…Marvel’s Merlin?

Back in the early days of their pro-hood, Gruenwald, Macchio, Peter  Sanderson, Steven Grant and a few others set about some housecleaning, and one of the things they did was the two part Thor story which made the Space Phantom’s Limbo the same as Immortus’s Limbo (one thing I recall fondly about this story was Keith Pollard’s visual reference to Escher for the idea of Immortus’s palace).

So I sympathise with trying to clean up Merlin. Roy was terribly hungry to be able to tap into the Arthurian thing, and with his meticulous nature, he quickly got rid of the painful Mad Merlin story from the clumsy birth of the Thor strip. (It’s useful, considering that he ended up writing everything, to look at X-Men, starting with #20, as Roy’s first regular strip.  The Moldy Villain’s League was positively Gruenwaldian, the Kukulcán stories betrayed his archaeological bent – and then there was X-Men #30, starring the Warlock, cleaning up the Arthurian plate.

I think it was an unspoken assumption, never acted upon, that Merlin was Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme of that period.  I reckon this is what Peter Gillis was going for as well, since at the tail end of his stint on Doctor Strange, he was starting his own arthurian-themed storyline-and-maybe-strip, the Dragon Circle. He referred to the title Pendragon as a mystic office, an idea I suspect he lifted from C.S. Lewis (That Hideous Strength).  He created a Welsh professor, Dafydd ap Iorwerth, who, unknown to himself, was Earth’s then current Pendragon.  Of course, this all died aborning, but the Dragon Circle, consisting of the non-X-Men members of the Defenders gathered around the Pendragon, appeared to be creating a sort of legacy from a previous Sorcerer Supreme, with Dr. Strange.

Nevertheless, Marvel’s Merlin is a bizarre amalgam of all kinds of other sources, and I guess one of them is T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” where the wizard lives backwards through time (the implication being that Merlin might actually be T.H. White himself). However, while White’s work is charming, philosophical and wise – and living backwards is a swell conceit – there’s absolutely no ‘why’ to White’s Merlin at all.  Don’t get me wrong, I love T.H. White’s Arthur books, but a more Marvel-ish vision is Lewis’s, with a larger context – and even a daring continuity link to Middle Earth.

With Chris Claremont having revealed in more recent years, in his Excalibur: Die by the Sword mini-series, that Mad Jim Jaspers was merely a tool enabling Merlyn to accomplish his goals, combined with the fact combined with the fact that his Crazy Gang were derived from “Alice in Wonderland”, it is interesting to note that Immortus, self-styled Master of Limbo, often used characters from history, mythology and literature to create his armies. Then recalling that Belasco’s Limbo was also referred to as Otherworld at times, the same “nom de plume” as Merlyn and Roma’s realm, this would all seem to suggest that Merlyn is an older incarnation of Immortus.

So my idea here is that the manipulative, amoral Merlyn from Captain Britain and Excalibur could easily be Immortus, and here’s why:

1. He operates from a “nexus point” which has a special position in the multiverse – much as Limbo does;

2. He deletes realities which present a danger to him;

3. He often chooses to work through 20th century Marvel-Earth heroes;

4. He uses time travel;

5. He has faked his death before now, just like Immortus has;

6. He is a scholar by nature; and

7. He may have had something to do with the rather special bit of time where Camelot happened outside regular history – surely an Immortus plot if ever there was one.

********

Mind you, if Merlin is Immortus, it raises interesting questions about where his daughter comes from.

I don’t necessarily think Ravonna is the mother, though!

Remember that there is only ONE Immortus, not lots of divergent ones. At some point the one Immortus hooks up with Ravonna.  At some point he has a short-lived son Marcus, by an unspecified mother, and Marcus has to get himself reborn by impregnating Carol Danvers for reasons which are never fully explained but seem to do with Immortus “dying”.

However, if one needs a candidate for Merlin’s daughter, my first choice would be Nimue, the Lady of the Lake and Mistress of Avalon.  Of course, there’s always the possibility that the Lady who gave Dane his sword IS Roma’s mother, or Roma herself.  Roma has been known to be attracted to handsome, swashbuckling, rule-breaking heroes before.

We may have to assume that there are various alternate-timeline Camelots around too.  Apart from the various dramatically different versions of Arthur and his knights, and the three Merlins, it is hard to reconcile the legendary Matter of Britain even with itself let alone the Iron Man, Torch/ Thing, Black Knight, Dr Doom, Bizarre Adventures and other Marvel versions.  We also have to explain the fact that it never actually happened in history, so Dane is claiming descent from a mythical ancestor anyway.

It would be interesting to see Dane tied in to Morgan’s family tree, but I suspect she would have commented on it in some way in Avengers #1-3 if it was so.  After all, Dane would have made a much better lieutenant than her nephew Mordred.

My own preferred explanation would be that during “the Enchantment of Britain”, the time between the wounding of the Grail King and Arthur’s final battle at Camlaan, there was effectively a divergent timeline where all this Arthur stuff happened, and there were divergences from that in the usual Marvel way when time-travellers appear from the future which explain all the various Camelot visits.  Clearly those days, although expurgated from history (an Immortus trick if ever there was one) still case echoes.  The Black Knight seems to be one of them.

