Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Adventure Comics #430

Over the last couple of months, I have been taking a look at the pre-Crisis stories of Black Orchid through the lens of a fan theory at the time that she was Supergirl. It has been an interesting and highly entertaining exercise for me. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Today I conclude my look at her initial three issue trial run in Adventure comics by reviewing Adventure Comics #430. A big thankful shout out to my friend Ryan Daly  who sent me this issue recently. I was missing this issue and was going to have to go hunting. And then, one day, it magically appeared in my mailbox.

I have to admit that while I love the character and love art in these stories, I can see why this trilogy didn't cement her status as a star. The main thing that differentiates her is that she is a complete cipher. So in these stories, she is more of a catalyst than a protagonist. Each issue the reader does have to try and deduce which character is the Orchid in disguise. But outside that, there isn't much to her.

Still, that air of mystery certainly adds to the theory. Since we still don't know much about this Orchid, she still could be Supergirl!

On to the book!

'The Anger of the Black Orchid' was written by Sheldon Mayer with art by Tony DeZuniga. This team did all three of the Adventure Comic stories and that continuity really has built a feel and mood to the proceedings.

These are crime stories with a dash of super-heroics on the side and DeZuniga's grimy, dark cityscapes seem ripped from a  film noir. This opening sr ot of the Orchid flying over the night-cloaked city let's you know this isn't you brightly colored standard superhero fare. Even her purple and navy outfit adds to the mood. I wish I could go back and talk to Mayer about his thoughts on this run. Was he influenced by Film Noir?

But once more the words sound like Mayer is describing the Kara of that time. 'She possesses the strength of a regiment, the flying power of a hawk, and the tender compassion of a young girl."

In the opening scene, we see a man being chased by a lmobster's enforcers. Running through the dark, puddled streets, he turns into a blind alley. Cornered, he is beaten for not paying Mr. Scrumm what the loan shark thinks he is owed.

I mean, look at this page, especially the trapped feel of that first panel and  that close-up in the second panel. That is such a cinematic page that might work even better in black and white. It truly feels like an homage to something like the climactic scene in Robert Wise's The Set-Up or the sewer ending of The Third Man. Dezuniga just crushes it on this series.

But before the thugs can rough the man up too much, the Black Orchid swoops in.

She flies in and with the strength 'of an ox', she tosses the bad guys around. The bullets they fire at her bounce off. Even this action scene with its wild angles and perspectives feels like the off-kilter cinematography we see in some Film Noir.

Take a good look, because this is probably as close as I will be able to get to linking this story to Supergirl.

She drops her trademark orchid on to the scene. 

When the gunmen return it to Mr. Scrumm at the nightclub he owns, he discovers a tiny note inside. It is a list of all the people he has extorted. It also has a list of all the money that the Orchid thinks that Scrumm has illegally obtained from these people. She demands that he will reimburse these people that money.

This has been a theme in these three stories. The Black Orchid basically gives the criminals she targets the chance to turn themselves in or undo their sins. 

Maybe that is a glimmer of Supergirl's hope that people will want to do the right thing? Turn over a new leaf?

The list of people Scrumm loaned money to was locked in his safe. The only way the Black Orchid could have obtained it was by breaking into the safe. The thugs find a clue, a flashbulb on his office floor.

The Black Orchid must be Millie, the club's photographer. But when they go to question Millie, they find she left early. She has been replaced by a friend, Susan.

So right away we have two potential people that the Orchid could be. Is she Millie the missing photographer? Or this new person Susan that Scrumm doesn't know?

Millie is young and blond. Could that be Supergirl undercover?

The stage act at the club is Madamemoiselle Magique, a hypnotist. 

She asks for a volunteer from the audience and calls Scrumm up. In seconds, she has scooped him up and is flying him over the audience, apparently with the powers of the Orchid. But then she claims that she never left the floor. She hypnotized the audience and Scrumm to only think she did that.

When she asks Scrumm for his hankerchief, he pulls out another black orchid flower, this one with a hidden tape recorder which plays for the audience the list of names Scrumm had read aloud in the earlier scene.

And so we have another suspect. Could Mademoiselle Magique be Black Orchid? She seems to have the powers. 

So who do you think?

