Who's Prince Ra-Man?

Who's This? The disco version of Dr. Strange on page 19 of Who's Who vol. XVIII.
The facts: Mark Merlin was an investigator of the supernatural who appeared in a regular strip in House of Secrets for 50 issues starting with #23 (1959). And then in 1965, DC decided they needed to superhero him up and with issue #73, they turned him into Prince Ra-Man. It's a convoluted tale, so of which is recapped below, but the bottom line is that Ra-Man is a completely different character in terms of looks and abilities, but they kept his HQ in the town of fictional town of Cloister, and all of Mark Merlin's supporting cast. The strip was put out of its misery with issue #80, when House of Secrets was effectively cancelled. The book returned 3 years later as a horror anthology hosted by Abel. Ra-Man would not appear again until a "Whatever happened to..." feature in DC Comics Presents #32 (1981), and then he would die in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12.
How you could have heard of him: Both Mark Merlin and Prince Ra-Man have appeared since, but it's not clear how their continuity was ever resolved. Prince Ra-Man is usually seen as a dead or erased figure, most notably in Grant Morrison's work (Animal Man's Crisis II and in the guise of King Ra-Man, an entity encountered by Zatanna in 7 Soldiers), and as the leader of the rebellion in Purgatory in the Reign in Hell event. An older, retired Mark Merlin was featured in Detective Comics, but then Sword of Atlantis featured his widow Elsa and their cat, only for Merlin to appear alive and well again in some Superman comics asking the younger Zatara to help him find Prince Ra-Man. So convoluted is still the order of the day.
Example story: House of Secrets #74 (1965) by Bob Haney and Bernard Baily
"Wizard of 1,000 Moods" is only Prince Ra-Man's second story, so a little recap may be in order:
Got all that? He's the reincarnation of two men - one Mark Merlin and the other a hero from a mystical dimension with a green octagonal sun. Now he lives in Mark's old digs and courts Mark's old girlfriend while still having wet dreams about a girl left in the other dimension, but he can't let Elsa know he's the same dude. Seems simple now that I've written the words down.

While all this angst is going on, at one of Cloister's downtown skyscrapers (Cloister is in Vermont according to Mayfair's Atlas of the DCU, by the way, just north of Montpellier), a man panics and tries to throw himself out a 70th-story window, claiming people are after him. It's weird so Prince Ra-Man visits him in the hospital.
Perhaps not the best entrance to make if the man is suicidally paranoid, my prince. Anyway, the guy's settled down some and tells Ra-Man that a man called Caldoz came to his office to buy all his holdings for a ridiculous prince, and overcome with panic, he signed on the dotted line. Among those holdings, at least one magical artifact because they live in Cloister. There are soon more occurrences of people caught up in extreme emotions, like a mob trying to free a jailed criminal.
What's causing this? Could it be that woman in the last panel? No, it's not, but she really freaks me out for some reason. Caldoz is a man, after all, and he's watching from his car as his plans to free his old partner evaporate. Well, how about some revenge? With a gadget in his hand, he makes Elsa feel really giddy, and she walks out into the street in front of a speeding taxi.
Good thing for Prince Ra-Man's powers. Had he still be Mark Merlin, Elsa would be dead now. EDITORIAL WIN. Our hero drives to Caldoz' estate and finds all sorts of occult objects and unidentified technology, so Ra-Man starts smashing stuff with his considerable power.
And by considerable power, I mean his mean swing with a wrench! But it doesn't help. The Prince next finds a mob of greed-powered buyers desperate to buy land Caldoz extorted from the panicky man. It's a face-off in which Caldoz uses a magical metronome to summon an energy monster (see the cover, above). What a metronome has to do with monster summoning, I can't say (the only reasonable explanation is: Bob Haney). It might have been a better fit for the emotion control, except Caldoz controls emotions with... a Zippo lighter!
He distracts Ra-Man and Elsa by making them hate each other and runs to a barn where he's actually hidden his emotion projector (the Zippo is just a remote):
Brainchild, har har, geddit? But surprise, Ra-Man shook off the emotions (I'm sure it's because love triumphs over all) and followed him there. Before Caldoz can reach the metronome and call another bugaboo, our hero uses his mind over matter powers to make the brainchild's ear grab the villain. The end.

From what I've seen, comics had a lot of trouble keeping to supernatural themes in its comics, probably due to the Comics Code's stringent criteria, but also because SF and superheroics were on the rise. In Bob Haney's mind blender, they're all the same, so the villain uses both without really mixing them. It's odd. As Mark Merlin, he did face alien invasions and such as well, so it wasn't new to Prince Ra-Man. And it's likely why this type of feature failed in the end.

Who else? Well here's the thing. Normally I'd be switching to volume XIX, but lately, I've been thinking about ramping this feature into high gear, which would necessitate some changes in its mission. Look for a discussion on this possibility later this week.


American Hawkman said...

If anyone's wondering, I'm the guy that actually really loves Prince Ra-Man and Mark Merlin. It looked like the Pre-New 52 DCU was actually going to resolve this somehow, but,alas, it was not to be. I will note that the original version of the Whatever Happened To... story was to bring back Mark Merlin as well, but was ordered changed. Personally, I'd love to see the Prince and Mark share a body Captain Mar-Vell/Rick Jones style...

Siskoid said...

So are more a fan of the Silver Age stuff, or were you more intrigued with the character as he popped up in the modern era?

Garnet said...

This feature sure seems like a mess. Probably there are parallels to how concepts get retconned and distorted in new versions (ie. Blue Beetle).

Jeremy Patrick said...

Ra-Man? Yum, noodles!
Anytime I see a summary of a Bob Haney story, I imagine he must've just sat down and started writing it, pure stream of consciousness, with zero concern for whether it makes any sense whatsoever. But in a fun way, not an Image Comics during the 90s way.

Siskoid said...

Haney is a mad genius.

Which reminds me, Haney podcast anyone?


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