A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
Merlin the Mad!
September 15, 1963
The workmen grumbled as a massive stone was slowly hauled out of the cave. The sun shined brightly upon the English countryside, but the men's moods were grim. Dr. Orson, a balding and portly academic, stood off to the side and shouted at the workers as they slowly dragged a giant boulder free from the cave.
"Sir, the men are working as fast they can." Reggie, a local professor, whispered a warning discreetly into Orson's ear. The entire dig had been nothing but a series of accidents and misfortune.
"They'll work harder or they won't get paid!" Orson snorted. "My God man, we are on the edge of the greatest find since Atlantis, and I will not have ruined due some Welshman's slacking off."
"Yes sir." Reggie nodded and stepped back. When Dr. Orson got worked up, there was no point in arguing. A frenzied shouting from the men distracted the heavy American.
"What's this?" Orson slid down the grassy hill and thundered into the group of panicking men. "What the devil's going on here?"
"Sir!" A weather-beaten man held up his hands. "The workers, they quit!"
"What?" Orson's face turned three shades of red.
"Sir," the foreman tried to explain. "They say the cave is a tomb, that it's cursed!"
"Poppycock!" Orson shouldered his way past the man and marched towards the boulder. "Why are you men lollygagging about?" Orson quickly ignored the men as he became transfixed on a series of designs etched into the stone. "What's this?"
It struck him as funny that he failed to notice the rock. It wasn't simply something that was blocking the cave. It was smooth, polished in spots, and as he drew closer, he noticed that someone had gone to the effort of etching strange symbols nearly covering the entire surface. Pulling out a magnifying glass, he stared intently at the markings, ignoring the worker's mass exodus.
After nearly fifteen silent minutes, Orson dropped the glass and stepped back. "Sir, what's wrong?" Reggie peered over the edge, deciding to keep his distance.
"Merlin, it's Merlin! This isn't a rock, it's the grave of Merlin!" Orson cackled and jogged up the hill. "Those symbols are the markings of a grave, we found Merlin!"
Several days later
It had taken hours of negotiating, bribery, threats, and outright lying, but Orson oversaw the removal of the boulder. Flying it straight to New York City, Orson slept contently on the plane. He found dozens of messages waiting for him when he returned, everyone promising him a king's ransom for exclusive rights to his find.
He finally settled on shipping it to the Empire State University's anthropology department, for a hefty fee, and sat back. "Oh yes, my boy, no one will ever forget this!" Orson lit up a cigar and silently toasted himself.
Philips yawned. After all the hoopla and media vultures, he finally sat down to actually look at the school's latest find. "Three master degrees and they stick me with an overgrown pebble." He cursed as he developed the x-rays.
Due to the sheer size of the rock, he had to take photos of it in sections. Using a special scanner on loan from Reed Richards, he was able to see past the rock. Grousing about the cost, Philips stared at the picture as it developed. "What on Earth?"
He saw bones. Human bones, neatly arranged; he lifted the picture out of the tray for a closer look. "Good Heavens, someone was actually buried in that thing!" He put the picture down and removed his gloves. "I guess they were right after all."
Sadly, Philips never got to announce his discovery. Outside in the main lab, he heard a thunderous crashing. Throwing open the door, and letting light spoil the film, he stumbled into the lab to find the boulder sitting in halves, along with a broken window.
"How long?" A man appeared behind him. Philips let out a scream and spun around. Before him was a dust and grim covered man; his only clothing was a foul and tattered robe. Two dark eyes peered out from a thick bramble of hair. "How long did I rest?"
"W-who are you?" Philips backed towards a tray filled with tools. The stranger was clearly one of those crazy protesters, and the sooner he called security, the better.
"Who am I?" the man laughed. "Pathetic mortal, I am Merlin! The greatest wizard of all time!" The man eyed Philips's movement. "You think me a fool?" He brought his hands up. Philips flinched, preparing himself for a beating. When Merlin spat out a string of nonsense, Philips was relived, at least until he felt something tap his shoulder.
"Eh?" The hammers, chisels, and other cleaning tools were floating in the air. "That's not possible!" Philips was silenced midway through when a particularly large hammer struck him across the face.
