"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".
(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.
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House of Secrets #71
"The Trial of Eclipso"
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling
Eclipso is on the loose again. He steals a moon vehicle and sends it back to his secret lab with a flunky. Later he attempts to rob a factory. Beeow! A police sniper shoots his black diamond out of his hand and the police surround and arrest him. (We don’t learn how they knew he was headed there. Perhaps he was spotted on the way.)
Bruce is contacted to be a prosecution witness. Meanwhile at Eclipso’s arraignment his lawyer claims the law doesn’t apply to him as he isn’t human. A doctor checks his heartbeat and temperature and is shaken. (We don’t learn what’s unusual about them.) The prosecutor tells the judge Bruce’s testimony will prove Eclipso’s crimes. This sets Eclipso laughing.
Eclipso sends a blackmail note to Bruce saying if he doesn’t help him, he’ll reveal their secret. When Bruce is called at Eclipso’s trial he’s outside with a flash device he shines through the window. This triggers Eclipso’s remerger with him. No-one in the court sees it as they’re dazzled by the flash.
Bruce goes to the space lab hanger to get clues on what Eclipso did with the lander. He’s exposed to the artificial eclipse of a searchlight and transforms into Eclipso. But the police are about and instantly arrest him. He’s quickly jailed again. Prof. Bennet, Mona and Eclipso all expect the change will be temporary and that when Eclipso changes back Bruce’s secret will be revealed. Eclipso’s thoughts reveal he doesn’t want the secret known as if it gets out Bruce will be locked up.
Eclipso’s gang prepares to spring him from prison. When the warden of the prison leaves they use a device they’ve built from Eclipso’s design to change one of their number into his likeness…
This might be the Haneyist instalment yet, with the hero acting in an unheroic way to get the story going. Bruce rationalises his triggering of the remerger with the argument that he’s interned Eclipso in his body. Whatever gets you through the day, Bruce.
The argument over whether Eclipso is human reminded me of the sequence from The Brave and the Bold #135 where Ruby Ryder has Jason Morgan declared legally human to get control of the Wayne Enterprises building. The issue is quickly dropped here.
The art is less in the DC house style this time out, particularly near the start. I liked the splash more than the previous one, which struck me as a bit dull. (Actually the #69 one did too, although it has Eclipso blasting away at a float fashioned after himself. I felt Sparling should've gotten more out of the image.)
The resolution struck me as a bit dodgy. (Spoiler warning.) Bruce uses Eclipso’s machine to change himself to look like Eclipso, to fool his men. The dodgy thing is in that form he’s able to use Eclipso’s black diamond. The story ends with Bruce still in Eclipso’s form. Prof. Bennet and he tell the police he’s really Bruce, but they’re lucky they bought it.
Eclipso doesn’t waste time. When Bruce and co. read about Eclipso’s capture the next morning they say he’s been free two days. In that time he’s recruited a gang and established a secret lab in an auto graveyard. I assume Eclipso provided his men with plans for the duplicator and instructions for his escape after he was arrested.
An early caption calls Eclipso “master of dark science”. “Dark science” has appeared before. A more common epithet in the series is “master of darkness”.
As in #69 the artificial eclipse - it doesn’t really look like one in the art - transforms Bruce’s clothes as well as his form. This time the effect lasts a long time. Eclipso plans to remain Eclipso by exposing himself to another artificial eclipse when the change starts wearing off. Prof. Bennet changes him back to Bruce with light, which is consistent with the reversal of his early transformation in #65.
Elias’s drew Eclipso’s headpiece as a skullcap, and Toth gave it a point. By this point Sparling’s looks like a Phrygian cap.
That police marksman is really, really good.
The logo once again forms part of the title.
House of Secrets #72
“The Moonstone People”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
In 1612 an astronomer called Angus Balfour, who was part of a scientific circle called the Reasoners, saw a piece of the moon split off and head towards Earth. It landed near his observatory. He and the other Reasoners studied it and took it with them shortly after when they fled Europe for the New World. According to sailors’ legends they were shipwrecked on Lost Man’s Island.
