CW asks a lot of me. They ask me to believe Barry Allen could become so evil at some point that he wouldn't pompadour his hair. They ask me to believe that Josh Segarra, who sounds like the illegitimate child of Ray Liotta and an Italian restaurant in Queens, is a genius litigator, deceiver, schemer, and supervillain. They ask me to believe that Caity Lotz is awake.
But trying to make me believe THIS guy is a threat to, well, anyone is the hardest thing the CW asks of me:
|EVERY time he says something like "I YAM the head of League of Ass-ass-ins, you know" in his Snitty Bank Manager Voice, I laugh.|
His teeevee threat level aside, "Malcolm Merlyn" is, like most of the secondary characters in the CWverse shows, loosely based on one from the source comics: Merlyn the 'dark archer'.
|It's still true: the best indicator of any character's lameness is their Who's Who illustration.|
Merlyn debuted in November 1971 (JLA #94) in the stupidly named "Where Strikes Demonfang?" (titling stories in the Marvel-style of faux-Shakespearean/epic prose was a big thing in the '70s). A (painful) synopsis follows:
A sniper, M'Naku, has Aquaman, the Batman, and the Green Arrow in his sights. At the last second, the Green Arrow sees the sun glint off the barrel, and scatters the heroes. The Green Arrow disarms M'Naku, while the Batman attacks. Once M'Naku is subdued, Aquaman interrogates the would-be assassin. M'Naku reveals nothing. The Sensei, of the League of Assassins, angered at M'Naku's failure, tasks Merlyn with carrying out the assassination.
Television anchorman, Clark Kent, is out on assignment, tasked with filming a news documentary on pollution. Kent asks the Atom to accompany him, as his assignment will take him near to Porttown, where Aquaman, the Batman, and the Green Arrow went missing. Merlyn disables Kent's news van. Kent confronts Merlyn, as Superman. Using specially designed arrowheads, Merlyn subdues both Superman and the Atom. Merlyn assassinates M'Naku.
The trademark arrows, and distinctive laughter, tip off the Green Arrow to Merlyn's presence. Earlier in his career, the Green Arrow faced off against Merlyn, and lost. Aquaman, the Batman, and the Green Arrow track Merlyn to an abandoned house. Suddenly, Aquaman collapses from extreme dehydration. Using his size and weight control belt, the Atom disables the arrow immobilizing Superman. The Batman submerges Aquaman in a fountain, until the King of the Sea recovers.
The Batman suspects that the Deadman has taken possession of Aquaman's body. The Green Arrow is caught inside a vacuum tube. The Batman hurls a batarang at the tube, to no effect. Still recovering his strength, Superman, and the Atom, hitchhike to Porttown. Spying the Green Arrow's dilemma, Superman hurls the Atom at the vacuum tube, shattering it. The Green Arrow squares off against Merlyn. This time, the Green Arrow is the victor.
Having failed to assassinate the Batman, Merlyn flees, knowing that the League of Assassins will be coming after him for his failure.
The version of Merlyn always seemed...off. In more than just a 'Stupid Bronze Age" way. Why name a dark archer after a ...medieval wizard? Why does he look like, well... a geek?
In fact he looks remarkably like another JLA villain, Headmaster Mind, who had debuted unspectacularly in 1964.
|Sometimes you don't need a Who's Who page to tell how lame a character is.|
You remember Headmaster Mind (whom I've written about here before); he was a 'professor of crime' who taught criminals how to be successful, even against such foes as the Justice League members.That's why he looks like a professorial stereotype. But why on earth would Merlyn look that way?
And then I discovered this:
|More Fun Comics #75 (1941) , in case you were wondering.|
And it all clicked into place.
The reason that Bronze Age Merlyn looks like a evil professorial type ... is because that's what he originally was. That, kids, is "Professor Merlin" who runs a crime college in the third Green Arrow story.
"Crime college/school" is one of those inevitable concepts that comics CANNOT let go of. Given enough time, every hero will find and fight one. Why? Who can say. Perhaps it's the tension intrinsic between crime, usually though of as an occupation for the ignorant, and schooling, or society's fear that criminals, properly focused on self-improvement, could be unstoppable. Me? I think comic book writers just have some unresolved issues with their teachers.
When Professor Merlin does capture Green Arrow (which is almost immediately) he chooses to spend time tickling him. Which isn't fey AT ALL. Then he ask Ollie to throw in with him and be his partner and rule the world with him. Then Ollie says no because Merlin's type can't last long enough. Then Merlin says, "I'm tired of playing with you!"
|"What happened to Speedy? Usually Speedy is the one who ties me up and tickles me with a feather!"|
Then, in a scene too embarrassing even for Green Arrow, Ollie is saved by a motorcycle cop who pulls Merlin over because his tail-light is busted. "The law will get you soon," indeed.
In Green Arrow's first story, his foe, Ezra Sampson, dies (as we saw).
In Green Arrow's second story his foe, The Voice, is caught.
In Green Arrow's third story his foe, Merlin, escapes.
And that is the key. Merlin is Ollie's first villain that gets away. And then becomes the first villain to return. Merlin was Green Arrow's first recurring villain in his rogues gallery (aka the Crime Carnival). So when writers wanted to make a basic recurring archenemy for the newly-revised Bronze Age version of Green Arrow they took the most basic concept -- an anti-Green Arrow, an evil archer -- and simply lay it on top of Ollie's earlier recurring foe -- Merlin.
It was a dumb thing and lazy thing to do, of course, and resulted in a character that doesn't make a lot of sense. But at least now I understand WHY.