The Black Condor demonstrates what he learned from the condors. Artist: Lou Fine.

THE BLACK CONDOR

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Will Eisner (writer) and Lou Fine (artist)
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Like most American comic book publishers of the late 1930s and early '40s, Quality Comics mostly published anthology titles with generic names, anchored by a popular feature and otherwise filled with a heterogenous mix of humor and various types of adventure. Quality had more than its share of titles …

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… that connoted violent assault — Hit Comics, Smash Comics, Crack Comics and so forth. It was in the first issue of the latter, dated May, 1940, that one of Quality's better-remembered superheroes, The Black Condor, debuted.

The Condor's origin story wasn't too implausible, at least by superhero standards. His parents, Major Richard Grey and his unnamed wife, had been traveling through Outer Mongolia on an archaeological expedition, when they were set upon by Gali Kan and his bandit crew. By the time the raiders were finished, only the baby, "Little Dick" as Mom had called him, was left alive. The child was rescued by a condor (never seen outside of zoos in that part of the world, except, apparently, in comic books), who raised him alongside her own chicks. At first, the man-child was hard pressed to keep up with his foster siblings, who found no difficulty in learning how to fly; but by "studying the movement of wings, the body motions, air currents, balance and levitation", he eventually got the hang of it.

What the heck, isn't that how Tarzan learned to swing through trees like a six-pound monkey? If it's any consolation, in his modern incarnations, he's been retconned into a mutant.

When he grew up, he fell in with an old religious hermit named Father Pierre, who taught him human language. Then Gali Kan killed the old hermit. He became a superhero, killed Gali Kan, then took off for western climes. Shortly after that opening story, he acquired a "black light ray gun", capable of pounding a villain with enough energy to stun him, obliterate him, or whatever the story required.

More important, he failed to save the life of Senator Thomas Wright, but did bring the miscreants who killed him to justice and successfully covered up the fact that Wright was dead. Since they looked precisely alike, the Condor simply took his place, and thus got himself a secret identity. Apparently, being raised in the Gobi Desert, with no human contact until adulthood, was no obstacle to fitting in, completely unsuspected, with Washington society.

The Black Condor was created by the Eisner/Iger studio, source of such classic characters as Blackhawk and Sheena. Co-owner Will Eisner himself (Hawks of the Seas, The Spirit) wrote the first story, which was drawn by Lou Fine. The same pair had collaborated on other Quality Comics heroes, as well as on The Flame for Fox Feature Syndicate.

He started out alternating with The Clock as the cover-featured star of Crack Comics, but after the 20th issue, assumed that position all by himself. That lasted only until #27, when he was supplanted by Captain Triumph. Even in the back pages, he hung on only until #31 (October, 1943). After that, Quality Comics was through with him.

He was part of a large bundle of properties acquired by DC Comics in 1956, when Quality folded, but remained dormant for another decade or two. He was next seen in Justice League of America #107 (October, 1973), which depicted him residing in a parallel world where surviving Quality superheroes had banded together as resistance fighters against the Nazis who, in their timeline, had won World War II.

A couple of years later, the half-dozen Quality characters featured in that story (Uncle Sam, Doll Man, The Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, The Ray and of course, The Black Condor himself) emigrated to the JLA's world and set themselves up as an independent superhero group. In the process, he seems to have acquired telekinetic powers as well, tho these weren't consistently applied. Freedom Fighters ran 15 issues, April 1976 through August 1978.

During the '80s, like practically every other DC-owned superhero who operated during the 1940s, he had a few adventures with The All-Star Squadron.

And like a vast number of DC's other old properties, he's been revived in a new form. Black Condor #1 (June, 1992) introduced an all-new version of the character, tho the old one maintained a ghost-like presence as the new one's spiritual advisor. Fans don't seem to have taken a liking to this character, who, through an occasional guest role, maintained only a minor presence in the DC Universe over the next few years. They killed him off in 2005, no-doubt to make room for another.

— DDM

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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.