The story opens with Bruce and co. finding the island. They have been searching for it as Bruce believes the moonstone might prevent his separations from Eclipso. As their seaplane approaches the island a ray from it sets one of their wings on fire. Bruce puts the fire out with a roll.
Rather oddly, the trio carry on with their original plan. An eclipse is due soon. They land near the island and set up light equipment that will reverse the separation if the moonstone doesn’t prevent it.
The eclipse comes, and the separation begins. Prof. Bennet is about to activate the light device when he’s struck from behind. Eclipso leaves with his helpers, leaving the trio on the beach with their light equipment wrecked.
Bruce and co. head off after them. They are intercepted by a party of islanders, and narrowly escape being hit by their ray. The islanders still speak and dress as people did in their founding ancestors’ time. Bruce takes a chance and approaches them with his hands raised, greeting them “in the name of reason and peace”.
He manages to win their trust. The islanders’ leader is Robert Balfour. He tells him they fired at his plane because they thought it was bringing more “of the evil men who arrived a few days ago”. Bruce deduces these were men of Eclipso’s: he knew what Bruce was planning and arranged the rescue last time he was free.
The islanders have continued to study the moonstone. The ray gun is powered by a fragment. The main part of it is kept in the cone of the island’s extinct volcano.
Mona spots Eclipso and his men ascending the mountain. The trio and Balfour race them to the summit. Eclipso reaches the top first because Bruce won’t let Balfour shoot him. Eclipso collapses on the moonstone and his men flee.
Eclipso’s men reach their boat, but Balfour hits it with the ray. This sets fire to the boat and erases their recent memories.
The men climb down towards Eclipso. Suddenly he gets up, declaring "The moonstone’s aura only weakened me briefly…but it has given me immense new powers which will make me unbeatable!” The visual manifestation of his new powers is a “spectrum glow” from the uneclipsed side of his face…
Eclipso’s getting new powers from a glowing meteorite is a reprise from #66. It doesn’t do anything for the story this time as he doesn’t accomplish anything with his new powers he couldn’t have accomplished with his black diamond, which doesn’t appear this episode.
I like the tale’s backstory. The Reasoners’ migration was obviously modelled after the Pilgrims’ but they’re also early 17th century scientists fleeing the period’s superstition. We don’t get to see all that much of their descendants’ community and the story doesn’t have a culture-clash thread. After Eclipso escapes the others on the mountain Balfour signals his followers using a small mirror. They send a steam-powered net machine against him. I liked these touches.
I’m not well-informed about the history of clothing, but I think the costumes of the Reasoners are a bit anachronistic for 1612. They’re shown wearing long jackets with wide cuffs, waistcoats, tight leggings, long hair or wigs, and cavalier hats. As far as I can tell this is more in line with later 17th century fashion.
Bruce's plan for a cure is a real long shot this time out. He gives no reason why the moonstone might cure him and he doesn't know for sure it's on the island when he arrives there.
One might ask why Eclipso and co. didn’t take Bruce and co. prisoner after ambushing them during the eclipse.
When the trio enter the forest Bruce is shown brandishing a machete. But it’s not thickly-wooded and there are no vines.
At the end of the story Bruce promises they'll keep the islanders' existence a secret. The trio take the henchmen back with them. They've lost their recent memories but how recent is recent, and long have they known about the island? (Maybe Eclipso left sealed instructions to be opened just ahead of the next eclipse.)
Sparling depicts the Reasoners and their descendants well. The splash is OK but it’s a bit misleading as it seems to show Eclipso grown to giant size.