"Fool." Merlin straightened himself. "If this is what the world of man has become, then there should be no challenge for me." Snapping his fingers, his rags were instantly restored. Now clad in a long flowing green robe, adorned with ancient symbols of gold and silver, Merlin slipped out through the window he had broken before Philips had arrived.
The man who now walked the streets briefly reflected on his life. If someone were to ask him, he would of course claim to be Merlin, advisor to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round. To a certain extent that was even correct, in that he did live during that time and he did encounter a king named Arthur.
The man, however, was not the same Merlin. Ages before Camelot, the man had been little more than a savage. Living among the wilds, he saw a great thing born. Touching it, the man found himself given powers his primitive brain couldn't understand. He lived quietly, indulging in his wants and desires for an untold time, until he finally drifted to an island far to the West, called Britain by its people.
The actual Merlin, born of a demon and a mortal, was given to long bouts of disappearing and eccentric behavior. When the man arrived in the court and caused a nearby roasted pheasant to spring back to life, everyone assumed it was just Merlin being himself. The man was quite content to let everyone think just that. Whenever the real article would return, the man made it a point to flee, until such time as Merlin would vanish again.
He lived comfortably like this for many years, but his behavior finally caused certain people to pick up on the differences. The Lady of the Lake, in particular, met him on a midsummer morn and sealed him inside a large rock for his arrogance. There he had remained until a few minutes ago.
Jane Foster was a very busy person. Since she had left Dr. Blake's employment, she had drifted without purpose for a while before finding a job in another private practice. Dr. Kincaid had been the first one to call her back, and she took the job. It had been more demanding than Dr. Blake's office, but she didn't mind.
More work meant less time for her other self.
Lady Thor had not been seen in public in over a month.
Jane had never left the gnarled cane out of her sight; "just to ward off stray dogs," she would say when asked. She buried herself in paper work and filing as Dr. Kincaid helped the patients. Their clientele were of a lower class than Dr. Blake's regulars, but she found the work more rewarding than fighting evil gods.
She would still feel the itch, however, and she knew Dr. Kincaid was disappointed in her slacking off. "There are so many heroes running around today, does Lady Thor really make that much difference?" She shook her head and went back to checking on the latest insurance forms.
Merlin strolled through the busy streets. A few hand waves and incantations later, he found himself in various parts of the city before settling on Greenwich Village. "What a strange world this is." He marveled at the clothes and people around him. "And what unusual carts!" He rubbed a hand over a parked taxi.
"Need a lift mac?" The driver leaned back in his seat.
"A lift? I don't need to go up."
The driver snorted with disgust. "Oh, one of those long haired freaks, eh? Well beat it pal, I don't haul freeloaders around!"
Merlin scowled. "Do you know who I am?"
"Nope, don't care either."
"You should." Merlin wigged his fingers. The cab suddenly turned from a few tons of metal in a few tons of butter. "Know your place mortal." Merlin spun around and faded away. A second later, he found himself standing in a field. A deafening boom knocked him to his knees as the wind whipped around him. "What madness is this?"
Over his head an airplane began its descent. "Metal carts that fly through the air?" he stared in wonder. "How can such a thing be?" Glancing around, he saw several planes waiting for clearance to takeoff. "I must study them, they could of use to me."
Appearing before the closest one, he held up a hand. Inside the cockpit, the pilots lurched forward when the plane froze in its tracks. "Tower, what's going on?" Ray Irons panicked. He had been a pilot for over ten years, but he had experienced anything like what was happening now.
"You guys aren't going to believe this, but there is a man on the tarmac! All the planes have stopped moving!"
"I don't know" The controller was replaced by the sound of Merlin's voice.
"Mortals, tell me how yon machines work. I command it!"
"Who is this? Get off the channel!" Irons barked. A cold hand on his shoulder made him jump. Behind him was a bearded man dressed in green.
"The sky shall remain clear until I learn thy secrets."
Jane popped her back before she closed the filing cabinet. "I swear! Dr. Kincaid should have hired a secretary instead of a nurse." Her complaints were interrupted when she heard a news bulletin on the radio.
