THE BLACK PIRATEMedium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Sheldon Moldoff
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an interview years later, he said his favorite of all the comics features he'd worked on was an obscure little series he wrote and drew, called "The Black Pirate".
Jon Valor, aka The Black Pirate, debuted in the 23rd issue (April, 1940) of Action Comics — the title whose first issue introduced Superman. Jon was not to have Superman's staying power, but he did have a nifty little four-page-per-chapter serial that stood out from the crowd in a comics scene that was increasingly dominated by superheroes.
Obviously, one of The Black Pirate's forebears was the Douglas Fairbanks silent film of the same name, which was released in 1926. But a more prominent set of forebears was found in such Sunday pages as Prince Valiant, Tarzan and Flash Gordon. These adventure strips were, themselves, constructed like silent movies — mute actors played out their roles, with verbal narration taking the form of captions (or title cards).
The Black Pirate ran less than 20 episodes in Action Comics, ending in the November, 1941 issue. Two months later, he was occupying a similar back-of-the-book position in Sensation Comics, where Wonder Woman was the cover feature. But there were some changes — starting with using word balloons instead of all captions.
Gardner Fox, who had created The Flash a couple of years earlier, took over as writer. The first thing he did was give The Black Pirate a secret identity, when the character's arch-enemy, Don Carlos, enlisted Jon Valor's help in tracking down the sea rover, little suspecting the two were one and the same. Before long, The Black Pirate had stopped wearing black in favor of a distinctive (and very colorful) costume, complete with mask, and was having as many adventures on land as on sea. As Jon Valor, he became an aristocrat, and pretended to shy from danger. He even picked up a kid sidekick, his son Justin. In short, except for the 17th-century setting, he became another Batman or Green Arrow.
This version of The Black Pirate hung around the back pages of Sensation Comics for over 50 issues, then transferred to the back pages of All-American Comics (displacing The Atom.) There he stayed until 1948, when All-American switched to westerns. Not once during all that time did he appear on a single cover of Action, Sensation or All-American; and when he disappeared, he wasn't seen again for decades.
Of course, very few DC characters quite go away forever. A guy who lived 350 years ago comes in handy as a guest star in time travel stories — and with the mask, sidekick and secret identity as a wealthy fop, he fits right in with the superheroes.