Thursday, April 14, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Phantom Stranger #38

There is no Supergirl book on the shelves. So what is Supergirl Comic Box Commentary to do?

Well, one little side road I have decided to walk down is looking at the Bronze Age adventures of Black Orchid. Back then, there was a fan theory that Black Orchid was Supergirl. So why not take a hard look at those stories to see if that theory held water. 

I covered Phantom Stranger #36, which looked at a famous story where Black Orchid supposedly had X-Ray vision. I looked at Super Friends #31 in which writer E. Nelson Bridwell picked up that rumor and ran. 

In that Super Friends story, the villain was Lisa Patrick, a villain who impersonated Black Orchid. I figured looking at that story would be fun.

And so I present to you 1975's Phantom Stranger #38. The back-up Black Orchid story is the first part of a four part epic. In fact, this is the last story for the Orchid until that Super Friends issue. So does this story turn up the heat on the Supergirl theory? Or cool it down?

'The Secret of the Black Orchid' was written by Michael Fleisher with art by Fred Carrillo.

Like stories did back then, we start with an opening panel which is a taste of the story. And here we see Black Orchid flying in, disarming a crook while bashing him across the chin, while other thugs run away because they are 'outnumbered'.

I love the lead-in caption box stating the Orchid has brought wonder, awe, and speculation! Where did she come from? That line alone would make me think she had to come from somewhere special.

I did not Fred Carrillo before this issue but he has that style that feels similar to artists like Nestor Redondo and Alex Nino, that school from the Philippines. I may need to do some research.

On to the story, with my holding up a magnifying glass to the tale to see if the Supergirl theory remains valid.

The story starts with us witnessing a criminal gang reviewing a plot to blow up a mountain, trapping a car carrying diamonds. The gangster's moll is sick of hearing the repetitive review and leaves.

Later that day, the scheme is hatched. The explosives trap the car. But before the crooks can grab the stones, the Black Orchid arrives.

She flies into the fray, bullets bouncing off her like snowflakes.

Bulletproof? Flying? Sounds like Supergirl.

She swoops in, bending steel in her bare hands like licorice. She batters the crooks with blows like a thousand sledge hammers. 

And it seems like she doesn't have 'one decent weakness'.

Bending steel?
No obvious weakness?

It all sounds so much like a Kryptonian. 

Great action shot by Carrillo here.

And then wrenching loose a 20 foot section of steel cable fence and using it like a bolo to bring down the crooks?

These are prodigious powers. Since crooks don't have Kryptonite or magic, she would seem to have no weakness. And it all seems so effortless. 

I can see why readers might think Black Orchid is Supergirl.

Heck, I might be convinced.

The head criminal has escaped. He wonders just how did Black Orchid learn about the plot?

Was the place bugged like the Watergate Hotel??

Hey. It was 1975.

Entering the hideout, the crook discovers his girlfriend tied to a bed. Next to her is a mask. Black Orchid was the moll who complained about the practice runs.

The cops arrive to arrest him.

Now, you might say that this is a knock against the Supergirl theory. Why would Supergirl infiltrate when she could just use super-hearing. 

But I will again remind you that this is cover dated April 1975. We are two months away from Superman Family #171, the issue where Linda Danvers starts as a guidance counselor in New Athens, Florida.

What was Linda Danvers doing before that issue? She was an acting student at Vandyre University. What better way to hone your craft of acting than by going undercover??

If anything, given the timing, I think this strengthens the theory!!!

But there is one more page to the story. 

A daring race car driver named Ronne Kuhn seems to be Black Orchid ... or is she???

Well dear readers, you'll need to wait until I review the next chapter.

I know Fleisher mostly from his Spectre work. I love his plot here, a standard Orchid story with nice cliffhanger. But it is the art that makes this a great read. Carrillo brings the detail and the action.

So what do you think? Does this make the Supergirl rumor hotter? Or not?

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Interesting stuff, and it seems Fleisher only plotted, so well done Russell Carley!

Steve said...

Were Flesher or Mayer ever interviewed about Black Orchid and the origin that was at least in their heads? I found nothing googling. I know writing comics means oftentimes not coming up with a solution to mysteries in stories ahead of time but Fleisher came across as a deeply thoughtful writer.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

"No one knows who she is...or how it is that she possesses the strength of a regiment...the flying power of a hawk...and the tender compassion of a young girl..."

This was the opening paragraph for the Black Orchid story in Adventure Comics # 430. Sounds like a good description of Supergirl!

One thing that causes me to doubt somewhat that Black Orchid was intended to be Supergirl is that Kara was appearing in her own series at the same time that the original Black Orchid stories were running. Now if Kara had been missing in action for several months.......

And yet, Black Orchid's Kryptonian like powers of flying, great strength and invulnerability seem too close to Supergirl's and Superman's powers to be just a coincidence. That might mean she is from Krypton, though not necessarily.

E. Nelson Bridwell was assistant editor to Joe Orlando during Black Orchid's 3 issue Adventure Comics run. He was a walking encyclopedia of Superman family history, and could pass on things that Orlando would not have known. What if Black Orchid was originally intended not to be Supergirl Kara Zor-El, but Super-Girl, the one that Jimmy Olsen wished into existence way back in Superman # 123. Could she have found a way out of that limbo that Jimmy wished her back into, and took on a new identity?

I've wondered sometimes why the Black Orchid series only lasted for 3 issues in Adventure Comics. I wonder how well those issues sold.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

As has been said, there is no evidence these stories even take place in the DCU. Her first crossover was that Super Friends issue.

I doubt she was meant to be Supergirl. But the theory is too fun to not push to the limits.

And I haven't seen any mention of a 'true' origin that Fleisher intended. So who knows!

Anonymous said...

It all makes much better sense than say, Supergirl as a Red Lantern...:) But then fan fiction often outstrips the canonical storylines :) And anyway since the “Naked & Afraid” outfit now owns DC Comics, whose to say we cannot bilk the noobs into believe Black Orchid was the Bronze Age Supergirl’s idea of activist cosplay?

If I ran the zoo...