Sunday, September 9, 2012

Retro Review: The Black Owl

Joe Simon & Jack Kirby produced stories of "The Black Owl" character for Prize Comics. These three stories are collected in the hardcover "Simon and Kirby Superheroes," released in 2010, which reprints all of the pair's work for non-Marvel and non-DC publishers. This is the first in a series of reviews of stories from this fascinating volume.

Although not created by them, these issues show glimpses of what the collaboration would eventually produce. A non-powered character, Black Owl is the altar ego of society millionaire Doug Danville, and swashbuckling adventurer with a passion for righting wrongs. Since he was an existing character before Simon & Kirby got their hands on him, there is no origin story given, nor is their an explanation of how the dark-haired Danville becomes the blonde-haired Black Owl. The lack of black in his costume struck me as odd, as well, considering the character's name.

Their stories ran in Prize Comics #7, #8, and #9. In issue #7 (December 1940), Danville's private detective girlfriend Terry Dane takes a job at the castle of an eccentric millionaire who requires his guests to wear period clothing. This quirk allows Kirby to present us a range of interesting visuals, as does the medieval setting. Danville crashes the party, and then convinces Dane to allow him to accompany her. But the mysterious villain The Whistler also shows up, and he wants the millionaire's prize possession, the actual Arthurian sword Excalibur. A dynamic fight scene ends the action, but the final caption ("Is the Whistler really dead?" leads us the next issue.

Issue #8 (January 1941) answers the question -- no, the Whistler is not really dead. This time, Danville, Dane, and the whistling villain all show up on a ship. In a humorous scene, Dane sees through Danville's attempt to disguise himself as a sailor. This high-seas adventure is definitely a sequel to the prior story, and in a very dramatic few panels, the Whistler sinks beneath the seas gripping Excalibur.

Issue #9 finds our hero facing down criminal mastermind Madame Mystery. The plot in this one is a bit flimsy -- the confrontation comes as a result of a unscrupulous newspaper editor planting a fake story. But the action is top-notch, and the dialog between Danville and Dane is crisp.

These stories are not ground-breaking, but they are entertaining. Simon and Kirby were working on the first Captain America stories at the same time, so I can excuse them for producing merely average stories for the Black Owl. Fun stories for sure, but nothing like what they would produce in later years.

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