I can’t pretend these stories are great. It’s not strange House of Secrets only lasted another eight issues. But the premise - Dr Jekyll vs Mr Hyde - is a good one, and wasn’t appearing elsewhere at the time. There’s some similarity to the Hulk’s feature, but while Bruce feared the Hulk he was rarely his opponent. (When Eclipso debuted the Hulk’s feature was on hiatus.) I think the problem might be that Eclipso doesn’t have any real goals. When he gets away from Bruce and co. he commits crimes and causes havoc, but apparently just for the sake of causing trouble or the thrill of risking being caught. His crimes aren’t ingenious and he spends a lot of time running away. Sometimes he's fleeing Bruce and sometimes he's just committed a robbery, but it seems to be his basic instinct: in the early stories when he changes he runs off to get his costume, when Bruce and he separate he runs off, when he changes in #65 he switches costume, grabs Mona and heads off etc. What he’s clever about is preparing for the next eclipse, but we never see him do that.
The eclipse that causes the separation is a solar eclipse visible from Bruce’s location. As so often the caption speaks of it as “unleashing astral forces still beyond mortal knowledge or control”. It’s just the moon passing in front of the sun!
House of Secrets #73
“Eclipso Battles the Sea Titan”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
Bruce and co. are salvaging a Nazi submarine using electromagnetic grapplers. The sub is rumoured to be “an old Nazi secret weapons lab”. They’re apparently the only people on the salvage craft.
As the sub is raised Bruce’s “voltage indicator” goes wild and when it’s lifted out of the water it’s “glowing like a meteor”. Bruce says he’ll “cut down the voltage”. The sub stops glowing and a creature bursts out through the hull. (“Ri-iip!”) Bruce releases the sub but the critter grabs one of the chains and swings onto their ship. Its makes for Bruce and co. and they just get away from it in a hovercraft they have on the afterdeck.
Bruce theorises that the critter was created by “the jolt of high voltage hitting organic gases trapped in the sub hull!” Prof. Bennet gently disagrees with this inane theory (my gloss) and more sensibly suggests it’s in some way a creation of the Nazi secret weapons lab.
The critter takes the ship towards land, runs it onshore, and heads inland. The trio trail it in their hovercraft. It heads for a town and immediately begins digging up a street, opening a tunnel being dug by criminals who mean to rob the bank. It dives in, completes the tunnel (the art isn’t up to depicting this), and robs the bank itself, making off with arms full of cash. Bruce guesses the critter has an instinct that told it about the robbery and it completed it because “Being sprung from evil—that Nazi sub lab—its governing impulse is towards evil!”
Through all this the trio have (prudently) stayed aboard their hovercraft. Just then an eclipse starts in the South Pacific. Bruce realises what’s happening: “That eclipse in southern latitudes… I’d forgotten about it in the excitement!” THIS HAPPENS TO YOU ALL THE TIME. As Eclipso emerges Bruce faints on the controls, and the hovercraft crashes.
The trio are knocked out by the crash. Eclipso starts running off in his usual manner but the critter moves to attack him. Eclipso hits it with black light and it disappears. He resumes his escape, but the trio have come to and Bruce pursues him. When Eclipso turns to confront him the critter reappears between them.
This time Eclipso hits it with bolts from his uneclipsed eye. The result is it triplicates! One of them menaces Eclipso while the other two head off after Bruce and co. Bruce shouts to Eclipso to the effect that he’d better help them. (The foreground head of the Eclipso here seems to be by some other artist, perhaps Neal Adams.) Eclipso thinks “Gordon’s right! What happens to him--happens to me too!” They keep saying that and there’s still no evidence of it.
Eclipso still has the moonstone powers he acquired last issue. He levitates the three critters and causes them to collide and remerge. Then he does an Eclipso with the others. They run into a steel works and the critter pursues them. (The image of the critter running here is deliberately goofy.) Bruce tells Eclipso it will keep chasing him “because it senses your evil purpose and wants to take your place--just as it did those bank robbers!” He tells Eclipso to delay it while he prepares a solution in the lab.
