In spite of the platinum blonde all-American girl’s enthusiastic offer, no one slapped the Countess. Rather, the Sentinels of Justice traveled to Eve Eden’s penthouse apartment. It was only one of the socialite’s properties, since she still spent a good amount of time in her childhood home, her father’s Georgetown mansion.
Liberty Belle deftly picked the lock and nimbly disarmed the security system. “Eve’s password was simple enough to deduce — Nightshade.”
“Say, the place isn’t deserted,” said Booster Gold, pointing to where a shadowy figure lurked in the background. “Come on out, mister — we see you. Needless to say, you’re outnumbered. No doubt you recognize me from TV, so you know who you’re dealing with.”
The handsome, brown-haired young man smiled disarmingly and said, “Of course I know you, Gold. I’ve worked with you indirectly, although I looked different at the time.”
“What do you mean?” asked Booster. “And what right do you have to be here at all?”
“I live here,” the brown-haired man said. “I mean, I lived here before. I guess I’ll be moving on, now that I’m human again.” The man held up a cat-shaped pendant, as if expecting some of the heroes to catch on. “See this pendant?” he said finally.
They all stood puzzled in silence until Blue Beetle snapped his fingers. “Human again? The magical cat — you’re the magical talking cat, Memakata. Nightshade found you, and you used your magic to help us from time to time.”
“Exactly,” the man said. “Let me talk quickly, for I am your ally, and I care for Eve Eden, whom I know is in peril.”
“Wait a minute,” said Felina, “there’s a cat behind the sofa.” She bent down to pick up the hissing animal, avoiding his claws. “He’s a wild one.”
Lady Quark stood in a disbelieving stance. “Are you seriously claiming this young man and that cat are one and the same?”
“Let me explain everything,” said the man. “That cat is Faustus, and he always had the power to talk. He was owned by one of Captain Atom’s old foes, 13. Until about an hour ago, my mind was inhabiting that cat’s body. Indeed, I used the cat to house my astral self, since my own body was lost in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, or actually long before, to be precise.”
“I remember you told us months ago, when we first met you in cat form,” said the Blue Beetle, “that the body of Faustus the talking cat was the closest counterpart you had on this Earth, as well as the only host body you could find. You never explained anything more about that then.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Superpowers, Chapter 9: Blue and Gold.]
The brown-haired man nodded and said, “I felt my story was too impossible to be easily believed. However, now that I’m human again, let me explain my story. It has a direct connection to what happened to both Nightshade and these ladies.” He nodded toward the Countess and Felina.
“I’m Maddy Lopez, now known as Felina,” added the cat-woman. “But you can call me Fifi. She’s Monica Lake, the Countess.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Lopez, Miss Lake,” said the enigmatic man. “As for me, my name is Merlin — Mark Merlin — and this is my story. First, let me begin by telling you I came from a parallel universe you might call Earth-One. My story there really begins almost thirty years ago in the mid-1950s with an ending. My uncle Mortimer had been a stage magician who used the name of the Mighty Merlin in his act. Much like Houdini before him, he had spent much of his life exposing supernatural fraudsters who preyed on human suffering for their own gain. I spent my vacations working for him while I was still in college, and in my final year of college he began bringing me along with him, showing me how he exposed these deceivers. He was my mentor, and my life was changed forever when he was murdered by a group of false magicians calling themselves the Council of Three. I tracked them down and exposed them as my uncle would have, but they died at the hands of something beyond my understanding.
“You see, by all appearances they seemed to have been killed by some kind of supernatural force outside of anything my experience had taught me was possible. Utterly shocked, I vowed to use the resources my uncle had left me to fight such occult forces and expose those frauds who pretended to have access to such power. The last in a string of my uncle’s lovely assistants on stage had been a wonderful blonde girl named Elsa Magusson, and she now joined forces with me as my partner. (*) Soon enough, we fell in love. I inherited my uncle’s mansion in Cloister, Vermont. He had a real sense of the theatrical, and he’d named the old estate Mystery Hill.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Trial by Fire,” House of Secrets #58 (January-February, 1963).]
“It sounds like a real vacation spot,” quipped Booster Gold.
Mark smiled boyishly and said, “You’d be surprised at just how far some entities have come to reach it. Well, I enjoyed a rather successful and rewarding career as an investigator of the supernatural, but not all of my cases involved superhuman beings. I also captured plenty of ordinary crooks, as well as a few aliens, monsters, and super-villains like a creep named Doctor-7, who sometimes had a powerful supernatural creature called the Morloo at his disposal. (*) However, one case in 1963 changed everything. I had been investigating the tomb of the ancient Sarubian Pharaoh Memakata and his Queen Cletoma — which had been transported by ship for a tour of the United States, beginning in New England — when I found the cat pendant I now wear.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Doctor-7, King of the Supernatural,” House of Secrets #61 (July-August, 1963) and “Doctor-7’s Supernatural Ally,” House of Secrets #67 (August, 1964).]
“Wow!” said Felina. “I’m sort of a were-babe, Monica’s a vampy vampire, and now we’ve run into a story with a mummy.”
“After my flashlight’s beam reflected off the cat’s eyes on the pendant,” continued Mark, “I found myself inside the body of the cat Memakata, who shared the same name as the pharaoh. I realized that, through the use of the pendant, I could leave my human form behind and take over the body of the cat. I could still communicate through a form of telepathy, and I could gain various other talents. The cat was somehow linked to the ancient pharaoh, whose kingdom of Sarubia was closely allied with ancient Egypt. (*) But that connection to Egyptian magic was hardly the last.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Captive of the Cat Curse,” House of Secrets #60 (May-June, 1963).]