The lights go off in the club just at that moment. 

Scrumm's hired guns think Magique must be the Orchid. They search the club only to find Millie in the dark room. She has been there all along. She even shows a picture she took of Scrumm the day before, explaining the flash bulb.

Meanwhile, within the darkness, Black Orchid appears and flies Scrumm into the night sky. Her deadline for him to return the money is almost upon them. She intends to get him to pay up.

I have seen multiple incarnations of Supergirl do the 'dangle from the sky as a threat' move. So ... hmmm ...

And to prove she means it, she drops him.

Feeling she means business, Scrumm pulls out his checkbook and writes a check for the total sum he has extorted from the people. 

Crazy art from Dezuniga here.

Meanwhile, with Millie cleared, the thugs continue their search for Magique. They find her in her dressing room. She states she uses wires in her magic act. So she actually did 'fly' with Scrumm. So she is cleared too.

But before the thugs can look further, the police arrive. All the people Scrumm has loaned money too have come forward. Based on their testimony, the cops will arrest Scrumm and his cronies.

That means behind the scene, the Orchid has approached these people. She isn't just a mysterious agent of the night. Off screen she is a people person.

So who was the Black Orchid?

Why Susan of course. Millie never knew 'Susan'. But she finds a blond wig and glasses. 

We have seen the Black Orchid leave behind blond wigs from the people she is impersonating. But in my head canon that is a double feint. Kara played it natural with her own blond hair but then left the wig to try and make people think that the Orchid isn't blond.

And who would know better that a pair of glasses can be an adequate disguise than Kara?

Scrumm could care less. He's going away for a while.

So this ended Black Orchid's trial run. She next appears in Phantom Stranger #31, about 8 months later. 

I love the feel of these stories, the moody art, the crime underpinning, the intermittent superheroics, and the 'crime does not pay' themes. The actual stories are okay. But I would buy the hell out of this series just for the cinema feel of it.

I only have a couple more stories to cover on this little side mission. But I'll ask ... how am I doing building my case?

Overall grade: B+ 


Martin Gray said...

Well, I’m still open to the idea this is Kara at weekends. Again, I wish someone would pick up the character and do some new stories in the same spirit as these. Forget all the plant person stuff!

Anonymous said...

Well a certain cypher feel is a hallmark of a DCU supernatural type hero, sometimes at least, After all anyone out there have the Phantom Stranger’s birth certificate? “Cain, Abel & Eve” anyone?
I still will die atop the hill coded as “This is Supergirl’s Side Hustle”; but I suspect she was trying out a new identity on a different Earth in the multiverse one where superhuman crimefighters do not exist, hence the “like in the comics” line instead of “Just like Supergirl”...:)
After all, for a heroine who time travels at the drop of a hat and has been to furthest dimensions to say nothing of her own psyche, who is to say bronze age Supergirls wouldn’t have a “night job” on “Earth Noir”?
I am definitely moving Black Orchid up kn my “find list” these are glorious looking stories.


Steve said...

Here me out: The original Earth 1 exists out there since Convergence, only recorded up to the day the Crisis cycle started. A story where Linda loves being Supergirl and publicly known as Superman's cousin but to escape the undertsandable pressure she feels at times has created the Black Orchid to do good with no expectations is possible. If Byrne can do cringy fan fiction, I don't see why someone couldn't do this. I would Venmo DC five dollars for every issue I read!

Anonymous said...

Are Sheldon Meyer and Tony DeZuniga still with us? if so, I am “All In” :) Doubtful I know, but my sentiments stand all the same.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Unfortunately, Sheldon Mayer passed away in 1991, and Tony DeZuniga died in 2012. Joe Orlando and Michael Fleisher have also gone to their re-ward, as Granny Clampett used to say.

I like to think that Kara got so bored and fed up with the types of stories she was getting in her own book, that rather than wait and hope that things would get better, she created the Black Orchid identity for her own self respect.

Anj said...

Thanks for the great comments.

I have to say, after reading these stories for the first time through the Kara lens, I think she could have been Supergirl!

And yes, I thought I could go right to the source but none of the original creators are editors are with us sadly.

I have very much enjoyed these stories. One more 2 parter to review once the issues come in.