"Eclipso" debuted in House of Secrets #61 (1963). At the time House of Secrets already had a regular lead feature, "Mark Merlin", and the two divided the title between them.

It's tempting to describe House of Secrets as the first split-book. But Action Comics and Detective Comics were effectively split-books at this point; their pages were roughly evenly divided between their lead and back-up features.(1) Adventure Comics had been fairly evenly divided, but around this point the Legion's feature began to regularly predominate over Superboy's, albeit not by all that much. Marvel's only title with two features was Strange Tales, where "Doctor Strange" had just started and was not yet a co-feature.(2)

In #73-#74 Mark was converted into Prince Ra-Man. They got co-cover-logos from #75 and shared the title to its last issue, #80 (1966). Three years later House of Secrets was revived as a horror anthology title.

"Mark Merlin" was the cover-feature of #61, although "Eclipso" got an inset box (and three more pages). "Eclipso" claimed the covers of #66-#67, #70, #73, #78, #80. #76 and #79 had book-length stories in which Ra-Man and Eclipso fought.

Bob Haney wrote the feature. Lee Elias drew the first two instalments, and Alex Toth the next five. Jack Sparling drew the rest. The crossover issues were split between him and Bernard Baily. The Showcase issue has the complete run.

So far I've read the Elias and Toth stories. (I've a couple to go I've read previously.) They comprise roughly a third of the volume. I'm not the world's biggest Toth fan - I often find the stories he drew dull - but I like his work here. Will I still feel well-disposed towards the feature as I begin the Sparling ones? Time will tell.

Eclipso next appeared in Justice League of America #109, but that story isn't included here. It was set up by a bit in #106 where Kathy Sutton tells the Red Tornado she's found him a possible job as a "lab assistant to a Doctor Gordon".

The Captain reviewed this volume here. My thanks to Border Mutt for his link to this in his List of Reviews and Re-Read Threads.

(1) "Supergirl" was the back-up in Action Comics, "John Jones Manhunter from Mars" in Detective Comics.

(2) House of Secrets #61 came out the same month as Strange Tales #111, with the second "Doctor Strange" instalment. It was five pages, and the title also had a non-series story. The lead feature was "The Human Torch". "Doctor Strange" skipped the next two issues and was eight pages when it came back.

This post displaced the thread Anything, Everything, or Nothing At All from the home page.

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Did this book contain the early 90's ongoing series (which was shorter than a lot of miniseries, if I recall correctly...)?

It only has the House of Secrets stories from the 60s.

Come to think of it, the volume doesn't have the Batman/Eclipso story from The Brave and the Bold #64 either. That came out the month after House of Secrets #76.

The Eclipso stories have many twists. I can’t describe them without giving the early ones away, but I’ll make a practice of not giving away their conclusions.

House of Secrets #61
“The Genius Who Fought Himself”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Lee Elias.

Dr Bruce Gordon has designed an automatic city powered by solar power. On the day of its dedication he is making final adjustments when an eclipse occurs in the South Pacific, triggering his first change into Eclipso. Eclipso quickly dresses himself in his costume, grabs his black diamond, and begins causing trouble. He wrecks the city with his black eyebeam and using the city’s automatic controls.

A solar reflector, running wild, catches him in its light and triggers the reverse change. He hides his costume and diamond in a nuclear pile - he's immune to radiation - but Bruce’s friend Prof. Bennett finds him before the change is completed, and sees his face change back.

Bruce deduces his transformation is connected to the eclipse and an experience he had on Diablo Island, where a “seer” called Mophir cut him with a black diamond during an eclipse. Eclipso’s costume is the Mophir’s: the natives gave Gordon the costume and diamond in gratitude because Mophir fell to his death off a cliff while attacking him. (If you were involved in a man's death, wouldn't you keep his clothes in the closet? Perhaps Bruce has ethnographic interests and meant to look into its origins.)

Bruce and Prof. Bennett fear an upcoming lunar eclipse will trigger the change. Bruce takes refuge in a wind tunnel that light can’t penetrate in the hope that this will prevent the effect of the eclipse reaching him. Will the plan succeed?

Lee Elias often drew in an attractive Milton Caniff style, but he also used a style with fine lines, and it’s this second Elias we get here. The Caniff influence is apparent in his figures and faces.

These early Eclipso stories have a straight-ahead, get-to-the-action approach. They were probably fairly exciting by the standards of the time. Marvel had not yet really hit its stride. But House of Secrets was a bimonthly, so when I reach the seventh episode I’ll be a full year on, when that was much less the case.

