Who's Black Orchid?

Who's This? An everywoman.

The facts: Black Orchid debuted in Adventure Comics #428 (August 1973), a creation of by Sheldon Mayer and Tony DeZuniga. Though she had powers like flight, invulnerability and super-strength, she was mainly a mistress of disguise, impersonating seemingly insignificant people to get ahead in her investigations.  After her spotlight in Adventure 428-430, she appeared in a back-up in The Phantom Stranger from 1974 to 1976, then only very sporadically, most prominently in Suicide Squad. Neil Gaiman then turned her into a female Swamp Thing in a Prestige mini-series and she got a series under the Vertigo imprint. I do not, however, consider her the same character at all. But having a series, means the name at least stayed in the minds of people who might revive the original concept...
How you could have heard of her: The details may be different, but the New52 brought back a classic-look Black Orchid as a member of Justice League Dark. She almost got into the Constantine show, but it was cancelled before plans for her appearance could materialize.
Example story: Adventure Comics #429 (September-October 1973) "Challenge to the Black Orchid" by Sheldon Mayer and Tony DeZuniga
One of Black Orchid's shticks that I didn't previously mention is that she leaves a black orchid as a calling card. At the start of this story, she saves a guy's life by grabbing a sniper covering the harbor. Though his pals can't believe a woman can fly (so is this not taking place on Earth-1?), the dude, the unbelievably-named Barry de Morte, is sure he was saved because chicks can't resist his sex appeal! He might want to read the note attached.
It's a warning that she's coming for him, and the sniper is taken out to prevent a good man from committing righteous murder. Barry shouts the eponymous challenge at the sky which has the effect of a dissolving Mission: Impossible cassette tape. The Black Orchid WILL take the Morte challenge and stop this yachtsman/playboy. His crime? Modern-day piracy, jacking ships and stealing their goods with the use of fake fog and a gas gun-equipped beauty. His would-be killer met just such a fate, the sole survivor from his sunken ship whose story wasn't believed and who lost everything that night. How Black Orchid knows all this is part of her mystique. As is her ability to right this wrong. Barry is in fact sure he must know her, maybe from his Wall of Conquests.
Is it the girl who was... WORKING ON INVISIBLE FORCE FIELDS-WHHAAA?! Or is it the yoga instructor who might know levitation? What kind of crowd does he hang out with exactly? Let's just forcibly invite the two suspects over, shall we? And he takes them on a pirate trip to repeat his dastardly deed. If one of them is Black Orchid, she'll have to out herself. So Our Boy Barry sets his sights on the freighter Orion and gets the fog machine going. Black Orchid does make an appearance:
Two strong to stay snagged, she flies into the cargo hold, net and all... and disappears! Barry races back to the party where both of his suspects are having cocktails. But Mala, his lovely accomplice, has been powdering her nose for ages. Could be her! After all, she used to be a stage magician's assistant and a movie stunt girl (again, where DOES he find these girls?!). She even admits to it, and that makes him horny as heck.
She dares him to do the entire crime himself and he does it, of course. Of course, it's a sting arranged by the Black Orchid.
But wait, yeah, if Black Orchid is Mala Miles, then she collaborated on the previous crimes! But IS she?
Nope, just took over Mala's identity. Proof is in the pudding: When she got into costume, she left her rubber mask and wig in the likeness of Mala right there in the room. Barry is desperate to know. If she wasn't any of the three women he pegged (cough cough), then who WAS she. "Who knows?" The ending is a bit weird, with the last panel having that question come from off-screen, and we sort of see an arm with a watch and is it supposed to be some kind of reveal? If so, there's a gentleman with a watch at the party somewhere, but I don't think that's what they're saying. My guess goes to the server who gets a close-up.
Regardless, it's not important we know who she was on this mission, or in life. Black Orchid is a complete mystery. Now if you WERE to take this to series properly, maybe you'd need her to be more like The Saint, taking on jobs and identities, but we the audience know who she is (if Simon Templar can be considered to be the Saint's actual name), a constant for the readers. But all the same, it's not strictly necessary. Black Orchid is a cipher, but it's fun to see bad guys get so confounded by what could actually be any or every woman in their surroundings.

It IS quite interesting to see some early Tony DeZuniga art, when it looked more like other Filipino artists of his generation (like Alex Nino in this issue's back-up). I dunno, there was something a little looser about his work then. I like it.

Who's Next? Death on skis!


LiamKav said...

That panel where they have her speak a big block of text and have to choose between covering up her face or covering up her boobs and go for the face is certainly something.

Charles Izemie said...

I thought Who's Black Orchid was the two-parter where everyone had doppelgängers and the Doctor claimed to be a fast bowler? (Medium, at best.)


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