Sleuth Comics #1 starring the all-new BLACK OWL

Writer: Christopher Mills
Artists: Don Secrease
Inked by: Rick Burchett
Colored by: Matt Webb
Editor: Christopher Mills
Published by: Atomic Pulp/Atomic Action

I’ve written about public domain superheroes before, such as in Image Comics’ Next Issue Project, and Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers: Hero Killers miniseries, and Christopher Mills is a man who also set on reviving various public domain superheroes for his line of original comics. This issue introduces Mills’ version of the 1940’s superhero THE BLACK OWL, whom I already have some interest in.

The “gimmick” of this comic is that it is set in the 1970’s, and is meant to invoke the format and writing style of comic-books that were published in that era. To that end, it’s a single-issue story and utilizes third-person narration captions and thought balloons. But let me be very clear, despite this gimmick and the fact that the Black Owl is clearly an analog for Batman, this is not a parody comic. At most, it’s a homage. But it’s unique enough that it stands on its own.

Mills’ version of the Black Owl is Darren Danville, a rich businessman who happens to be the son of Doug Danville, who was the original Black Owl. One day while shopping for an engagement ring with his fiance Alena, some robbers came in a shot them both. Alena was killed, while Darren survived with a bullet lodged in his brain. The bullet somehow blocked his need to sleep, so Darren decided to dedicate his life to fighting crime, and he spent the next 3 years training 24/7 in various martial arts and crime-fighting techniques. And he has his fiance’s twin sister Athena who is a mechanical genius building high-tech equipment for him. All of this is directly listed in a profile page at the end of the comic, but most of it is revealed within the actual story. And that is the thing that impressed me the most about this comic. No decompression, no part one of six, no need to have read any previous comics before this one, everything that you need to know to enjoy this story is revealed in this story. Just like comic-books used to be written when I first started reading them.

Although this is a first issue it is not an origin story. As it begins, Darren has already been operating in his home city of Knightsbridge for an unspecified but clearly significant amount of time. We open with him defeating a scheme by a customed villain named Funnibone (another public domain character), with whom Black Owl has tussled with before as they both are familiar with each other. We meet a couple of Black Owl’s allies in the city, local police inspector O’Neal (I’m guessing named as a nod to Denny O’Neil?), and a local private investigator named Mike Lance (also another public domain character). The main antagonist is a new monstrous figure called the Silent Skull, a telepath who’s got hypnotic powers that seems to work on everyone except for the Black Owl, and who is using those powers to cause mayhem and commit murder. But why is the Skull specifically targetting the henchmen of a local crime boss? That’s what Black Owl has to find out before it’s too late!

During the course of the story, references are made to previous adventures that Black Owl has had, including other villains he’s faced and heroes he’s teamed up with, which makes this feel as if we are getting a glimpse into a fully-formed expansive comic-book universe. This could have easily been Sleuth Comics #27. Or #127. And it wouldn’t have mattered because you get a complete and satisfying story with a clear beginning and end all within the 25-page main story, even as there are hints that there’s more to this adventure than we or the Black Owl knows, which will make you eager to read more stories of this character, should there be any.

Christopher Mills has written an engaging and action-packed story that can be enjoyed by readers of all-ages. And he’s ably backed by a stellar art team who make this story great to look at. The comic is available as either print or digital via the webstore INDYPLANET. Do yourself a favor get a copy!


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