Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Phantom Stranger #41

 I have been reviewing the Black Orchid's Bronze Age adventures with a focus on the fan theory that she was actually Supergirl. Today I will be reviewing Phantom Stranger #41, the last part of a 4 part adventure. 

There is a lot for me to like about this story. There is a lot to mine here if you like the Supergirl fan theory. This story directly sets up the Black Orchid guest spot in Super Friends #31. The art work by Fred Carrillo is beautiful and detailed. And it is a fun little adventure spotlighting all the things that made this Orchid so mysterious and intriguing.

This was her last adventure in Phantom Stranger because the book got canceled after this. And after the Super Friends issue, her next adventure in the DCU was actually a quick appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths #5!

Now I don't think this is the end of my reviews of the Orchid. I still have her original Adventure Comics run to go through.  But let's dive into this!

'Will The Real Black Orchid Please Stand Up?" was written by Michael Fleisher with script continuity by Russell Carley. 

As we saw last issue, a gang of highly intelligent and capable criminal masterminds have decided to imitate Black Orchid to commit their robberies. They even have high-tech gear to mimic the Orchid's powers. 

To rip off the gold bullion in the World Bank, they trick Ronne Kuhn, daughter of the Bank's president, to turn over the plans of the safe. Without blinking, they turn on her, tying her to the vault door loaded with explosives.

This is a very fetching opening panel by Carrillo.

Ahhh, but one of the criminal Black Orchids turns out to be the real Black Orchid.

With little effort, she rips the massive vault door off its hinges and tosses it high in the sky.

Now that looks Kryptonian.

And then there is this playfulness. She could have just pulled out the fuse. But why not throw the door instead? That is a bit impetuous, something Kara has been known to be.

After all, maybe there is a talent scout for the Justice League watching as well! I always wondered why Supergirl wasn't part of the Justice League. As someone who was, at that time, establishing herself as her own hero and not just as living in the shadow of  Superman's cape, this sounds like Supergirl. 

Of course, if you are reading a Black Orchid story you should expect her to be in disguise somewhere. Last issue, Lisa Patrick, one of the crooks, was missing briefly. The real Black Orchid took her place and has been impersonating her since.

Outside of making the masks, impersonating someone takes acting skills. And to mimic voices might take something like super-ventriloquism!

Now I am all in on deciphering this theory. Doesn't 'too late for that my lovelies' sound like something a Linda Danvers enrolled in Vandyre University for acting might say. It almost sounds like something out of a British play!

All right, maybe I am grasping.

But there is no denying her powers. 

Here she knocks out one Orchid with a punch. 

She also then rips the elevator these two try to escape in out of the shaft and ties it up with the cables so they can't escape.

That is incredible strength. Like Kara.

But I also liked this like how she can't afford to buy a new elevator. That let's us know that the Orchid isn't a wealthy person like Bruce Wayne. And Supergirl at the time was a student, formerly a cameraperson on a news team, and about to be a guidance counselor. She certainly isn't rich.

Ronne actually helps capture the last fake Orchid by blasting her with a fire hose.

Black Orchid is impressed with her help, actually inspiring Ronne to continue to do fight on.

But the panel I loved when thinking about the Supergirl theory is the middle one where she tells Ronne everyone gets fooled once in a while. It almost sounds like she is speaking from experience. Think of all the Silver Age stories where Kara was duped by some villain pretending to love her or some phony promise. 

Yeah, an inspirational figure who has been a victim of trickery in the past! Supergirl.

The story ends with Black Orchid flying off and letting Ronne get a taste of the celebrity of being a super-hero. 

And that's it. No more Black Orchid stories set firmly in the DCU continuity until 1986, 11 years later. And only the Super Friends story in between.

So what do you think? Did these Phantom Stranger stories bolster the Supergirl theory or debunk it? I wish we could ask Sheldon Mayer or Michael Fleisher if they had any ideas of where it was all going. But no doubt 'Supergirl is Black Orchid' is a viable fan theory, one I might have thought of myself back then.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I am gonna say yes to the Black Orchid is Supergirl theory, on the meta pretext that her solo book at the time was a dismal mess, at least here Supergirl is having real superheroinely fun,infiltrating an all female gang, busting up the same, showing off her super powers, quite frankly why would she ever want to go back to boring old Vandyre U and Jeff, Derek, Bobby, Dorrance or whoever was her BF of the month???
She even has a cool expressionistic noir type costume, and we all know how much bronze age Supergirl loved her variant costumes.


Professor Feetlebaum said...

Taking on a superhero identity not closely identified with Superman is something Kara could have done during her "secret emergency weapon" days.

I certainly don't believe that these stories debunk the Supergirl theory. The creators seem to go out of their way to show Black Orchid demonstrating Supergirl-like abilities.

Is Russell Carley still alive? Would he have any inside information?

Although it's stretching things somewhat, the title of this story, "Will The Real Black Orchid Please Stand Up?" might indicate a Superman connection. It's taken from the 1950's-60's TV game show "To Tell the Truth". On the show, three contestants would appear, all claiming to be the same person, normally a person with an unusual occupation or impressive accomplishment. Let's say Jack Kirby was a contestant, for example. A panel of celebrities would question the 3 men claiming to be Kirby, and try to determine who was telling the truth and who wasn't. At the end, each panel member would vote for either contestant 1, 2, or 3, and then the announcer would say "will the real Jack Kirby please stand up" and Kirby would stand up. Then the 2 "imposters" would state their real names and occupations.

What's the Superman connection? The original host of To Tell the Truth was Bud Collyer, who had been the voice of Superman on the 1940s radio program, and in the Max Fleischer cartoon series.

I said it was stretching things.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

I have had too much fun doing this so I think I will continue … next up, the Orchid’s original run in Adventure!

But the idea of her hatching the idea when she was a ‘secret weapon’ is brilliant.

I am old enough to remember To Tell The Truth. Nice link!

Anonymous said...

Maybe Supergirl though, Black Orchid would get asked to join the Justice League...then she could unmask and put them on the spot...


Professor Feetlebaum said...

There must have been some kind of unofficial editorial policy back in the '60s keeping female counterparts from becoming JLA members. Because of that, Supergirl, Batwoman (the original) and Hawkgirl were left out. Hawkgirl finally got in in the late 1970s.

At least Wonder Woman was a full on member, which was a step up from Wonder Woman's status as secretary of the Golden Age Justice Society, DC's version of the He Man Woman Hater's Club in the old Our Gang Comedies. To be fair, I did read that William Marston wanted as much control over his creation as possible, and restricted Wonder Woman's use in the JSA.