"This just in, a stranger has, folks I'm not believing this, somehow managed to ground every plane on the East Coast. There have been no fatalities reported yet, but authorities are urging everyone to stay inside. Rumors that this may be another mutant attack, like what happened earlier this month at Cape Citadel, are unconfirmed at this time. Several noted figures, including Dr. Bolivar Trask, are urging Congress for"
Jane switched the radio in disgust. "Well, why can't one of those new heroes handle it? I'm sure this is right up the Hulk's alley." She found her eyes drifting towards the umbrella stand and the ancient piece of wood sticking out of it.
"Jane, glad you're still here." Dr. Kincaid rushed in. "Get my medical bag ready. I'll be at Metropolitan General; the ER always overflows during times like these." He didn't even look in her direction. Jane nodded mutely and gathered his things. "Good girl, lock up after me."
Jane nodded again. Her eyes again found themselves locked on the cane. "Alright." She locked the doors and closed the shades. Yanking the walking stick free, she made her way to the alley behind the office.
The wail of police sirens filled the air as the people rushed about in a mad panic. "Looks like I'm the only one close enough to help."
"Yes, it does seem that way, does it not?"
Jane felt her stomach flip when she heard the voice. "Loki?"
The trickster god gave a mock bow as he stepped into the light. "None other, and might I say dear sister, you look as fetching as an unbroken ice field."
Jane slowly stepped back. She kept a tight grip on the cane. She knew she would have no time to strike it. "What do you want?" She inched towards the street. Loki grinned and casually leaned against the wall.
"What, must I have a reason to visit family?"
"We're not family!" Jane spat. Loki's grin never wavered.
"No matter; I did have a reason for arriving here on Midgard. This person you so quickly rush off to face. Be careful little sister, for he is more than he appears."
"Like you?" Jane raised an eyebrow. "Why are you interested in helping me?"
"Who said I was helping you? Loki the Skywalker helps only himself." His smile never wavered, but Jane could feel the malice. "I have plans little sister, plans that would be greatly spoiled if you went and died foolishly. If you listen to me, you'll survive the battle."
"And if I don't?"
The smile vanished. "Then you will learn the full fury of Loki."
Merlin sipped the hot beverage the terrified woman had given him. The pilots had talked at length about the world and how it had changed. All the while Merlin sat quietly and absorbed what he had heard. "Fascinating. So you elect your leaders here?"
"In this country, yes." Irons was sweaty and pushing middle age. His already clammy skin had turned three shades paler. "It's called a democracy."
"I am aware of the word." Merlin dropped his cup. "Thank you for your time, but now I must depart. Your leaders are to the south, correct?" Without waiting for Irons to say anything, Merlin vanished in a puff of smoke.
Within minutes, the news was across the wire. Panic had set in; there were calls to evacuate the capital, but Kennedy refused. The National Guard mobilized in record time. Calls were sent out to many heroes, but few doubted they could get back in time.
Merlin appeared almost as an afterthought. He walked among the tanks and assembled men without notice. Easily slipping past the Secret Service, Merlin boldly strolled into the Oval Office. "You are the leader of this nation, correct?"
"I am." John Fitzgerald Kennedy looked from his desk. "And who do I have the honor of addressing?"
"Merlin, advisor to King Arthur." He cast his eyes about the room. "Your surrender will be unconditional." His voice trailed off as dark storm clouds appeared in what was seconds ago a bright afternoon sky. "And furthermore, I ask" Merlin's words were lost as the windows exploded. Kennedy ducked the shrapnel as agents swarmed inside.
Looming outside the office, Mjolnir twirling in her hand, was Lady Thor. "Merlin." Her voice was even, but even the most hardened agent present noticed the fury in her tone.
Merlin, to his credit, simply rose up and dusted his robes free of the glass and wood. "Ah, you must be one of the defenders of this realm."
"Aye, I am." She stepped inside the office long enough to grip Merlin's arm. Using an old judo throw, she flipped him directly out of the office and onto the lawn below. She shouted to the assembled men before leaping after the wizard. "Get the president to safety!"
Outside the troops brought the full might of the United States to bear against their target. Merlin turned their rifles to water and the tanks into stones. "You think you can defeat me?"