In the Elias episodes Bruce’s face doesn’t fundamentally change. His expression becomes evil, and an eclipse effect comes over it. In B&W the later element isn’t very apparent, but it helps explain why he isn’t recognised on his first rampage as Eclipso.

Unusually, in this instalment Bruce is transformed by an eclipse on the other side of the world. One might question how it is he even knows about it, but he went to Diablo Island to photograph a total solar eclipse, so perhaps they’re an interest of his.

There’s a good summary of how eclipses work here (all over the place, actually: people clearly love writing about eclipses). Now, Diablo Island’s location isn’t given. The natives in the origin sequence don’t look African, and Mophir’s knife is a kris, so it’s possible the island is supposed to be somewhere in the Pacific. We could suppose the South Pacific eclipse was visible from Diablo Island as a partial eclipse, and that’s why Bruce changed. But Haney doesn't draw that connection.

Possibly the series should have kept the idea that Bruce can be transformed by an eclipse anywhere on Earth. The stories are written as if all eclipses are total eclipses, but if partial ones count he would transform several times a year. It should be a fairly simple matter to cage Bruce during eclipses and change him back with a flash device, but as we’ll see it’s not always an eclipse that triggers the change.

Eclipso names himself, in a note he leaves for Bruce. Where his personality comes from isn’t explained. It isn’t Mophir’s, and he somehow knows he’s immune to radioactivity and how to use his diamond, so he isn't simply an evil Bruce.

The twist end of this story depends on his not knowing something Bruce knows. In a subsequent instalment it's a plot point that he always does.

Bruce's girlfriend is Mona, Prof. Bennett's daughter. In this instalment Bruce and Prof. Bennett don't share the truth with her, and she's hurt when Bruce says they'll have to put of their wedding.

Despite Mophir's role in the origin, there's no suggestion that cause of Bruce's change is supernatural. Bruce suggests "emanations from that first eclipse affected by body cells", and Prof. Bennett says "solar rays bombard the Earth unimpeded only during eclipses", which I think is misleading. There's an item on why the solar corona is only visible during eclipses here.

I feel sorry for Bruce’s investors, since they were obviously bankrupted by Solar City’s destruction. Bruce idiotically talks of rebuilding it, but no-one's going to sink another cent into that place.

House of Secrets #62
“Dual of the Divided Man”

Ahead of an eclipse, Bruce and Prof. Bennett, with Mona stowed away, set out for the depths of the sea in a crab-like vehicle in the hope that the sea will shield Bruce from it. But he still changes and as Eclipso smashes the device which was to flood his chamber with light.

Eclipso reconstitutes his black diamond and blasts his way out of the chamber by holding it in front of his un-eclipsed eye, creating “ultra-energy bolts”. (In the first episode he only used his blackout ray.) By this point the crab has returned to the surface, and he races off.

Mona hasn't been able to see what was happening. She reveals her presence, snapping Prof. Bennett out of his despair. He goes after Eclipso and finds him changed back, apparently by a spark from a loose high-tension wire.

Bruce and Prof. Bennett take a test flight in a space capsule they designed. Bruce steers the capsule into a radiation belt, saying it’s to test its shielding. This heats the capsule and melts his make-up, revealing he’s really still Eclipso! He means to take the capsule through the moon’s umbra, which will make him Eclipso forever!

In this instalment Bruce and Prof. Bennett are still using their laboratory under the destroyed city. That must still be the lab they use later, since Eclipso hides his costume in its nuclear pile, but the destroyed city isn’t mentioned after this.

Eclipso is able to reconstitute his diamond because he ground it to powder which he placed in Bruce’s pen, and put a catalyst in his pencil. Reading the story I thought it far-fetched that he'd done that, but we can suppose Bruce had in mind to try deep-sea avoidance the last time he changed, so Eclipso knew what to prepare for.

The ease with which Eclipso disguises himself as Bruce is reasonable, since at this point his features didn't change. Where he got the make-up isn't covered, but we can suppose he prepared it last time too.

The dilemma in this one is imaginative, and Bruce gets a good hero moment towards the climax of the story when he leaves the capsule. That close to the umbra they’d have to be passing through the penumbra, so from their perspective the sun should be in partial eclipse.

This story doesn't clearly establish whether the eclipse that transforms Bruce is visible from his location. It's described as taking place "above the inky blanket of the sea", which implies it is since he's in its depths at the time. It's a solar eclipse.

