here is the thing I found most intriguing in this middle chapter.

A letter by Bruce Parrello from Urbana Illinois has some complaints about the Black Orchid story in Phantom Stranger #36, in which a crime computer with some AI elements is destroyed by the Orchid After all, the hack points out, aren't the Black Orchid stories set in 'our world', a place without other super-heroes and super-advanced technology?

It is true that the first time the Orchid ever 'teamed up' with someone was in the Super Friends issue. So perhaps the stories were supposed to be set on some alternate Earth which would definitely squash the Kara theory. 

Perhaps when I finish reviewing this story, I'll move to review the Orchid's three issue original run in Adventure Comics. Perhaps there is more text there to deepen the mystery. 

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

What an intriguing summary. I can’t wait to heat what happens next. It strikes me that the handful of BO stories would make a fun little trade.

Anonymous said...

Great artwork these are still on my find list...ya don’t find em’ in dollar boxes which are my go to though...