Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Phantom Stranger #40

I am continuing to work my way through the pre-Crisis Black Orchid Bronze Age adventures, looking at them through the lens of the fan theory that the Orchid was Supergirl in disguise. Certainly this has been a fun little side adventure and the stories have made the theory a bit more plausible. 

Last week, I reviewed the second part of a four part Black Orchid epic in the pages of Phantom Stranger. This was her last solo adventure before the Crisis re-wrote everything. 

Today I take a look at the penultimate chapter in Phantom Stranger #40

If there is one thing that I find fascinating about this story is that Black Orchid herself didn't appear in the first 2 parts. Yes, there are plenty of people dressed as the Orchid. But as far as we know, we haven't seen the real hero. Last issue would have been an interesting take on her origin, that many people act as the Orchid to stretch her legend far and wide. But revealing the women saying they were all Orchids as villains at the end of last issue made it less compelling.

Certainly, defining the Orchid's origin as a team would have squelched the Kara rumor completely. But the mystery of the Orchid was probably part of her appeal.

'The Black Orchid Conspiracy' was written by Michael Fleisher with continuity by Russell Carley. Art was by Fred Carrillo. 

We start out with 4 of the criminal masterminds enjoying a celebratory drink, knowing they have duped Ronne Kuhn into being their patsy for some criminal scheme.

One thing you cannot complain about with this story is the art. Carrillo brings such elan to the proceedings. The decorations in this place are so detailed. From the brickwork to the precise end table carving, this is great work. And the woman are all so expressive. 

But you may recall, there were 5 'Black Orchids' in the 'Legion'.

Lisa Patrick, the psychologist and martial artist, was missing initially. But she arrives after taking a little nap. 

Now if you have been reading Black Orchid stories, hopefully this seemingly innocent moment set off some alarms.

The women reveal their caper. They will steal the entire gold bullion reserve of the World Bank. I mean, this sounds like a perfect James Bond caper, akin to Goldfinger.

The best way to achieve the goal? Include Ronne Kuhn, the daughter of the World Bank President.

Now this is quite the convergence of coincidences. The Legion is going to rob the Bank. The daughter of the President is a daredevil and vehicle driving expert. The daughter is also a Black Orchid fanatic. All those things lead to these women being able to recruit someone who has some adventurous talents into a Black Orchid Legion to then complete the scheme. Whew ...

That night, Ronne is invited back. She sees the Situation Room, a classic 70s bad guy lair with the mandatory US map, giant monitor, table with miniature models, and a huge computer control panel. I just just love it.

The Orchids tell Ronne that they need her because of a plot against the World Bank her father works at.

Communists (gasp) are going steal the gold bullion stored there, throwing the world's economy into a crisis. It is the first in a series of plots to hurt America and Western Europe.

The Orchids have been told by the government to capture the 'red agents' in the act. But they have to do it in secret so as not to cause an incident.

It all seems a bit convoluted. But Ronne is starstruck. She has admired the Black Orchid and now wants to help them and the good old U.S.A.

All she need to do is bring in the blueprints of the World Bank including all their alarms and security. This way the Orchids can slip in and get the agents without sound the alarum.  And her father has to be kept in the dark because they can't afford the information to be leaked,.

Like a good soldier, Ronne obeys and brings everything to the headquarters.

Once inside the Bank, the evil Orchids get to work.

They apply a powerful plastic explosive to the vault door. And to rid themselves of a loose end, they knock out Ronne and tie her up to the vault's entrance. 

Carrillo's work is truly gorgeous throughout. Of course, he brings an element of cheesecake to the proceedings. After all, these are five fit women in skin-tight costumes. And here he even brings in a little bondage.

We end on another great cliffhanger. The fuse is lit. In seconds, Ronne will be mincemeat.

This is once again an interesting sort of middle chapter. We have a 6 page story in which the real Black Orchid doesn't seem to appear! Now if this was just the middle section of an issue length story that might be okay. But if you are a fan of Black Orchid you might wonder 'where was the star?'.

Still the plot and the art are interesting. As the real Orchid doesn't really get to show her stuff here (although you may have guessed by now she is in the story somewhere), I can't link this easily to the Supergirl theory.

But I promise you, there will be a lot to chew over next week when I review the finale.

I am still quite thrilled to be doing this. And surprisingly, own 12 of her 15 pre-Crisis appearances. So I have a few more tales to review here.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

How is this not a trade paperback?


Professor Feetlebaum said...

Looking back at the earliest stories in Adventure Comics, I wonder if even Joe Orlando or Sheldon Mayer knew who Black Orchid was supposed to be. Did they have things planned out, or were they making it up as they went along?

Black Orchid's Supergirl-like abilities seem almost too close to be coincidence. Is there a possibility that the first Black Orchid stories were originally planned and plotted as Supergirl stories, then heavily re-written after Supergirl was taken out of Adventure Comics and given her own comic under a new editor?

And did E. Nelson Bridwell, who was assistant editor to Joe Orlando, have any influence on Black Orchid? Not because of the Supergirl theory, but that Bridwell had been the creator and writer of the original Secret Six, in which the identity of the leader, Mockingbird, was a mystery not only to the characters in the comic, but to the readers as well.

Martin Gray said...

Great link there, Prof!

Im really enjoying these posts, Anj…. Maybe someone at DC will see them and bring back the original Orchid (I’m a tad tired of plant people).

Anj said...

Thanks for comments! I am having a lot of fun with this side quest!

Interesting link to ENB especially given he wrote the Super Friends issue with Orchid I have covered, leaning into this very story and providing some origin clues too!

Dick McGee said...

Aha! This was the only Black Orchid story (well, part of a story) I could ever get as a kid. To put it mildly, it didn't help much with figuring out what the character was all about, which had been puzzling me since I first saw an ad featuring her. Hard to research random geek stuff in the days before the internet, especially as a child.

It wasn't till the mid-90s that I finally got to read early her stories in full. Worth the wait.