I loved the crab device: I'm a sucker for wild SF machines. When I saw it emerging from Bruce’s underground lab beneath a destroyed city I thought “Bruce is a mad scientist! I want to be a mad scientist! Where did my life go wrong?”

I reviewed this Showcase Presents in 2009 in the Ask Mr. Silver Age Forum on the old CBGXtra.com website when there was a Comics Buyers Guide. I think it's summed up pretty well in the last panel I used in the review, saying that trying to turn Eclipso into a good character was pretty difficult.

Hoy

Showcase Presents Eclipso reprints (nearly) all of the Silver Age appearances of the “Hero and Villain in One Man!” The stories are from House of Secrets 61-80, 1963 through 1966.

In recent years DC has attempted to elevate Eclipso to godlike status by declaring him a Lord of Chaos and of a power level approaching the Spectre, but during this original series he was little more than a slightly-stronger-than-human criminal genius with a black diamond that allowed him to shoot black light or force beams.

The main characters of the strip, besides Eclipso himself, were humanitarian scientist Bruce Gordon, his girlfriend Mona, and her father Professor Bennett, who also was Gordon’s mentor. Gordon became cursed to become the villainous Eclipso every time an eclipse occurred somewhere on Earth (and they came on a regular bi-monthly schedule, amazingly corresponding to the publication schedule of HOS).

It soon became apparent that this situation took Bruce out the stories when Eclipso appeared, leaving poor old Prof. Bennett to be the hero of the strip. Soon it was established that an eclipse would separate Gordon and Eclipso into separate beings, allowing Bruce and the gang to chase after him with light grenades (“Light! My nemesis!”) However, it also was established that an artificial eclipse in Gorden’s presence, such as passing a piece of cardboard over a reading lamp, would turn Gorden directly into Eclipso for a brief time.

All of the stories were written by DC stalwart Bob Haney, who didn’t get nearly as wacky with this series as he did with Teen Titans, Metamorpho, or even Brave and the Bold. With only 12-13 pages to work with every other month, he didn’t have room for much more than setting up the split at the beginning, arranging some kind of clever stunt to get the story going, and then setting off a camera flashbulb or some such in the last four panels to end the story. Still, he had some fun with the parameters of the series, including exploring such things as having Eclipso exposed to a second eclipse after splitting off from Gorden or having one of the pair wearing a little bit of makeup to appear as the other, since they essentially were the same person.

The stories are pretty pedestrian but entertaining enough. The big disappointment, however, was the artwork. A few stories with art by the competent Lee Elias were pretty good, and then the much-anticipated art from Alex Toth for a few stories turned out to be far from his best. Then, with #67 and through to the end, Jack Sparling took over the art. I am not and never will be a fan of his work, and its dominance here was a real detriment to my reading enjoyment.

Another disappointment was the decision not to include Eclipso’s appearance in Brave and the Bold vs. Batman. That was my introduction to the character way back when, and I actually tried a couple of House of Secrets afterward before the art drove me away.

Still, I give this a moderate recommendation. All the HOS Eclipso stories, including two featuring Eclipso vs. our favorite DC SA hero Prince Ra-Man, Mind Master, in a package for less than $10 makes this an exceptional bargain for curious fans of the, shall we say, less popular characters.

–your pal, Hoy




Thanks, Hoy.

In #73-#74 Mark was converted into Prince Ra-Man.

Left unsaid, perhaps because others were waiting for me to say it, is that Prince Ra-Man is probably the single worst DC superhero series of the Silver Age. And yes, that includes Ultra the Multi-Alien and the "Junk-Heap Heroes" version of the Blackhawks.

I've not read a Prince Ra-Man story before. Before reading the two in this volume I thought he was lame, and after reading them I think he's lame, but there are interesting ideas connected with him. In the origin story Mark Merlin becomes another man, taking on his "body and brain". Ra-Man is mentally a man of ancient Egypt and has knowledge of occult secrets. He is connected to a universe which has a green six-sided sun, and channels its power through a six-sided symbol.(1)

But these ideas aren't developed in a way that catches the imagination. I liked the way the circlet and ring work together in the #79 story; if only Prince Ra-Man's powers were that interesting! It's partly Bernard Baily's fault, because his design for Ra-Man is uninspired and Ra-Man's use of his powers is visually dull.

