Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Was Black Orchid Supergirl? What Is The Verdict?

Over the last couple of months I have been running a series of posts looking at the pre-Crisis Black Orchid stories through the lens of a fan theory that she was Supergirl undercover.

The stories have all been reviewed here, each one dissected to see if the tale bolstered the theory or weakened it. I know this is all just a fan's musings but it sure has been a lot of fun. And whether intended or not, a strong case could be made that the Black Orchid was indeed Supergirl. 

But with the evidence all submitted, it is time for closing statements. And then the verdict is in your hands. 

So let's review some of the high points.

First let's look at the timing.

When Adventure Comics #428, the first appearance of Black Orchid, was on the stands, Supergirl's solo series was on its sixth issue. 

Where was Supergirl at that time? 

She was trying to find herself, having graduated college, worked on a news team, and trying to establish herself as a hero in her own right. What better way to get out from under the weight of the S-shield than establish a whole new identity.

Moreover, from the beginning, Supergirl always had this fierce response when she saw injustice. The crimes we see in the Black Orchid stories are just the things Supergirl would bristle over - human trafficking, blackmail, bilking people out of their riches, and setting someone up as a patsy. These human stories would appeal to Supergirl's sense of justice.

She had just started attending Vandyre University. Linda Danvers was trying to achieve her life-long goal of becoming an actress. 

Now let's think about the Black Orchid and her modus operandi

We have seen the Orchid go undercover as waitresses, girl molls, sleazy barflies, and elderly flower peddlers. 

Who better to be able to take on so many roles than someone with training in acting!

Now it is true that Black Orchid's last story in this period was in Phantom Stranger #41 at which time Supergirl was starring in Superman Family and acting as a guidance counselor for the New Athens Experimental school. But it doesn't take away the background.

The Orchid displays powers consistent with Supergirl.

Her first display of powers is hoisting a car in the air, reminiscent of the famous cover of Action Comics #1.

She's bulletproof.

It's even implied she has access to x-rays, perhaps x-ray vision?

Now we never see any true display of super-speed or heat vision. But if you are trying to hide your Kryptonian identity maybe you don't want to show all the powers you have and tip your hand.

When taking on specific roles, the Orchid often would utilize lifelike plastic masks and costumes.

We have seen Supergirl do the same in her own stories as well. 

What about fashion sense?

Well, as pointed out by Mart Gray, Supergirl has already donned a mostly purple and burgundy costume in an alternate identity already. As Satan Girl, Supergirl wore something almost reminiscent of the Orchid's more flowery wardrobe.

Lastly, there are the subtle metatextual clues that writers Sheldon Mayer and Michael Fleisher put into the stories, like comparing her tough skin to Kryptonite. Perhaps they were having some fun with us.

Now you might say that Black Orchid's slow tempo in stopping crimes, with deception and wiretaps and goading crooks into self-incrimination might seem ridiculous when Supergirl could swoop in at super-speed and just mop everything up.

But if you are Kara, and trying to find yourself, and maybe trying to have a little bit of fun while crime-fighting, isn't this the perfect way?

Now you might ask why I am ignoring the Black Orchid story in Super Friends #31 a story where she seems unaffected by Kryptonite, casts force fields, and claims she is from Earth. Well, it is up to you to decide if the Super Friends comic is in official continuity. While this is an interesting adjunct to the Orchid's history, even bringing back an old foe, you can say this didn't happen in pre-Crisis Earth One history.

If you are inclined to include it and you think the Orchid is Kara, you can find easy reasons to explain these irregularities away. You can say her declaration of being from Earth was a feint to keep her super-cousin from discovering her second identity. And perhaps a certain green-skinned boyfriend of Kara's lent her a force field device?

For me it is clear. I rest my case.

The pre-Crisis Black Orchid WAS Supergirl.

But now I leave it in your hands. I want to hear your thoughts. Was Black Orchid Supergirl? Or was this just a theory?


Martin Gray said...

Oh Anj, I’m on the fence… the clues work, but I don’t believe it in my heart. Thanks so very much for a brilliant series of posts.

Now, did Linda ever express a wish to be an actress before that Bold New Direction? Was there an orphanage talent show moment I’ve forgotten?

Anj said...

Thanks for the comment.
I don't recall a prior love of acting in the Midvale days.

One vote - no!

H said...

I'm with Martin on this- convincing arguments but something just doesn't click for me.

I seem to recall a few talent shows at the orphanage- Linda was never a main performer but she'd assist with other peoples' acts (in normal and super-powered ways). Also, all those disguises and acting in secret until it was time to reveal herself to the world may have fueled a desire to perform in public.

Godzylla said...

I loved the theory that Black Orchid was Supergirl. There could even be a Rose and the Thorn type of split personality going on which further smooths over some of the questions and apparent contradictions. I wonder if there are any Mayer or Fleischer interviews where the subject came up? Time to drive into Comics Interview back issues to start.