"Yes." She slammed her hammer upon the ground twice. A massive lighting bolt arched through the air. Merlin raised his hand, catching the bolt without trouble.
"Your magic is old, but it isn't yours, is it?" Merlin rubbed his beard. "I've heard tales of the Norsemen and their gods, but your standard is unknown to me."
With a curse, Lady Thor hurled her hammer at his head. Merlin sidestepped it with ease. "Was that your best attack?"
He was answered when the full mystic might of Mjolnir struck him in the back. The impact echoed across the lawn and rattled windows. The troops fell back as Lady Thor retrieved her hammer. "Do ye yield?"
Merlin staged to his feet. To her horror, he looked stunned and nothing more. Thrusting his hands in front of him, he suddenly vanished. Before she could question his actions, screams from across the way drew her attention.
Merlin had reappeared on top of the Washington Monument. His cries were drowned out by the high winds. Before her horrified eyes, cracks began to form at the base. "No, he can't be!"
The Monument broke free of its foundation. Rising high into the air, Merlin pointed it straight at the White House. "Do you yield?" His voice boomed.
Without a word, she took to the skies. Merlin's laughter rang out, drowning out the peals of thunder. Directing the hammer at him, she peppered the structure with lightning. Merlin merrily floated away. The Monument dropped.
Lady Thor gritted her teeth and flew under it. She caught it, but the weight was too much for her to stop. Going into a controlled freefall, she dropped to the Earth and braced for impact. The ground raced towards her as panicked people fled. Aiming for the deserted mall, she steadied herself as they crashed.
She was driven into the ground almost to her shoulders. The tremendous weight was almost more than she could withstand. Buried under tons of stone, she tightened her grip on her hammer. "Dare I follow Loki's advice?"
The pain lifted as Merlin rolled the Monument off of her. "Now do you yield?" Merlin looked bored.
"Aye, but only on one condition." She tossed Mjonlir up, freeing herself from the dirt.
Merlin raised an eyebrow. "Really? And what would that be?"
"A duel of magic. If I can perform a feat you are unable to match, will you retire back to thy place of confinement?"
Merlin laughed heartily. "Such a thing is no contest! I accept your wager, but be warned, if I can perform a feat that you are unable to match, will you leave this realm and allow me to rule?"
"Aye. I swear, on my hammer."
"Then we have an accord!" Merlin snapped his fingers. At once, they were away from Washington. The cool night breeze drifted by as Lady Thor gazed at the lush field they surrounded them. "I felt a change of scenery would be appropriate. The duel of magic has begun. Since this was your idea, name your first challenge."
"Very well. Change yourself into something that you are not."
"That is your challenge?" Merlin laughed outright. "Watch foolish goddess," before her eyes Merlin shifted forms. At once he was a wolf, an eagle, a snake, a toad, a fish, a whale, and finally a dragon. "See? You can command the weather well enough, but are you capable of this?"
"I admit, no." Merlin turned back into a man. Lady Thor smiled. "But then again I see you are not capable either."
"What?" Merlin's faced darkened. "You saw me change into a menagerie of miracles, and you say no?"
"I asked you to change into something you are not. You changed your form, yes, but remove the fur, feathers, or scales and you would still the same Merlin. You spoke, unlike an animal, thus you were still the same."
Merlin's rage was growing. "Very well, but how can you perform such a task?"
"Watch." She simply struck the end of her hammer against the soft ground. Lightening tore through the sky and struck her location. Before Merlin's shocked eyes, where once stood a statuesque Norse goddess, now only stood a slim mortal woman.
"What deviltry is this?" He snatched the cane out of her hand. "Wood? But, I-I saw the metal!"
Jane lightly spun around. "See? No more goddess. I became something that I am not." The ground around them began to shake. Merlin screamed in a combination of terror and rage.
"That's not fair! You cheated!" The ground under Merlin's feet began to bubble and reshape itself. A giant hand formed of the Earth and gripped the mad magician. "No, I won't be buried again! Hear me mortal, when I return I will wreck a great and terrible vengeance upon you and your kin!" He tried to use her cane as a brace to keep from being swallowed whole, but Jane none too gently pried it from his fingers.
