The Black Pirate was the perfect series for Sheldon Moldoff to illustrate. The high-masted ships, the exotic locales, the period costumes and architecture would not have looked as good with any other artist, and nothing else Moldoff drew looked as beautiful as this series. Jon Valor is cut from the same pattern as Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, and even resembles them with his pencil moustache.
His run in Action Comics is done as a serial, with cliffhangers and continuous action as he faces off against the kidnapping Captain Ruff, and then his vengeful brother in issues 23 – 28. Immediately following this he falls into the hands of Captain Treble, who runs a slave galley (white slaves), and uses the men as workers in his underwater phosphate mine. Jon leads a mutiny, tunneling through to open the mine to the ocean and fleeing as the water rushes in. He kills Treble in a swordfight in Action 32, and then meets a female pirate, who calls herself the Queen of the Seas.
They challenge each other to see who can get the most loot, but when she fails to show up for the rendezvous, Jon goes hunting for her, finding her a captive of chinese pirate Lu Chan. Lu Chan sets fire to how own ship, intending to kill them both, but Jon and the woman escape, and he kills Lu Chan in a duel.
They sail back to Spain, arriving in issue 36. Jon runs into an old friend, Don Avila, who invites Jon to a ball at the palace, to which he brings Bonnie. It turns out to be a trap to capture him, and though Bonnie is held in an underground keep, Jon manages to escape his captors, free her and duel Don Avila to his death.
Issue 41 gives them a bit of a rest, as they put in to a port in North Africa. Jon goes exploring, finding the albino Amora, the High Priestess of Ora, and her massive and silent black bodyguard. Jon quickly escapes from them. Issue 42 features another one-shot tale, that has old enemies plot to capture Jon’s ship, but he gets the best of them.
Throughout this entire run, Jon does not wear any particular sort of costume. His clothes are usually black, but often all he is wearing is shorts.
As the series moves over to Sensation Comics, he takes to disguising his identity, something that was not a part of the concept in Action Comics. He now wears yellow tousers and a white shirt, as well as along purple cloak with a peaked hood when being the Black Pirate. Bonnie turns out to be Donna Bonita, the ward of King Phillip II, and engaged to his eldest son, referred to in the series as Don Carlos (though this must be the same person as Prince Carlos of Asturia, his violent and crazed eldest child). Jon and Donna marry, and Phillip accepts the Englishman at his court, though charging him with finding and apprehending the Black Pirate.
From Sensation Comics 2 – 4, Jon deals with the vengeful and suspicious Carlos, who finally goes too far, having his father imprisoned and seizing the throne. With the help of the court jester, Jon frees Phillip, and kills Carlos in a duel. In reality, Carlos never tried to overthrow his father, but was imprisoned until his death, possibly by poison.
In Sensation 5, Justin is born to Jon and Donna, and issue 6 sees the boy grow to about 12 years old. Justin kills one of Phillip’s guards, who had been attacking an old woman, and is imprisoned and set to be executed. Jon frees his son, and with Donna they flee Spain. The jester joins them in the following issue, and remains a member of Jon’s crew, making periodic appearances through the rest of his run.
Justin learns his father is the Black Pirate, and makes himself a matching costume, though with a purple shirt and red cloak and hood. The series will occasionally go under the title “Black Pirate and Son” from this point on, but usually is still just “Black Pirate.”
They team up with Sir Francis Drake in Sensation 8, taking part in the rout of the Spanish Armada, and then head to France for two issues, aiding the King of France, an elderly man named Louis.
Maybe this is the point to chime in about the dating problem with this series. Moldoff has left the strip by this point, doing only occasional splash pages, so I can be more critical of it.
The very first installment gave the series the date of 1600. Actually, it really looks like it says 1800, but that is so wildly wrong I am assuming the ink has bled into the page over the years making the 6 look like an 8. The first issue of Sensation Comics makes it 1558, and then one would add roughly 12 years (Justin’s age) to bring it to 1580 – but the battle with the Spanish Armada did not occur until 1588, and Justin is clearly still a child.
To make matters worse, there was no King Louis at this time. Sure, it’s a fairly safe guess to call a French king Louis, but the late 1500s were the period of the Valois monarchs, not a Louis in the bunch, these were Francises and Charleses, and most were boy kings with short reigns, not old men.
The dating problem just gets worse as it goes along. In Comic Cavalcade 1, the Black Pirate is summoned by Queen Elizabeth, to help her fleet fight a sea monster that turns out to be a Spanish creation, but a few months later, in Sensation 18, James I is king of England. OK, so we must now have just reached 1600, but Justin is still a child. In issue 21 we are with James I again, as the Black Pirate tries to find a cure for his eldest son, Henry. In reality, Henry died of a fever, but he gets cured in this story (maybe he died later, Im not going to nitpick on that point), but in Comic Cavalcade 7, right at the end of this era, Queen Elizabeth dies and James is crowned king. Need I mention, Justin remains young throughout this.
But really, that is the biggest problem I have with the series, and though the dating is a mess, I was impressed that the sons were given the proper names, and their roles are at least analogous to actual history.
In Sensation 14 the Black Pirate rescues an orphan girl, Virginia, and she comes to live with him and his family on Pirate Island in the following story, joining in the defense of the island against some escapees from Dartmouth Prison. A bit of a romance is built between Justin and Virginia, but she does not often appear.
In issue 20, Jon and Justin are caught in a storm that leads them to Atlantis, where they help Arius regain his throne, and he rewards Jon with Posiedon`s ring, which Jon can use to summon Aruis. He does this in the following story, to find out where the cure for James` son can be found, but the ring is not used again after this.
As the era comes to a close, the stories become more fantastic, as the Black Pirate battles the Flying Dutchman and lands on a Lilliput-type island of tiny people.
The most interesting story in the post-Moldoff period is in Sensation 17, which opens in the present day (World War II) as the allied forces land on Pirate Island, finding his fortress, paintings of his family, and the Black Pirate`s diary. We (and they) read a story of him defending the island against Don Muerte and his flying (catapulted) men, and learn the location in which the Black Pirate hid a cannon, to be used when the attackers were too close to retreat, and then the allies put their big guns in the same place to fight off the Germans.
The Black Pirate (and son) continue in the Late Golden Age
Black Pirate: Action Comics 23 – 36 (Apr 40 – May 41), 38 – 42 (July – Nov 41)
Sensation Comics 1 – 31 (Jan 42 – July 44)
Comic Cavalcade 1 – 2 (Winter 42 – Spring 43), 7 (Summer 44)