While I cannot say that I am a huge fan of the Mark Merlin series during the years 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age, at least it is an improvement over what came before. Mark Merlin gets an origin story, a recurring villain, and the ability to trade bodies with a cat during this period.
Mark Merlin is given an origin story in House of Secrets 58. We find out that Mark learned about magic, and the hoaxes and tricks that surround it, from his stage magician uncle, the Mighty Merlin. Elsa worked for the uncle as well, as his onstage assistant. When the uncle died suddenly, Mark suspected that one of the frauds he was working on exposing had done away with him. Together Mark and Elsa had cleared most of those he considered suspects, except for Count Myro. The pair went to visit Myro in his castle, and though the man seemed gracious, things take a bizarre turn when Mark and Elsa wake up on a tropical beach far from the castle. Mark gets subjected to a series of tests by the Council of Three, all of which involve using common sense and observation to overcome deadly and apparently mystical threats.
Myro and the Council are amazed that Mark survived, and that Mark has also figured out how he and Elsa were drugged and moved in their sleep. Myro did, indeed, murder his uncle, and all the tests and such were to try to get his hands on the mystical medallion Mark inherited. The medallion gets destroyed, although it later turns up intact, and Myro and the Council die in a crash while trying to leave the island. It's not the greatest origin story, but at least it's a change of pace for the series.
Elsa Magusson is always around but rarely in focus. In House of Secrets 29 she get to turn against Mark Merlin and play the villain. The story in this issue looks better than most Mark Merlin tales, simply because the art is by Joe Kubert and Mort Meskin. After hearing reports about strange creatures appearing after a series of earthquakes, Mark and Elsa Magusson head to the area to investigate.
They find two weird, striped beasts, as well as lots of unusual plants. The pollen from the plants causes Elsa to undergo a dramatic personality shift, and she joins forces with the weird animals in their plan to take over the world. Mark manages to clear Elsa's mind and get her out of the valley before another earthquake closes it all up.
They aren't triffids, but I swear John Wyndham's killer plants were the inspiration for the threat that Mark Merlin and Elsa Magusson face in House of Secrets 38 which, like Day of the Triffids, is set in England. Mark has been requested to help a movie crew build a realistic medieval village. Cause I guess no one in England could possibly be of any help on something like that. The movie is being filmed near a uranium factory, and the radiation from it revives three dormant walking plants.
Unlike the plants in Wyndham's novel, these ones turn out to have a supernatural background, conjured into existence by an evil wizard who wanted to destroy a town, but rendered dormant by a good one. Mark figures out that the plants are after the ruins. He has all the old bricks moved away from the film set, and once the plants have destroyed them, they return to dormancy.
In House of Secrets 60 the tomb of a Subarian pharaoh, Memakata, is brought over to the US, but a number of add accidents occur. Legend has it that the pharaoh was able to turn into a cat, and what do you know, there is a black cat hanging around the museum. While some suspect a curse, a student gets accused of causing the accidents.
Mark sneaks into the tomb one night to investigate, and finds a secret chamber containing a cat amulet. Holding it, he finds his mind entering the body of the black cat, while his human form lies around lifeless. In the cat's body, Mark is able to determine that it is really the foreign minister of Subaria who is behind the accidents, trying to discredit the leader of the country.
Elsa winds up dressing up as the ghost of the wife of the pharaoh, while Mark, in his cat body, scratches out the truth with his claws, while pretending to be the pharaoh in cat form. It's definitely more lively and engaging than earlier Mark Merlin tales.
Mark Merlin gains a recurring villain in House of Secrets 61. The investigator winds up falling under a spell, heading out in his sleep to commit a number of thefts. When Elsa Magusson comes across him in his trance, she wakes Mark, and lets him know what he has been doing without realizing it. So Mark trades bodies with Memakata, and in cat form follows his human body when it rises to follow the hypnotic commands. Memekata-Mark sees as his human form serves Doctor-7, an evil sorcerer who lives in a big castle, and desires to gain even more power.
He takes delight in humiliating Mark Merlin and sending him out to steal ingredients for his spells. Mark switches his mind back and confronts Doctor-7, only to find that the villain has already placed Elsa under his spell. Doctor-7 traps Mark inside a crystal ball, with Elsa's aid, but some mind switching with Memakata frees him from his trap. Mark shakes Elsa out of her trance and captures Doctor-7. The villain vows to return, and keeps that promise, as I will discuss later on.
House of Secrets 63 has probably my favourite cover so far. It's not like it's so much better than the others. I'm not sure why I like it so much. Probably just the giant Frankenstein monster. Mark Merlin and Elsa Magusson search the world for magical objects. Although Doctor-7 is not mentioned in this story, it would not be unusual to assume that Mark's quest is to ensure Doctor-7 does not get his hands on anything.
Mark uses Memakata's body to enter places impossible for humans, and learns of a buried cavern. Elsa and Mark check the place out, and find a variety of monsters kept dormant in glass cylinders.
A sentient super-computer controls the cave, and captures Mark, who trades bodies with Memakata to escape. The computer releases all the monsters to fight him, but they wind up battling each other and taking down the entire cave.
Doctor-7 returns in the Mark Merlin story from House of Secrets 65. The villain makes an impressive escape from prison, using a hypnotic Incan flute that induces hallucinations to get the guards to open the cells and even the gates of the prison. The story then shifts to become about a phrenologist. Mark Merlin and Elsa Magusson come to check the guy out. He has a massive model of a head that he uses to highlight the supposed regions that determine personality, but Mark openly accuses him of being a fraud.
Mark gets a little bit of action as Memakata and gets proof that the guy is a phony. When he returns to confront the man, the villain is revealed as Doctor-7. There is a big deadly pendulum inside the model head, which 7 hopes will kill Mark, although of course it does not. So poor Doctor-7 winds up heading back to prison.
Mark Merlin continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Mark Merlin: House of Secrets 29 - 65 (Feb 60 – Mar/April 64)