Friday, October 3, 2008

Reprint This! Black Orchid

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is BLACK ORCHID by Sheldon Mayer and artists including Tony DeZuniga and Nestor Redondo. The superhero character appeared in DC's anthology titles and as a backup feature from 1973-1976 before lapsing into obscurity, but collectors who've kept an eye out for her eleven episodes have been rewarded with a very unusual and very clever strip.

Black Orchid was a very novel idea for a series in its day. The character's background and even her real name were kept from the reader. The series dispensed with a standard cast and location, and even a "secret identity" like pretty much all superheroes of the time maintained. Each episode's focus was on whatever new criminal organization or scheme that Black Orchid, with her powers of flight and superhuman strength, had decided to bring down. This was very much a concept ahead of its time, and its stories are told with energy and often very clever plotting.

Whoever she was behind the mask, Black Orchid was one of the last characters created by Sheldon Mayer. By 1973, he had already been with DC Comics or one of its antecedents for over thirty years, and had a hand in editing or writing many of its Golden Age classics. In 1956, of course, he created Sugar & Spike, a title that ran (off and on and not always domestically) for better than thirty years, and one certainly due its own Reprint This! entry as well. He was also the editor of DC's venerable horror anthology House of Mystery for about two decades. Black Orchid was one of his last regular adventure titles, and even though it really didn't find favor with the audience of its day, it has many fans who fondly remember her brief appearances in comics.

It is probably worth noting that Neil Gaiman resurrected the character as part of DC's long-running strategy of keeping corporate trademarks active by letting new talent pitch new ideas with them. His three-part Black Orchid miniseries, with art by Dave McKean, created a new iteration of the character who later got her own series at the Vertigo imprint in the early 90s, but, frankly, all that mess was good for was letting a new audience know that Sheldon Mayer's good stuff was available in back issue departments.

Black Orchid first appeared as the lead feature in three issues of Adventure Comics (# 428-430) before taking a recurring place as a backup feature in The Phantom Stranger. Mayer apparently wrote only a few of these backup episodes, with the rest penned by writers who included Michael Fleisher. These used to be in pretty good supply, and priced low in better comic shops, but I've seen those prices rise as I've tried to fill the gaps in my set.

A Black Orchid collection is long overdue, and wouldn't be that difficult for DC to compile. Her eleven episodes (if I've counted right) could be printed in a 120-page paperback. It might not be quite the license to print money that an Angel and the Ape book would be, but it's a wonderful title which deserves to be seen again, and a fine sampling of DC's more unusual fare from the era. You're long overdue in bringing Mayer back into print, so how about it, DC?

(Originally posted October 03, 2008, 05:00 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

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