Then begins an epic three-page battle between Eclipso and the sea titan…
This episode is the most fun in quite a while. It’s drawn in the DC style and I like Sparling in this mode. The critter is particularly well-drawn on the cover, which depicts part of the climactic battle. The splash, which shows the creature triplicating, is OK. The panel where the critter bursts out of the sub is oddly understated.
The trio’s hovercraft lacks a skirt and is shown flying in a couple of panels. Presumably Sparling didn’t have reference for what one looks like. The opening sequence is written as if electromagnets run current through the things they grab.
I hope this is the last time we’ll see the moonstone powers, as I like it when he uses his black diamond and they make it less important. Possibly it will be as Eclipso seems to use up the levitation power when he causes the critters to collide.
Bruce spreads havoc wherever he goes.
For the first time in a while the triggering eclipse isn’t visible from Bruce’s location. However, it’s only the #64 story that’s implied they have to be.
To this point Mark Merlin has more usually been featured on the covers than Eclipso while they’ve shared the title. Since #65 the Mark Merlin covers have had a banner at the top with an Eclipso head and the text “Another thriller featuring Eclipso--hero and villain in one man!” On this issue the Eclipso head is used with a banner giving the story-title. It’s a Toth head so the cover has the Toth Eclipso on the upper left and the Sparling one in the main image.
The logo is back to being part of the title this issue.
ON REFLECTION: Apparently Neal Adams wasn't yet working for DC in 1965, when this issue appeared. I might also have suggested Dick Giordano, but I don't think his work looked like that at this point either. The Eclipso face is drawn with the techniques as the Eclipso face in the final panel of #71, although the one here is more striking. It may be Sparling simply varied his techniques - in which case it's a shame he didn't use those ones more - or it may be he had someone assisting him, but I have no information as to who that could have been.
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House of Secrets #74
"The Negative Eclipso"
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
A solar eclipse is about to occur. The trio have surrounded Bruce with high-photo flash lamps in preparation. But as the crucial moment approaches a truck misses a turn due to the darkness of the eclipse and hits a power pole. The separation begins, Prof. Bennet hits the switch, and nothing happens: the power has failed. (You’d expect the room lights to go out, but in the art the room remains well-lit.) Eclipso gloats and runs off.
After Bruce recovers he figures out what happened. The trio pursue Eclipso in a car Bruce has prepared. This is a sports car to which he has attached a dish antenna. Before the eclipse he drank “a compound of columbium in trace quantities” on the theory that it would cause Eclipso’s “ectoplasmic body” to emit radio signals they could use to trace him. It works! They quickly track Eclipso to an abandoned factory.
The trio find Eclipso has a lab inside, in which he is already at work. He is surprised to see them. (There’s a continuity issue here. Eclipso should have been aware of Bruce’s plan, as he was in #66.) Bruce and Prof. Bennet throw light grenades, but he’s standing behind a transparent screen and activates it before they go off. The grenades trigger the remerger, but to the trio’s shock another Eclipso emerges from the screen, with light and dark reversed, “like a negative of himself”.
Eclipso says this is his “negative form--a form I have long been experimenting on! And now it’s a success!” Bruce hits him with a light grenade, but it has no effect: in this form he’s immune to bright light flashes. He puts the trio to sleep with sleep gas.
When they recover Eclipso is gone. But Bruce has a plan. They return to his lab. His plan is to create an artificial eclipse to turn himself into Eclipso - “his positive form is still in my body” - and to use the ultra-violet ray from #66-#67, which he hopes he has now perfected, to turn his Eclipso-self good. As Prof. Bennet stands buy with the ultra-violet gun Mona creates the artificial eclipse…
I liked the dual of wits element in this instalment. Bruce’s plan to create a good Eclipso is also a clever use of elements established in the series previously.
On the down side, the creation of and rules pertaining to the Negative Eclipso seem arbitrary. How Eclipso creates his negative self isn’t properly explained, nor is there any explanation of why it’s invulnerable to Eclipso’s normal weakness but vulnerable to “spectrum light”. Possibly the idea was it’s vulnerable to colour as it’s B&W. I’ll rationalise the Negative Eclipso’s creation as somehow made possible by Eclipso’s ectoplasmic nature, revealed here for the first time.