Isamu Hideaki-Yukinori said...

Superspeed would explain how Black Orchid can make those disguises so quickly.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

A split personality! Fantastic idea!

Professor Feetlebaum said...

In that Super Friends story, Black Orchid does not actually tell Superman that she is from Earth. She only says, "Would you believe..Earth?" (borrowing the old Maxwell Smart line). Superman (and the reader) is free to believe it or not.

We'll probably never know what Sheldon Mayer and Joe Orlando and the others originally had in mind, but I doubt they were thinking of Black Orchid as a disguised Supergirl. Supergirl was under a different editor now, and it seems that Mayer and all wanted to keep Black Orchid as a mystery figure, turning up where needed and then vanishing. To reveal her true identity and giving her a backstory would have made it a whole different strip.

But in the end, having said that, and since Black Orchid could have been anybody, there's no reason NOT to believe that she was really Kara. Black Orchid did nothing out of character for Supergirl. So, I have no problem accepting Black Orchid as a disguised Kara Zor-El.

Black Orchid is Supergirl if you want her to be.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

Maybe Black Orchid was really Wanda 5 or Wanda 5 was one of her many disguises. Maybe she figured out that Linda Danvers was really Supergirl and needed to get close to her in order to duplicate some of her superpowers for use in her own crimefighting career.

bandersnatch said...

Alternative theory: Power Girl, training herself before debuting in All-Star Comics. Not my idea, it was tossed around back in the day.
Super-Friends is in continuity. DC said No It Isn't in letter columns but there's good evidence it's in continuity.

H said...

Definitely, bandersnatch- events in Super Friends affected the main DC universe (or at least similar events occurred off-panel) and the main writer for the series (Nelson Bridwell) was big into DC continuity.

Rob S. said...

I'm with you, Anj... I think there's compelling evidence that Supergirl and Black Orchid were the same person... at least some of the time.* Whether or not that was the authorial intent, I think it's a fun idea to explore, and would love to have one of DC's detectives -- I'm thinking Christopher Chance, another master of disguise -- try to get to the bottom of it.

*(I say this since as a common wrinkle to stories where disguises are used, a shared identity is always possible.)

Anonymous said...

It is entirely self evident in the Jeffersonian sense of the term, that Black Orchid was Supergirl’s gaudy obscure goof on the Bronze Age DCU…everything from her love of elaborate disguises, her acting aspirations the eye catching costumery…and her talent for multilayered deception (learned first hand from her own cousin), it all screams SUPERGIRL!!
It this point the creators original notions are lost in the Infinite corridors of Time Itself…which is our opportunity to step into the creative breach! We should demand the DC schedule a six part mini series detailing the entire Black Orchid/ Supergirl mash up in excruciating detail, drawn by Jamal Igle and written by Sterling Gates.
Oh and I want featured cameos from Kolschak the Night Stalker, the Cast of Up with People and narrated by either Orson Welles or Rod Serling.
Yes I am being silly, but all the same the concept is quite sound.
Supergirl is being jobbed out in much worse minis, even as I write this, DC Owes Us I Figure…why not go fer the gusto??


Anj said...

Thanks for continued comments.

This was a lot of fun for me.

And I'd love to see a series where a bunch of super-heroines masquerade as the Orchid! Have kara be one of them!

Anonymous said...

Or Supergirl decides to perpetuate the prank and amplify the ambiguity by recruiting a coterie of heroines and aspirational heroines to don the costume and wage their own war on evil…finally Kara creates her own covert all female team…the sisterhood of the traveling….spandex?
Lois Lane and Lana alang team up to prove they can function in the field?
Ya got it…
Mary Batson wants to show everyone she can contribute without calling on Mary Marvel?
Ka-boom ya got it…
Saturn Girl wants to go slumming in the bronze age DCU…
Easy peasy.
Black Orchid makes it happen!
The mind reels with the possibilities.


Nobile said...

Well, Anj, maybe you did not show evidence that Kara is Black Orchid, but you surely showed that she may be her. Being this comics, this is therefore true until proved wrong or become true when somebody retcons this (it would be a better working retcon than Doom being a bot for a while or Alicia a Skrull).
But the real point is did anybody originally planned this to be true? Or at some point planne to retcon this? Or simply wrote some story with Kara in mind? This would be fun to see, for sure.

Anyway, mind canon always wins: to me Robin Masters has always been Magnum himself, not Higgins, it works a lot better and makes more sense.

Unknown said...

Sorry Anj, but I never have and I never will think that Supergirl and Black Orchid are one and the same!!

Bryan-Mitchell said...

Sorry to resurrect a dead thread but I just ran across your blog and while it is an interesting idea, I don't think Black Orchid is Supergirl. As you wrote in an earlier column, the stories have comments about "people can't fly!" and "like something out of a comic book!" so I really think her stories were meant to be in a universe without superheroes. But since everyone involved has passed away, we will never know for sure what the intention was.