Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Blue Devil Summer Fun Annual #1

Recently I have been exploring the pre-Crisis fan theory that Black Orchid was Supergirl in disguise.

We are nearing the end of this side adventure as I only have a few more stories I am thinking of covering. And if my goal was to look at pre-Crisis Black Orchid, we are about as close as we can get.

Blue Devil Annual #1 came out on August 1, 1985 the very same week that Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 was on the stands. If you were looking for something to lighten the mood after reading Barry Allen sacrifice himself, this book would fit the bill. It is a complete romp.

In "The Day All Hell Breaks Loose", writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn bring a near parody of comic magical battles. It is hard to believe this came out a year before Swamp Thing #50 which would echo the bringing together of 'dark' characters in battle. They lean into some DC history and have some fun with things.

But this is a look at Black Orchid and so I should comment on her appearance in the book. It is, as you might guess, as mysterious as her other appearances. She shows up, lays the smack down, and disappears. There are some things here that actually detract from the Supergirl theory. But the most hilarious thing is that Mishkin and Cohn offer up two Marvel-ous origins, adding to that parody feel.

Paris Cullins is on art and his stuff is always delightful, bright and fresh, just north of cartoony. I love his take on the Orchid, just gorgeous. 

On to the book.

The plot is relatively simple. 

Felix Faust, casting spells with alliterative names right out of a D&D Spell Compendium, is trying to steal a demon egg in Blue Devil's possession. First he uses a domination spell to try and use Man-Bat and the Creeper to procure it. But then he goes after it himself.

All the magical shenanigans get the attention of not only the Devil, but Madame Xanadu, the Phantom Stranger, and Etrigan as well.

The egg hatches releasing imps everywhere. The heroes try to scoop them up with magical butterfly nets that Xanadu has whipped up. But some of the imps fuse the become a giant imp.

Who should swoop in? Black Orchid.

With superhuman ease, she lifts the demon up into the sky and spikes it earthward, breaking it back into the tiny imps again. And with that she is gone! The Creeper comments on her delicate nature and her power, a sort of revamp of the opening paragraphs in her solo stories.

Cullins draws the costume wonderfully and I do like the grace he gives her even in the action.

Then Xanadu tells them the origin of the Black Orchid ... at least how she has heard it.

Saving an elderly woman from an oncoming truck, she is struck by radioactive orchids and becomes The Black Orchid!

Yes, Xanadu thinks Orchid got her powers the way Daredevil got his! Even down to an alliterative secret identity akin to Matt Murdock.

The imps are trying to make it to a birthing pit where they can achieve a final form of sorts.

The battle makes its way there. 

Who should show up again? Black Orchid.

This time she slam dunks Faust himself.

This is probably the biggest 'no way that is Supergirl' moment. Kara was never so bloodthirsty.

Ultimately, one of the imps makes it to the birthing pit in Faust's hideout and becomes a 'sand creature' like Nebiros, the demon who gave Blue Devil his powers.

The gaggle of odd heroes get together and win the day.

I wonder if the 'sand Nebiros' was a play on the 'Sand Superman' story. 

It is then that the Phantom Stranger tells Black Orchid's origin ... at least how he's heard it.

She was a brainy high school student at a radiation experiment when she was stuck by the thorn of an accidentally irradiated Orchid. She then got amazing powers!

So the Stranger thinks she got her powers the way Spider-Man got his.

I love it.

Why not have a little fun with the lack of origin?

I do love the ending here.

The Creeper realizes this motley crew has done good work and maybe they should form some sort of Justice League. They all turn on the idea.

And yet, a mere 25 years later we would see Justice League Dark hit the stands with a bunch of these characters amongst the members. Amazing!

I laughed out loud at this issue, available on the DC app for easy reading. If you are a fan of any of these characters or the pre-Crisis DC, definitely seek this out. I love the Creeper. I love Black Orchid. I really like Man-Bat and Etrigan. This was a true treat for me.

As for Black Orchid, she is tough and competent and graceful, all aspects of Supergirl. She also kills Felix Faust. Not so Supergirl-ish.

Overall grade: A+


Anonymous said...

WHAT IF...Supergirl survived COIE #7, escaped her mourning shroud in Earth’s sun and flew back to Earth...realizing that the multiverse is about to merge and everyone’s identity is on the line, Kara opt for one last “fling” as Black Orchid, indulging her lifelong love for disguises and cosplay at the expense of Felix Faust. To Supergirl, the Marvelesque “origins” of Black Orchid are a last joke on the whole imploding multiverse.

H said...

I think she knew Faust would resurrect. Those magic types tend to, even back before killing people off was standard.

I think I mentioned this one in one of your other 'Black Orchid may be Supergirl' posts. It's a good issue, and a good series all around. DC should really put out a trade or two of it- refreshingly old school in a period where things were increasingly moving towards grim and gritty.