In pursuit of the Negative Eclipso the trio crash through a barrier and gate to get into a restricted area. I’m not sure their car could do that, I’m sure it couldn’t do it without getting damaged, and they’re lucky they didn’t get shot.
Bruce-Eclipso uses the spectrum powers when the two Eclipsos fight.
In the last couple of instalments I’ve noticed bits of dialogue in the style one associates with the later Haney: “Yiiii! Missed the turn in this dim-out!”
Once again the solar eclipse is visible from Bruce’s location, as is clear from the fact the accident occurs nearby. Eclipses don’t recurringly occur in a single place like this. Strictly speaking it need not be a total eclipse, as we only see it beginning, but it’s complete enough to cause darkness. The eclipse isn’t over when the trio begin their pursuit, judging by the sky.
On reflection I shouldn’t have called the #70 eclipse a total one either. It may have been, but it's not certain. The one in #68 is arguably depicted by Sparling as an annular eclipse.
After a couple of issues in work clothes Bruce is back in his snappy suit this issue.
The logo once again forms part of the title, as it always does when the title uses Eclipso's name.
The issue has a Prince Ra-Man cover, with a vertical banner blurbing the Eclipso story on the left which has an image of the Negative Eclipso. Mark Merlin was transformed into Prince Ra-Man last issue, with no indication of this on the cover or mention of his feature. Sic transit gloria mundi.
House of Secrets #75
“Eclipso Must Die!”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
A criminal syndicate has decided to kill Eclipso because “he endangers all organised crime by his bizarre operations!” In the opening sequence its hitman demonstrates the uniform he has been given can outmatch Eclipso’s powers by defeating and destroying a robot Eclipso in combat.
Meanwhile, the trio are returning from a jungle trip. They expect an eclipse the next day. But at the airport, while talking to reporters, Bruce starts to feel strange. Prof. Bennet realises they made a mistake keeping track of the date in the jungle, and the eclipse is occurring. He and Mona usher Bruce into a limousine but they’re helpless to prevent the split.(1) The driver stops the car in surprise when he sees Eclipso in the rear view mirror. Eclipso gets out and runs away.
As night falls Eclipso is still free. He evades the police (“All cars--alert! Eclipso reported on the prowl! If necessary, shoot to kill!”) and breaks into a closed subway, headed for a secret hideaway. But the hitman is on his trail.(2) (“Time to put “Operation Total Eclipse” into action!”) Their fight is initially a reprise of the one with the robot but Eclipso is faster and dodges the ricochet energy bolt that was supposed to kill him. Having tried both his eyebeams he flees, and the hitman pursues him with the intention of getting near to him so he can use his “special red emergency button--the “kill” button”, as he’s been ordered to do if the first plan failed. He doesn’t know what this does. But you do.
Bruce and Prof. Bennet have tracked Eclipso down using an energy-meter that registered his use of an energy bolt to get into the subway. (Both have switched from their work clothes back to their suits.) They watch the fight and hit Eclipso with light grenades as he exits the subway. By the time the hitman emerges the remerger is complete. He ignores them.
Bruce is still carrying the energy-meter. Its needle goes wild as the hitman passes. This means his belt “contains some fantastic energy in concentrated form!” Bruce realises he only used two of his buttons in the fight and the third must act like a bomb. He’s a walking bomb, and doesn’t know it!...
This instalment gets off to a strong start, and the plot follows logically. Bruce again uses his transformation-into-a-good-Eclipso trick, and he beats the hitman in that persona in a fair-to-the-reader manner.
Sparling’s art is good in this one. He returned to using more creative layouts and the art isn’t loose and ugly. The opening fight is interesting partly because it’s just drawn well. On the other hand, Eclipso’s legs are different sizes on the splash page.
