Thursday, May 25, 2017

Solving the Merlyn Mystery

If you are like me, the Green Arrow villain "Merlyn" has always mystified you.  'Malcolm Merlyn' is, of course, a fixture on television's Arrow (and the second season of Legends of Tomorrow).  Mostly this seems to stem from some sort of Satanic pact made by actor John Barrowman that everyone (but me) will love him, no matter how bad at or inappropriate for a role he is.

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  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.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


We left Green Arrow at what was obviously the end of his first story:  arrows have been shot, Ollie had been catapulted in a burning building, the mystery had been solved, the bad guy had been revealed and caught.

Would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling archers and their catapult.

But if you think that's the end of the story, well, then, you simply don't understand one of the most powerful forces in the DCU:


The now-unHooded Claw, revealed as tiny Ezra Sampson, simply jumps out a window and runs away laughing at Green Arrow all the way.

If only Ollie and Roy had some sort of non-fatal medium-range weapon handy.

Everyone sing!  
"Arrow fails, Speedy bails, Batman rolls his eyes; 
the Arrowplane's quite insane, Ezra Sampson got away!"

Sampson heads toward the city limits, which is an urgent problem, because apparently Ollie's vigilante license isn't valid outside his municipality.  Kind of like a notary.

Ollie's vehicle grows larger with each panel.  That's why at some point the DMV notified him he could no longer call it a 'car' and it became "The Arrowplane", even though its less able to fly than a tank is.

So Ollie shoots out a tire on Sampson's car as a simple safe way of halting his getaway.

To the degree that "Oliver Queen steering the Arrowplane with his knees" can be considered "safe".

Ollie seems oddly insistent that this is a permanent solution and Sampson seems to have a strange symbiotic relationship with his car, since he cries out in pain when its tire is shot.

How did Lichtenstein miss this panel? It's beautiful.

The Sampsonmobile glides to a gentle stop and Ezra finally gives up gracefully..


HOLY ****!

Do NOT fail Green Arrow's city.

Holy CRAP that was horrible and grim. Welcome to the Golden Age of Comics, kids.

Green Arrow: facilitating failure since 1941.

Ollie keeps the cartoon bomb as a souvenir, presumably because a coffin-forming mass of twistled and tangled steel doesn't fit neatly into his curio cabinet.

I am DYING to know what those other trophies are from. And how many people died to put them there.

NOW ends the case of the Namesake Murders. Until next month, kids, enjoy this teaser panel of Ollie shooting an arrow through a man's hand, blood gushing from the wound!

I hereby declare "Crime Carnival" as the official moniker for Green Arrow's rogues gallery.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Green Arrow Loves His Cartoon Bomb

When last we left Green Arrow, Ollie was dashing to his local dealer because he was out of marijuana.

No wonder the writers moved him to Seattle.

Okay, actually, he was there trying to stop the next History Club member from being murdered by fire (in emulation of the death of Jean D'Arc).  Since there's not a moment to lose, Ollie does the logical thing (if you're Green Arrow):


Don't worry, Ollie; I'm sure those little red gloves will protect you.

Fun fact: the unofficial multiverse name for this universe is 'The Only One Where Green Arrow Survives".

Since this is Ollie's first adventure he hasn't yet invented awesome devices like the fire extinguisher arrow, the freeze arrow, or the personal lubricant arrow.  So rather than try to put out the fire he does an extraction on its intended victim.... Green Arrow-style!

Oh, god, this is going to be something stupid with ARROWs, isn't it...?!

Yup; it's something stupid with arrows.

Wanna bet that Green Arrow's 'signal' to Speedy was screaming "NYAAAOHMYGODI'MONFIIIIIIIIIRE!"?

Ollie practiced that joke for WEEKS.
Speedy is a true enabler.  Eventually, I'm sure he get tired of this sort of thing and invents the ladder-arrow. In fact, even in this first Green Arrow story it's becoming clear that Ollie is basically Inspector Gadget and Roy is Penny, running around trying to keep Green Arrow from killing himself and secretly solving the case without Ollie noticing.

The list of 1001 Things Green Arrow Can't Afford includes "butlers" AND "Bible camp".
And 'four-wheel drive'.

Note that at some point between panels, the "Arrowcar" became "the Arrowplane".  Probably the point at which Ollie became unable to keep the front wheels on the ground.

Truly thoughtful villains match their victims, crime scenes, and cartoon bombs to the hero's color scheme.  Remember that on St. Villainstime Day!

Boy, the Hooded Claw sure is an efficient villain!  Our heroic bowmen arrive JUST as the cartoon bomb is about to explode, bringing the entire building down on Samson (and them).

But this is, after all, The Only Universe Where Green Arrow Survives, so they manage to put out the bomb with a well-placed Acme water cooler. I mean, arrow.

Ollie is the world's luckiest superhero. At least, until Child Services catches him.

Samson saved, GA takes the bomb back to his Manhattan apartment, where by holding it and using his arrow-senses he hopes to divine the identity of the killer: "Eenie-meenie, chili beanie... the spirits are about to speak!"

High on the list of 1001 Things You Don't Expect Green Arrow To Say:
"But let's go visit Socrates."

This is, you'll note, 'the most puzzling case' Green Arrow has ever encountered. That's certainly true from our perspective, since it's his first case.  Of course, as previously noted Green Arrow is also puzzled by shoes with laces.

So, obeying the Magic Eight-Bomb, the Brave Bowmen arrive just as the Hooded Claw is trying to make Socrates drink poison (because god forbid you should kill anyone non-thematically).  

But then again, isn't "I'm getting out of here!" the general reaction to Green Arrow?

Then, in a panel guest-drawn by M.C. Escher, Green Arrow shoots the Hooded Claw in the leg (FINALLY!).

"Just as I thought....arrows are nearly useless in fighting crime!"

Now we learn why the Hooded Claw wears a big hat and pointless cape: so that Ollie can more easily do his "pin you to the wall with arrows like a dead butterfly" schtick. Yet another reason Killer Moth needs to be moved to Green Arrow's rogues gallery.


Turns out the Hooded Claw was one of the History Club members, who was killing off all the others (and faked an attack on himself) to cover up his embezzlement of what could not possibly have amounted to more than $10,000 from the Club's treasury.  

No WONDER Scooby-Doo teamed up with Green Arrow.

Once that's revealed, I'm sure the Hooded Claw goes to jail, the case is closed, and the story is over...

OR IS IT?!?!?!?

Next: It isn't.