"Then I'll be waiting." Jane stepped back as Merlin was finally submerged under the mud and muck. She tapped her cane once upon the soft dirt. Changed once more, she took to the sky.
The cleanup was uneventful. Lady Thor easily helped the Army Corps of Engineers put the Washington Monument back and helped strengthen the foundation. She posed for a few pictures, signed a few autographs, and generally played up to the crowd once the work was out of the way. Once the job was finished, she flew back to New York. "Dr. Kincaid is probably going to have my license revoked for this, but right now? I don't care." She felt a tingling she hadn't felt in a long time. "I admit, I thought I could do without Lady Thor, but the world needs heroes like me. I just hope I can live up to the title."
Several states away, in a crowded diner, Dr. Don Blake sat in a corner booth and watched the small black and white television set with some interest. "Not bad Jane, not bad at all." He looked over at the narrow metallic walking cane he had recently bought. "Maybe you were the right choice after all."
Unseen by Don, a tall slender man with oily black hair and crooked nose sat at the opposite end of the diner. "Well played little sister. The more you dance, the further you move into my web." Loki chuckled to himself as he cut into his pie.
After the debris had been cleaned up and order restored, the president sat down in an emergency meeting with his staff. "All right gentlemen, I think our task is clear."
"Yes, we lock everyone of those long haired freaks up!" McNamara spoke up.
"John, this is a touchy situation. Kelly is making waves in the Senate, and with this mutant crisis." Johnson interrupted, but everyone was silenced as Kennedy raised his hand.
"You all have good points. We cannot allow these super powered menaces to run rampant in our country, but the Communists have their own super powered agents."
"So what?" Rusk snorted. "Why can't we?"
"For the same reason we didn't want them to have the bomb. Both sides will destroy each other if these superheroes are allowed to run rampant. It will be worse than a hundred Cubas."
"John, you can't be serious." McNamara tried to joke. "They have a team, we have a team, what's the harm?"
"Bob, you didn't see a god and a magician almost destroy the White House. If we sanction a team with gods, devils, and who knows what else, then what we would be doing is sparking off another arms race. Every side would be fighting to get more powerful heroes."
"Like the a-bomb, but with tights." Rusk shook his head. "Ok, we hold off, allow them to be independent. What then?"
"Contact Bobby, I want him in on this." Kennedy parted a blind and gazed out onto the city. "What I am proposing doesn't leave this room."
"Shouldn't we bring in Hoover?"
Kennedy made a face. "That lunatic? After that Captain America debacle I don't want him within twenty feet of anyone with a mask. No, this stays here. I propose we have a team of agents, yes, but not with any obvious ties to the government. Let the world believe they are independent."
"When they actually work for us?" Johnson beamed. "Good idea, I like it."
"We'll have to wait, obviously. Let this mess cool down before we move. And we'll have to tread carefully when we do. Something like this could ugly."
The following tale was based on "Mad Merlin!" which was first published in Journey Into Mystery#96 (September 1963) with credits to Stan Lee and Robert Bernstein (story), Joe Sinnott (pencils and inks), and Art Simek (letters). All proper characters owned by Marvel Comics and all rights are reserved.
Be here next time for when "Lady Thor Battles the Lava Men!"
Also, having spent years in the making, be here when a brand new series in unveiled! Featuring the top of the crop, the best Marvel has to offer,
And now for fan mail
Wow that kind of stinks for Lady Thor, but even she must realize the power that the magic Hammer posses. Still it was some adventure, but to lead for her to get fired and leaving Don Blake is heart breaking even for me to endure. Well lets hope Thrud is willing to cheer her up any way she can. Please keep up the good work on this great series as even I can't wait to see Arthurian Magic go against Norwegian Magic next issue.
Well, no one ever said being a Marvel character was easy. And don't worry, Thrud will be back swinging sooner than you think.
And from Darci
Thank you very much for this.
Don and Jane's relationship reached a new level, and life suddenly
became even more complicated for her. I especially liked her
decision: "She had lied too much too often. "
I'm glad she chose not to deceive Don, despite all it cost her.
Keep up the good work,
And Tiffani, thank you for your kind words!
And be sure to check out the other titles, coming soon to a monitor near you!
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