During the opening fight the robot Eclipso switches the black diamond from one hand to the other to use the other eyebeam. This is logical - otherwise his hand would block the near eye when he used the far eye - but I haven’t registered Eclipso does that before.
On the downside, Eclipso does nothing diabolical this time out, and the twists are easy to see coming. I didn’t guess the outcome of the Bruceclipso/hitman confrontation, though. The syndicate reminded me of the HIVE(3) and Cyclops from The Brave and the Bold #64, still a few months in the future.
The eclipse isn’t visible from Bruce’s location this time.
Once again Eclipso’s name in the title is represented by the logo.
The cover is a Prince Ra-Man one but for the first time the title’s the two features got cover-logos: “Eclipso: Hero and Villain in One Man!” and “Prince Ra-Man: Mind Master”. The head accompanying Eclipso’s logo is a reversed version of the Toth face previously used on the covers. The Toth Eclipso’s face isn’t divided down the centre, like Sparling’s; instead, the eclipse effect has a curve, and the face is predominately blue. Reversing the head entails colouring what’s supposed to be the eclipsed part as normal skin, so the head doesn’t look right. But it was used to the final issue.
(1) They really should prepare better, given that they CAN'T KEEP TRACK OF THE DATE and all. Bruce can be transformed by an artificial eclipse anytime. I’ll grant they might not have been able to use a light grenade without danger in the limousine but Prof. Bennet doesn’t throw one after Eclipso when he gets out: presumably he doesn’t have one. Maybe they couldn't get them through customs wherever they've been.
(2) Since Eclipso has used henchmen in the past it’s logical that the syndicate might be better informed about his haunts than the trio and the police.
(3) They wear black hoods all the time, have advanced science, and the opening scene is set in a chamber with cobblestone walls and flooring that visually reminded me of the HIVE’s hexagons.
House of Secrets #76
“Helio, the Sun Demon!”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling (part 1) and Bernard Baily (part 2).
It’s time for an eclipse. (This one is “half a world away”, in the Middle East or North Africa judging by the image.) Eclipso foils the trio’s light device by scattering the light burst with silver foil. He gloats, declaring that when they next hear of Eclipso “Centauri will make me master of the world!”, and escapes. (Because once again Prof. Bennet and Mona apparently have no back-up light grenades handy.) The trio try to track Eclipso using Bruce’s car like they did in #74 - it still has the dish - but this time it doesn’t work.(1) As they run to the car Prof. Bennet asks Bruce about Eclipso’s cryptic promise, but Bruce declares “Doesn’t mean a thing--just gibberish!” Boy, he’s never read a comic.
We next see Eclipso “a few days later” in a hidden lab, which is under an island the military use as a bombing range. (My theory is there’s an underwater cave entrance through which he smuggled his equipment in. He’s been really busy: there’s a sliding silo entrance on the surface which is presumably camouflaged and away from the target area.) Using a giant telescope he channels light from the sun into a “bio-chemical vat”. This brings into existence a figure he names “Helio, master of light”. Shielding himself from his light, he provides him with a costume.
Helio is intelligent and knows he came from the sun. He demonstrates his power, which is to fire flame blasts from nozzles on his back. We later learn these are blasts of burning hydrogen. He is willing to team up with Eclipso. Eclipso gloats.
Bruce and co. arrive at Space Center Zebra West. Bruce explains Centauri is “the new government space platform they’re about ready to orbit”. (Perhaps the government consulted with him about it, and he made the connection.) They arrive just as Eclipso and Helio are about to steal it. The pair overcome the minor opposition they encounter and make off with it. It’s actually a rather small thing that looks like a flying saucer and has about as much room inside as a car.
Bruce explains the significance of the the theft. From orbit Eclipso and Helio will be able to strike where they like. They will be able to defend themselves against rocket attacks. Governments will have to submit to their demands. They will be able to dominate the world…
This is the first of the two Eclipso/Prince Ra-Man crossover stories. Part 1 is a typical Eclipso story but with a loose end: Eclipso is returned to Bruce's body but Helio remains free and has the space platform. Part 2 is a Prince Ra-Man story in which he meets the “Eclipso” cast. Helio transforms Bruce into Eclipso and at the climax Prince Ra-Man defeats Eclipso and Helio in combat.