Quick summary of the three Merlins according to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe, by the way: #1 was allegedly the demon-sired son of the princess of Dyfed, (as described by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain around the 12th century).  #2 was a psionic mutant impostor from the dawn of time who wielded a fragment of the Bloodstone Gem.  This one was exposed by Sersi (!), and placed in suspended animation by the real Merlin.  This is the guy who battled Thor in Journey into Mystery, and later became the Maha Yogi who plagued the X-Men and Hulk.  #3 was the Otherworldly master of deception (who may or many not be the same as #1) who imbued Captain Britain with powers (and indeed ALL Captain Britains in all the realities they exist in), was the father of Roma, Goddess of the Northern Skies, and plays with time.

Captain Britain’s Merlin also operates from the Otherworld, a strange nexus place (not to be confused with the Man-Thing’s nexus, of course; this one focuses on Brian Braddock’s lighthouse).  If Merlin is Immortus, is the Otherworld really Limbo?

This further makes the fact that Merlin was one of the Space Phantom/ Dire Wraith champions of Immortus in Avengers #10 more fun, too!

Then there’s that other Arthurian Immortus sighting in STRANGE TALES #134 vol.1:

In this issue Kang has, as I mentioned, gone to conquer Camelot. He begins by first imprisoning Merlin, Arthur’s “secret weapon”.

He then defeats knight after knight in a jousting competition, until he is made King. Arthur and his faithful are then sent into exile.

Kang then assembles an army and prepares to sweep it across the Earth.

Back in the 20th Century, The Watcher appears to the Thing and the Human Torch and informs them of what has transpired. He then enlists their aid to come back into time to defeat Kang. They agree.

He then informs them:

“The method I shall use to send you back into time is totally alien to you that there are no words with which I can describe it! But let us join hands – -”

The Watcher then has the two FF members hold hands with him and they begin to do a slow fade, he continues as this occurs:

“You shall travel to the days of King Arthur without me, for there is no reason for me to join you! My power is such that I can observe all that transpires no matter WHICH age I find myself in! Thus I shall remain in LIMBO — silently watching, and waiting to RETURN you to the present — IF YOU SURVIVE!”

The due does defeat Kang, but only by first freeing Merlin, and the “Watcher” then appears to return them quickly home.

–END–

Ok, innocent enough.  BUT, in the Kang History presented in THOR ANNUAL #17 (part 2 of CITIZEN KANG) Kang reflects on this adventure, and says:

“Soon the legendary CAMELOT was mine! I planned to CREATE an ALTERNATE reality in which MY Britain would CONQUER the GLOBE and SUPER HEROES would NEVER arise! Acting OUT of CHARACTER, UATU the Watcher enlisted the THING and HUMAN TORCH to STOP me…but WAS he UATU? He CLAIMED he was BASED in LIMBO…the REALM OF IMMORTUS!”

So, what do you think? Kang thinks it’s Immortus pretending to be Uatu.

(Making his “LIMBO” remark a slip of the tongue – which Kang must have viewed later in one of his Chrono-viewers)

Immortus doesn’t need to stop Kang here.  It’s a divergent reality after all.  But possibly…quite possibly… the Merlin from this era is important somehow and needed freeing.

Maybe Merlin created the Forever Crystal…

Maybe…

Postscript: Despite previous suggestions, I have come up with something better than having the Ebony Blade be Excalibur in disguise too (and I can see somebody eagerly doing a story which does just that). I’ll steal from another SF/ Fantasy writer, Fred Saberhagen, and posit something like the existence of Twelve Great Swords, scattered throughout infinity. Dormant, they can be almost anywhere, but activated by a person of power, they can do great things. Excalibur is one, Stormbringer another, Mournblade a third, and Andúril yet another. (and maybe the Odinsword still another.) They are entities on their own, and the activation never ends well.

Arthur is dead, the Round Table broken. Excalibur ultimately worked its doom upon Arthur, and the Lady of the Lake had taken both the body of Arthur and the sword Excalibur which, the bond now broken, is once again inert.

Despite all the tragedy, Merlin’s greater purpose was fulfilled: the Flame of the West would not be extinguished: though Rome had failed and would not be restored, civilization, the Celts would keep learning alive while Europe plunged into darkness, and the legend of Camelot would keep civilised men dedicated where the more savage and ugly history of Rome would not. the chain of light that stretched back to Númenor would not go dark.

But, as his time was going to end soon, he had to make sure the west still had supernatural defences. and so Merlin, in one of his last magical acts, brought from elsewhere another of the Great Swords.  Maybe Stormbringer, maybe another whose name only the Wise know. He sealed it in its inertness, and gave it to the utterly loyal Sir Percy of Scandia and his heirs to keep.

Sir Percy was a valiant but ordinary knight: the Ebony Blade would never come to life in his hands, or any of his descendants. The line of the Black Knights would stand eternally ready – ready to hand the blade to the one who needed it.

