Who's Black Condor?

Who's This? A senator raised by birds

The facts: Created by comics legends Will Eisner and Lou Fine, Black Condor becomes part of Quality Comics' stable of characters as of Crack Comics #1 (May 1940), headlining and acting as rotating cover feature until issue 31 (October 1943). Though initial set in Asia, the strip soon moved to America, and in issue 11, Richard Gray Jr. was given a third identity as a U.S. Senator (replacing a man who looked just like him and that he failed to save). When DC bought the Quality heroes, Black Condor was made a part of the Freedom Fighters and starred in the team's '70s series. In the modern era, the original Black Condor was replaced by a pair of new characters with flight powers (Ryan Kendall and John Trujillo), and appeared as a ghost (or spirit guide) in the first of these's solo series.
How you could have heard of him: If the classic-era Freedom Fighters are evoked, Black Condor is usually among their number (examples include Convergence and The Brave and the Bold cartoon). Multiversity proposed an African-American Black Condor, so for now at least, the Quality version of the character does not seem to exist.
Example story:
Crack Comics #12 (April 1941) "Jaspar Crow and the Miners" by Kenneth Lewis and Lou Fine

I really wanted a story that featured Black Condor as a member of Congress, so I waited until it happened. Crack #12 includes the first story with this new status quo, and hey, it's political! As Senator Thomas Wright, Condor is trying to get the Wright Mining Bill passed, a labour law meant to help Pennsylvania coal miners being worked to the bone in a dangerous work environment. Let's see some voting action!

It's a good law, so why all these No's?! Condor/Grey/Wright smells a rat when he catches sight of Senator Norton, the only other Yes, getting hassled by a couple of thoughs (you know they're up to no good on account of their hat angles). After Wright fights them off, Norton reveals they hench for Crow, a wealthy businessman who's been threatening the lives of senators' families. Crow's got other problems, what with the miners striking when the bill fails to pass. He uses his connections to call in the militia, and even has a foreman killed so the Governor's Office has justification to intervene. Reading about in the paper, the Black Condor decides he should too, and just in time to catch Crow's agitators attacking the miners' barracks in blue hoods.

It wouldn't be a Golden Age comic without a healthy dose of fisticuffs. Black Condor polishes them off and questions one who tells him they have no choice but to obey "the Black Crow" because he's the law around here. And that his henchmen just planted dynamite at the mine entrance, trapping the worker underground (wait, weren't they striking? we'll say they went back to work after the National Guard showed up, but he means to teach them a lesson). Time for the Condor to use his Black Ray dig those men out!

Hey, looks like the same pose Jerry Ordway used in the Who's Who entry surprint! (To be fair, I'm willing to bet this is how Lou Fine pictured him firing his gun in several stories.) The blue hoods rush the field with torches so taking advice from one of the miners (Black Condor really does believe in democracy and consulting his constituents), he showers the henchmen with coal dust which makes the torches explode and burn them. Once that's done, it's time to confront Jaspar Crow...

Pulled a Batman right there! But a couple more goons just the hero, and Crow slinks away to fight another day. (In fact, he'd first appeared in the previous issue, and would appear 11 more times, so he's definitely Black Condor's archenemy!) But at the end of the day, it's not about making arrests, it's about passing laws so this kind of thing does not go on unchallenged.

It's not true across the board, but Quality Comics took its name to heart and the art on their premium strips was generally of a very high quality for the era. Lou Fine was born and named to do fine line work, and his art here and on other strips (Doll Man, the Ray, Uncle Sam) was detailed and dynamic, breaking panel borders (which was rarely done in this era) and popularizing splash pages under various pen names.

But I find that it's true of the story telling as well. Black Condor's strips, like most everything else in the Golden Age, are pretty simple and straightforward, but putting the hero in Congress gives them more depth and relevance. Blue-collar crime is easy to understand, but Black Condor had a dose of white-collar crime as well, and the sense that well-connected people could have deleterious effects on society. These days, that's pretty effing obvious, but in the '40s, this would have been pretty sophisticated for the young kid the story was aimed at.

Who's Next? Starfire's sister.


Anonymous said...

I'm seeing Stephen Colbert. Anyone seeing that?

Siskoid said...


The only difference is that one ear.

LondonKdS said...

I wouldn't say the idea of a capitalist villain would have been challenging to kids in the forties, given that their parents would have lived through the Great Depression.

And I'm not sure things are better now, when a couple of years ago Doctor Who did an episode whose apparent moral was "platform capitalists are well-intentioned, crushingly micro-managed menial jobs are all that the masses deserve, and Millenial labour movement activists are psychopathic mass-murdering terrorists".


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