Scarlet delivers a left as Blackie looks on. Artist: George Tuska.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Harvey Comics
First Appeared: 1943
Creators: Unknown writer, and George Tuska, artist
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By 1943, the domination of the American comic book industry by the superhero genre was showing signs of weakening. The big Superman bandwagon followers, like Captain America, Plastic Man and Green Lantern, were all well-established by …

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… that time, and it was getting harder for a new series about long underwear guys, even one that showed originality and promised interesting develpments, to attract enough attention to join them.

The Scarlet Nemesis and The Black Orchid, who shared an initial adventure in All-New Short Story Comics #2 (September, 1943) might have had an interesting relationship, if it had been given a chance to develop. In everyday life, they were Rocky Ford and Judy Allen, who ran a private detective agency together. But when they got a real mystery to solve, they'd slip away and switch to their costumed identities, each of which seemed well known to their criminal adversaries.

And here's the clincher. Neither of them knew the other was a superhero. Even when they worked on the same case together, once the masks went on, they could no longer recognize their partners.

All-New Short Story Comics was published by Harvey Comics, home of The Black Cat and Shock Gibson, which later became known for characters like Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Scarlet and Blackie shared that issue with Barry Kuda and The Scarlet Phantom. As is the case with many 1940s comic book characters, their writer is unknown, but the artist was George Tuska, who also co-created Zanzibar the Magician and Shark Brodie, but is possibly best known for his work on Buck Rogers.

In some panels, Scarlet's (no relation) costume contains a forward-shining lamp, like the one on a miner's helmet; but in others, it's de-emphasized to the point of disappearing. Otherwise, he displays no extraordinary powers, other than — of course — being good with his fists.

Blackie (no relation) (her, either) always announced her imminent arrival on the scene with "The Sign of the Black Orchid" — a dagger with a black orchid attached, suddenly embedding itself next to the bad guys. She, too, had no super powers, but could hold her own in a fight. Once, when she was knocked unconscious, Scarlet politely declined to peek under her mask, citing an agreement they'd made on an earlier case, which the reader hadn't seen.

In neither case was any reason given for dressing up and bashing evil.

If a TV series had a premise like this one, chances are, Scarlet and Blackie would know each other's identities by the end of the first season. It's possible they would have here too, but comic book characters can be awfully dense about not recognizing each other if there's a mask in the way, so you never know. But their relationship was never given a chance to develop. Like The Black Panther and Jaguar Man, who also had later and more prominent superhero namesakes, The Black Orchid and The Scarlet Nemesis had only one adventure, then disappeared without a trace.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Harvey Comics.