It is said that the grandson of Sir Percy gave it to Roland, who christened it Durendal (a mental echo of Andúril?) and fought the battle that ensured Europe would not be a branch of a Muslim Empire.  It is also said that the power of the awakened sword killed Roland as surely as if it had slit his throat. saddened, the Black Knight of that era took back the Ebony Blade, which fell asleep in his hand.

It began to look as if the Blade might be needed again in World War II, when Hitler found the Spear of Longinus. This awoke the Blade enough to bring the line of Sandia out of their long sleep. However, the latest heir, Dane Whitman, seemed to have lost the critical faculty of inertness with respect to the blade. His mission was to keep it safe, and he was awakening it instead.

The solution was to give it to Brunnhilde the Valkyrie. Now whether the Lady Of The Lake was in fact of the Valkyrior, or whether they just practiced the same craft, the Ebony Blade was calmed by Brunnhilde’s handling in the same way that the Lady brought Excalibur to rest while they took the hero Arthur to his reward. After a time, she gave Dane Whitman back the blade, judging that he would be able to handle it now.

Doesn’t fit everything in, probably, and there’s a lot of recent stuff I’m completely unaware of. But it’s pretty good, eh?

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7 Responses

  1. Good stuff as always! Needs time to ponder it.

    In the Alan Moore/Alan Davis Captain Britain strip in the British comic Daredevils, there’s a moment where Roma is chastising her father for not showing himself to Brian Braddock at a crucial juncture and providing vital information, and Merlin replies over a succession of panels, “SHOW myself, Roma? But WHICH self? THIS one? Or THIS? He wouldn’t have KNOWN me… and in the end, that is for the best.” And as Merlin says this, he shifts appearance from a tall, thin, alien elf looking chap… to a black-haired “mad wizard” type in a robe dotted with symbols for stars, suns, planets, and crescent moons who might pass for the Silver Age Marvel version of Merlin… to a white-haired wizard who’s not the same white-haired Merlin seen in the Captain Britain origin…to an alien insect… to the evil Merlin from the (roughly contemporary) Doctor Who strip by Moore and Dave Gibbons… and back to that tall alien elf Merlin as seen in all his Moore/Davis appearances. In a later installment, Captain UK mentions the wizard “Myrr” appearing to her with red hair. Anyway, the idea that Merlin of Otherworld is constantly changing his persona in his dealings across the omniverse is established.

    (The whole question of Alan Moore setting his early strips for Doctor Who Weekly in Marvel continuity is a topic for some other time. Mind you, back then we didn’t yet know the Doctor himself was destined to be known as Merlin on at least one parallel Earth…)

  2. @Richard: Thanks for dropping in and commenting (a few posts to catch up on:)

    Yep, I remember the scene and already uploaded that scene at the intro of my post.

    With the idea that he’s constantly changing his persona, it wasn’t that much more difficult to make the leap to Immortus from there, and with Otherworld elsewhere known as Limbo… plus Claremont revealing his being responsible for Mad Jim Jaspers clinched it for me!

  3. Current issues of the Thunderbolts (which are quite good, imo) are dealing the Arthurian period. I don’t have the issue with me, but i believe it shows both Excalibur and the Ebony Blade existing concurrently. I’ll let you know how it shakes out when the arc is complete (of course it could all just be an alternate timeline).

    It is also showing the nastier side of Merlin, although it’s not clear which version. I’m assuming the Maha Yogi version remains untouched by your theory?

  4. I look forward to hearing how the Arthurian Thunderbolts arc pans out.

    I was disappointed when Mad Merlin was revealed to be Maha Yogi, since if revealed as Immortus he could just have been an iteration of Merlin at a different time period;)

  5. As to Swords of Power (or something like that), it’s more likely that named mystical weapons and artifacts are each crafted to thwart a specific threat or threats- we saw the Ebony Blade used against many threats like Set and Seth and vaious mystical threats.
    Same with Dragonfang, Odin’s spear, the Odinsword, the Eye of Agamotto, Wand of Watoomb, etc.

    At the same time, some artifacts seem engineered to be destructive- Surtur’s sword, the Serpent’s hammers, Casket of Ancient Winters, etc.

    Then there are artifacts which may have been made for evil but can be forces for good in the right hands- The Amulet of Abbadon, Wings of Needless Sorrow, Darkhold, Raptor amulets, Ruby of Cytorrak, etc.

    Regarding the Ebony Blade, it’s worth noting that there is a second such sword- also jet black that fills the holder with bloodlust- Black Blade of Muramasa, a blade supposedly infused with it’s creator’s madness.
    That being said, we know Merlin was insane for a period of time and recovered- it’s concievable he removed his madness (along with that portion of his power- possily part of his soul) and cast it into what would become the Ebony Blade.
    Assuming this technique is a kind of spell, it may have been the same means the Black Blade of Muramasa was forged- as a means a powerful mystic can sort of “system-restore” themselves after blackening their own soul with dark magic (as Doctor Stange did in New Avengers).
    The Amulet of Abbadon and Wings of Needless Sorrow may be simmular artifacts- indestructible testaments to their creator’s failngs.

  6. Erm… Stormbringer and Mourneblade are from Michael Moorcock aren’t they?

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