Who's the Black Pirate?

Who's This? That gorgeous Jerry Ordway pirate character on page 4 of Who's Who vol.III, that's who. A pirate as a hero? The conceit was that he served the English crown by giving the Spaniards a bloody nose. You know how the 16th century was.
The facts: Created by Sheldon Moldoff, the Black Pirate did NOT debut in Sensation Comics #1 (1942) as the Who's Who entry states (oops!), but in Action Comics #23 (1940), where it ran in 4-page installments until #42, a lot like a movie matinée serial. The following month, it had jumped to Sensation, where Moldoff started doing longer 8-pagers, done-in-one stories, regularly through #31, then occasionally through #51 (1946) with infrequent appearances in Comic Cavalcade through this era. At some point in the Sensation strips, he was joined by his son Justin who acted as the colorful sidekick so popular in the wake of Robin's success (he grows up fast, because he's born in Sensation #5). After that, it was on to All-American Comics, dropping to 6 pages, where he stayed from #72 to #102, when the book went all western in 1948. Most of the story told in the entry, about Justin's betrayal and Jon Valor's retirement is from a Whatever Happened to... back-up from DC Comics Presents #48, published in '82.
How you could have heard of him: One of Justice League of America's Crisis in Time stories (#159-160, in 1978) featured various historical heroes, including Jon Valor, as did the All-Star Squadron Crisis issues, but modern readers may best remember him as a ghost who helps Jack Knight in Starman, having been hanged in the port city that would become Opal at the end of his career. Grisly. His grandson Jack Valor was recently seen helping Batman back in time in The Return of Bruce Wayne under the name Black Pirate.
Example story:  Sensation Comics #8 (1942)
From the looks of it, a lot of Black Pirate strips might have shared page space with Classics Illustrated. Written in cod-Shakespearean, purple prose... costume drama where the action was sketched in broad strokes, and Jon Valor participating in secret identity subplots. But as the strip evolved, so did its inclinations towards swashbuckling, so that by this issue, we get an adventure completely at sea. And isn't that what you want to see from a pirate comic? "Spanish Armada" isn't Valor's best personal showing however. It seems that in true wish fulfillment fashion, Moldoff have Jon's son Justin all the big moves. Was Robin showing up Batman as much? Maybe! Moldoff was, after all, one of Bob Kane's key ghost artists.

So even as King Phillip II of Spain is hatching a plan to catch Sir Francis Drake AND the Black Pirate with their britches down, the Pirate's got a small mutiny on his hands. A couple of his men aren't too confident they can survive a tussle with the Spaniards, see, and swordplay ensues. But can the Black Pirate take on two men? Who knows? Cuz his boy Justin does this:
Valor does not, however, punish the two men despite his son's urging. He's a good guy and obviously believes in second chances. Valor hatches a plan to board the Spanish fleet under cover of darkness, swimming over to its flagship. He discovers that Justin has jumped in with him. Might he cause his dad problems? Nope! It's the Black Pirate himself who's got a slippery step!
How embarrassing! It's Justin to the rescue again!
And again, when they're cornered.
The next day, Jon Valor reaches Sir Francis Drake and tells him of the Spaniards' plans. An exchange of cannon fire sets two Spanish ships ablaze, which the two mutineers board and drive right into the heart of the Spanish fleet. It's like a Game of Thrones finale in there. So is that the Black Pirate's true power? Motivating his troops? I guess, because once he gets into the fray, he has his pre-teen son light the literal powder keg!
Lesson: You're never too young to play with matches. Seriously though, based on this single example, the Black Pirate's adventures' only real draw was the setting, more or less unique for the DCU. Regardless of the strip's quality, I'm surprised DC didn't capitalize on the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise a few years ago to do a Black Pirate monthly, mini or graphic novel. And I'm not sure Jon Valor fits any of the New52's anthology books. It's not fantastic enough to be in Sword of Sorcery, and while there's a war on, it''s not really the focus of G.I. Combat, is it? But I do think DC could do a cool pirate book, one that would appeal to kids and bigger kids alike. I mean, PIRATES. Captain Fear could be co-feature. (Now there's another name for Who's This?)

Who else? As with other volumes of Who's Who, it features many characters that were veritable unknowns at the time that have since made a splash - Black Orchid chief among them! Even Brother Power got a lot of references and his own Vertigo special, while B'wana Beast got to co-star with some regularity in the Brave and the Bold cartoon. Of course, if you have special requests from this issues, I'm all ears and could get them on the second pass. Let me know WHO.


De said...

Blackrock and Blackstarr are both great examples of obscurity.

Blackrock turned up a number of times to fight the pre-Crisis Superman and returned around the time of Infinite Crisis with a changed premise.

Blackstarr is even more obscure since she fought Supergirl a few times pre-Crisis and was only brought back for a single Suicide Squad story.

Siskoid said...

Blackrock is one of those obscure villains, yeah. I think he showed up in the JLI story in which some dude wins a bunch of villains' equipment at poker.

Blackstarr... which Suicide Squad story? Or are you confusing her with Psi?

Martin Gray said...

Excellent rundown, I know nothing of this fella bar the Who's Who entry and Starman cameo. It's fun to see Batman-style panels on a swashbuckling strip.

De said...

Blackstarr appeared in the short-lived second Suicide Squad series with the time-displaced Sgt. Rock. I think it was issues 6-8.

Siskoid said...

It's a series I still have to find and why my Task Force X Retirement Files stopped after the Ostrander series.

Siskoid said...

Relevant to this entry, from Diversions of the Groovy Kind.


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