But reading the stories, I also made a connection to Alfred Hitchcock's idea of the MacGuffin, meaning the thing in a suspense film the crooks are after or the spies want to steal. Hitchcock held that what the MacGuffin is doesn't matter; what matters is its importance to the characters. That Wikipedia page says George Lucas holds it should matter to the audience, and I think Lucas is right. For example, in The 39 Steps the MacGuffin is plans for a silent engine. That doesn't catch the imagination particularly - at the end of the film you don't say, WOW, a silent engine! - but you do think stopping its theft mattered. And how the information was being taken out of the country is clever and one of the film's memorable elements.

One might view superpowers, origins and the evil plans of the villains in superhero stories as like MacGuffins; what readers care about is the action and spectacle, and they're just excuses to get there. But spectacle is conceptual as well as visual: when Doctor Strange overcomes the Demon in Strange Tales #142 through the Demon's own mental probe the sequence is exciting because of what is being depicted and how it is depicted. Aside from the amulet and ring, the stories in House of Secrets #76 and #79 are almost conceptually dead.

(1) It reminds me of Dr Occult's magic symbol, and it's possible that was the inspiration; I believe 60s creators ransacked old comics for ideas. But one might also compare Dr Strange's amulet.

The first version of this post displaced the thread Marvel's "Publishing Companies", Early Silver Age and Before from the homepage.

House of Secrets #63
“Eclipso’s Amazing Ally!”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Alex Toth.

Attending a theatre with Mona and Prof. Bennett, Bruce is honoured by the MC. While a spotlight is being shone on him its operator inserts a dark gel. The eclipsing of the light causes him to change. Eclipso runs off, making for Bruce’s lab, but changes back to Bruce after only thirty minutes.

Bruce and Prof. Bennett receive a request that they analyse ore samples to settle an international dispute that threatens to result in war. They mean to use their cyclotron, but when they turn it on there’s an explosion. In its aftermath, Prof. Bennett sees Bruce has been split into Bruce Gordon and Eclipso!

Eclipso runs off. He goes to an office building and breaks into a safe with his ultra-energy eyebeam to steal some plans. This is where Mona is working. She now suspects Bruce is Eclipso and confronts him, demanding the plans. He grabs her and makes off with her.

The building has been evacuated and there are spotlights playing on it. Eclipso is spotted in a stairwell with Mona and Bruce goes up a fire-ladder after them. Eclipso blacks out the stairwell windows with his eyebeam as he descends to avoid the searchlights. Through all this he hasn't said a word.

Mona fights free herself, and accidentally propels herself through a window. The firemen quickly move the ladder and Bruce catches her. As they're lowered to the ground Mona delivers a starting revelation...

This story introduces several new elements. Firstly, we have the idea that "eclipses" of artificial lights can trigger the change. I think this a clever idea, and that they only do so briefly is a nice touch. Secondly, we learn that when Bruce was cut by the diamond it left a diamond-shaped scar on his upper right arm. Where he was cut isn't clear in the origin story. But most importantly, it introduces the idea that when he changes into Eclipso his features physically change, so he no longer looks like Bruce. This makes Eclipso much more interesting visually.

This is also the first story where Bruce and Eclipso exist simultaneously, although this time around there's a twist. The notion that Eclipso set the scheme up last time plays fair, as he had time to do it in the previous story.

The story was the start of Alex Toth's run as the feature's artist. Toth did a great job with his design for Eclipso's face: he looks brutal and evil, and often cunning. Probably the angular face and pointed ears were supposed to give him a Satanic look. Toth's Mona is much better than Elias's, a confident, attractive modern woman.

When Bruce changes in the theatre no-one notices, although there's a spotlight on him at the time. I suppose the idea could be that no-one sees this because of the dark gel. But perhaps Haney assumed that when Bruce changes his face only takes on an eclipsed look, and Toth introduced the transformation of his features when he drew the story. On p.3 panel 2 you can see that the right half of his face has transformed while the left half hasn't yet.

Haney stories are sometimes carelessly plotted, but this one is carefully put-together, with the opening sequence important for the resolution. But it's still fast-paced and twisty.

The first version of this post displaced the thread The true horror of comics: 'Weird Love' from the homepage.

(moved from above; slightly altered)

House of Secrets #64

"Hideout on Fear Island"

Written by Bob Haney. Art by Alex Toth.

Bruce, Mona and Prof. Bennett are taking a vacation together, but Bruce tells Mona he'll have to spend it studying if he's to ever get rid of Eclipso. The plane they are travelling in is hijacked and taken to a Latin American country. (This would have been an international incident.) The local jungle has been growing at fantastic rates and the authorities believe Prof. Bennett must be responsible, as he is "the only man who ever successfully accelerated plant growth". Prof. Bennett says that his work was stolen by a Nazi scientist/war criminal called Kluge, but the authorities remain suspicious and demand he find a solution.