Liberty Belle crossed her legs and leaned forward in anticipation. “Please continue, Mark.”
“A couple of years later, in 1965, I was attacked by an old enemy called the Gargoyle, who shot me with a ray that drew me into another dimension. It was a subatomic realm called Ra, and it contained a weird civilization with a hexagonal green sun and a culture based entirely on that of ancient Egypt. I was befriended by a scientist named Kranak and his daughter Rinah, who calmly announced that, by entering Ra, I was both immortal and unable to ever leave again.”
“And yet you’re here now,” noted the Peacemaker.
“Or am I?” Mark Merlin said, smiling cryptically. “Sorry; excuse my theatricality. Uncle Morty influenced me quite a bit. You see, I actually couldn’t leave that realm with my physical body intact, but I needed desperately to get back to my world to save Elsa from the Gargoyle. However, I was still able to somehow return to stop the Gargoyle by being reincarnated in the body of another man named Ra-Man. He was the legendary founder of that other-dimensional, subatomic realm, even naming it after himself. Well, that bit of ego should have tipped me off, since I kind of got a raw deal. On my Earth, he was called Prince Ra-Man and was an actual mentalist, complete with a gray beard and glowing eyes.
“My memories and mind were now merged with his, but I wasn’t the same man, as his mind was dominant. I didn’t even make a fuss, though. I think Kranak and company submerged my free will and used me to give material form to their great hero, Ra-Man. Well, Elsa assisted him in taking up my old crusade against evil, feeling he was me. He even had my cat pendant. I was there, and yet I wasn’t. In some mystical way, I was dormant.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Death of Mark Merlin,” House of Secrets #73 (July-August, 1965) and “Whatever Happened to Mark Merlin and Prince Ra-Man,” DC Comics Presents #32 (April, 1981).]
“So did this Prince Ra-Man turn out to be a hero or a villain?” asked the Blue Beetle.
“Oh, he was a super-hero who fought the good fight,” said Mark, “but he gave little thought to how he had used me. I sincerely doubt he ever thought about it. He might even have believed he was honoring me by using some part of me to gain a material form for his illustrious self. He and Elsa defeated several super-villains with names like Helio, the Heap, Lord Leopard, and a real-life Jekyll and Hyde called Eclipso. I had a front-row seat to everything, but I could never really take part in anything directly. Ra-Man did die like a hero, though.”
“You’ve alluded to the Crisis already,” said Blue Beetle. “Was this when Ra-Man died?”
Lady Quark stiffened, recalling anew how her own husband and daughter, along with their home Earth, had been utterly destroyed. (*) My noble Lord Volt, will your equal ever be found again? she thought. Can even Captain Atom be worthy of the filling your role as my consort? And poor Liana, my child, you were robbed of any chance to reach the full bloom of womanhood.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “And Thus Shall the World Die,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July, 1985).]
“During a time in which the five remaining Earths were joined as one, Prince Ra-Man’s body was critically injured while fighting shadow demons in New Orleans alongside a hero known as Shade, the Changing Man,” explained Mark Merlin. (*) “But he did not die immediately. Using the last vestiges of the mystical powers at his command, he kept himself alive for several hours. All that time he had tried and failed to transfer his essence into the cat Memakata. But it was only when the five Earths were separated once more that he found success, even though he did not succeed in contacting Memakata, for he had survived just long enough to end up on this Earth, called Earth-Four. There was no Memakata in this universe. However, there was a close counterpart to that talking cat in Faustus, the pet of a supposed villain called 13. Somehow, Ra-Man’s essence was lost with his body, but I survived and found myself alert and active again, only trapped in the body of the talking cat. I also had access to Prince Ra-Man’s powers, but I still had no human body. I soon found an ally in a special government agent working in disguise in the Soviet Union. He brought me to Nightshade and had me rescue her when she was working undercover in the USSR. (*) Since then, I’ve lived with her in the form of the cat Faustus, whom I renamed Memakata.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986) and Sentinels of Justice: Superpowers, Chapter 5: Steel Wolf.]
“So you are yourself now?” the Countess asked. “This Prince Ra-Man is gone for good?”
Mark Merlin nodded. “Yes. He is gone, and time has also removed most of his powers from my form as well. But I still have the cat pendant and can enter Memakata’s body.”
“And how in the world did you gain this human body?” asked Liberty Belle.
“Magic energies have been unleashed on this Earth,” explained Mark. “That magic transformed our Miss Lake into Countess Von Bludd, it turned our Miss Lopez into Felina, and it somehow enabled me to acquire an exact copy of my original body, still at the same age as I was when I supposedly died over twenty years ago.”
“Please call me Fifi,” said Felina, purring, “and let me say it is quite a body you have.”
Mark smiled. “I could return that praise easily. As for Nightshade, she comes from another dimension known as the Land of the Nightshades. Using what little mystical power I retain, I can sense that she is the source of the magical energy responsible for the transformations. As she moves, so does that energy. It all originates in her homeworld.”
“So Eve’s a kind of Typhoid Mary of magic,” said Liberty Belle. “She’s spreading all these strange effects without evening knowing it.”
“But that’s something new, along with her new powers,” added Booster. “After all, she’s never leaked magic before, has she?”
“What about the gems?” asked the Peacemaker. “Why in the world does she want them?”
“Gems like these?” said Mark, holding up an emerald pendant from Eve’s open jewelry box.
“Yes,” said the Peacemaker. “I tracked her down after finding out she was behind a string of jewel thefts. For that matter, why was she so inhumanly cold?”
“I had just been getting used to regaining my old body and my self-awareness when you showed up,” said Mark, still looking at the emerald in his hand. “Now, let me use what mystical senses I still possess to track down Eve. I don’t want to see her hurt.”