Bruce and Prof. Bennett devise an antidote, and Bruce heads off in a cropduster to try it out, together with Dr Zanor, the government's scientific advisor. Suddenly a giant robot in conquistador armour emerges from the jungle and tries to grab the plane. Zanor says this is the Conquistadore, a hoax giant that the Spanish explorers built to frighten the natives. Bruce releases the antidote on the jungle. The jungle's growth surges, and it overwhelms and destroys the robot. Then the affected portion dies, having run through its entire life-cycle.

Zanor pulls out a gun and tries to hijack the plane. Bruce sends it into a dive and accidentally crashes. This knocks him out. When he recovers Zanor has gone, leaving behind a device he was using to control the robot. Bruce deduces Zanor is really Kluge. This is confirmed by an ultimatum Kluge sends the government.

Since Kluge wore a beard they don't know what he really looks like. Bruce suggests checking with Interpol. The photograph Interpol sends shows - Eclipso! Wearing a Nazi uniform!

This is the Bob Haney one remembers from the 70s, whose stories had crazy, out-of-nowhere twists. I didn't even get to the point where Kluge rescues Eclipso from soldiers pursuing him riding a giant bird. I initially wrote that we never find out how Kluge learned Bruce is Eclipso, but this is covered in the dialogue in the wrap-up sequence.

In this instalment it's assumed Bruce only changes when he's in an area where an eclipse is visible. Mona also now knows about his other identity. A footnote says this will be explained next issue.

To this point the series has been careful to depict Eclipso as always needing to recover his costume and diamond when he changes. This time around he recovers the costume from where he'd hidden it in their luggage. He had time to do that at the end of the last adventure, and he could have known about the vacation if Bruce was already planning it, but how did he know Bruce would next transform during the vacation?(1) In place of his usual black diamond he uses one he pries from a stylus in Kluge's lab.

One might ask why Bruce bothers going on vacation if he's just going to study. Possibly he and Prof. Bennett wanted Mona to have one and he had to go with them because they daren't leave him alone.

Kluge's plan is to turn the country into a haven for Nazis and then to conquer the continent. This was after the capture and trial of Eichmann.

Toth's art here is very nice, particularly his depiction of the capital, with a mix of old Spanish and modern architecture and a fountain in the city centre.

Bruce's book on the plan is Experimental Astrophysics vol. 1. Prof. Bennett also means to spend the vacation studying and is reading vol. 2.

The giant conquistador robot reminds me of the giant Indian robot in "The Secret of the Iron Chief" from Tomahawk #70. DC often recycled ideas from feature to feature in this period.

(1)  Perhaps it was a spare he stashed in Bruce's luggage just in case. It gets left behind on Kluge's island.

(corrected)

Luke Blanchard said:

In the origin story Mark Merlin becomes another man, taking on his "body and brain". Ra-Man is mentally a man of ancient Egypt and has knowledge of occult secrets.

If your body AND your brain are replaced you haven't become someone else, you've been replaced completely. The ancient Egyptian could have replaced anyone, not just Mark Merlin.

Bruce and Prof. Bennett receive a request that they analyse ore samples to settle an international dispute that threatens to result in war. They mean to use their cyclotron, but when they turn it on there’s an explosion. In its aftermath, Prof. Bennett sees Bruce has been split into Bruce Gordon and Eclipso!

That sounds like a Stan Lee plot device.

Mona fights free herself, and accidentally propels herself through a window. The firemen quickly move the ladder and Bruce catches her.

I don't think it's possible to move a ladder of any size quickly enough to catch a person already falling, unless you're Clark Kent.

Bruce, Mona and Prof. Bennett are taking a vacation together, but Bruce tells Mona he'll have to spend it studying if he's to ever get rid of Eclipso. The plane they are travelling in is hijacked and taken to a Latin American country. (This would have been an international incident.)

I think this was written during the time when airliners were being hijacked and taken to Cuba. At a later date Cuba stopped giving amnesty to the hijackers which I believe stopped it.

Richard Willis said:

If your body AND your brain are replaced you haven't become someone else, you've been replaced completely. The ancient Egyptian could have replaced anyone, not just Mark Merlin.

I thought it sounded like the death of the self too, but he might still have the same experiencing "I". One can understand his transformation as analogous to reincarnation, although that's not how it occurs. The Commander's article, which I linked to, has the sequence.

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