Baily had worked in the industry since the early Golden Age. He was the artist of “The Spectre”, "Hourman" and “Tex Thomson/Mr America/Americommando”. I like the shadowy look of his early Golden Age work. His style here is completely different. I think it was modelled after the work of Mort Meskin and Carmine Infantino. Meskin had been the longtime “Mark Merlin” artist, and had used a clearer style later in his career. Baily took the feature over in #72, which had the last instalment before Merlin’s makeover. The Infantino influence is apparent in the stylised handing of the island on p.22 and the paired-down look and layouts of p.24, where Ra-Man and Eclipso fight. Hoy posted two panels from the fight on p.1 which illustrate what I mean. In his article on Prince Ra-Man Commander Benson calls the style Baily used “muddy”. It looks that way in his extracts but not in B&W. Instead, the problems are some stiffness in the figures and a lack of imagination.(2)
The GCD credits Sparling with the cover. I couldn’t tell this looking at the GCD’s colour image, but I can see it looking at the larger one in the Showcase. It depicts the fight from the climax with some minor artistic license. I like the archipelago in the background.
The story has only one splash page, which uses the Eclipso and Prince Ra-Man logos from the covers. It depicts Eclipso and Helio in orbit, defending themselves from attack (which they never actually get to do). It has a nice space-scape background and a more tightly-drawn look than Sparling’s art often has. Helio looks like a giant, whereas in the story he’s man-sized. But this may just be a perspective issue: he also looks oversized in the similar image p.9 panel 3.
In the story's first part Eclipso uses a special cape to protect himself from Helio's light. He looks like Bela Lugosi posing as Dracula.
The second part opens with a large panel which is about the same size as the splash image but part of the story rather than a teaser image. It shows an audience watching a newsreel of Helio making off with the space platform. Baily draws it larger than Sparling.
At this point Prince Ra-Man was still working with Mark Merlin’s partner, Elsa. She’ll be absent next time we see him. After they see the newsreel he goes with her to the space center. An official says Washington has told them to give him full cooperation - he’s apparently already acquired quite a reputation - but he doesn’t see how “black magic” can help. Ra-Man responds that “"Black magic”, as you quaintly put it” is not what he uses. Possibly this was a jab at Dr Strange, who was initially described as “Master of Black Magic” and after whom Ra-Man was likely modelled. (They look a lot alike.)
Helio defeats Prince Ra-Man at their first encounter. Ra-Man foolishly imperils Elsa by taking her with him and apparently hasn’t thought through his battle plan. At the climax he defeats him by blocking him from the light of the sun using the light of the six-sided sun of Ra. See the Commander's article for an explanation of this.
In part 1 Bruce wears his suit. Baily puts him in a check shirt.
When the trio show up at Space Center Zebra West Eclipso tells Helio he doesn't know how they knew their objective. He must've forgotten his hint.
In the course of the adventure Prince Ra-Man (and Elsa) learn of Bruce's connection to Eclipso. He promises to keep the secret.
In part 2 we learn that Bruce’s lab is still beneath the destroyed remains of Solar City. My impression had been this was now an ordinary urban area. You’ll note, however, that I was right to predict p.1 that Bruce would fail to find new investors.
Haney’s “hip” writing style is very much in evidence this time out. Prince Ra-Man explanation of how he’s able to trace Helio (p.15 panel 6) is gobbledegook. What he does is use his sun-symbol on glass debris created by Helio’s power, causing it to show where Helio will be.
On p.1 I compared Prince Ra-Man’s symbol to Dr Occult’s. At the time I thought Occult's was a disc, and I think I had an idea Occult could use it in multiple ways. I’ve read more Dr Occult stories now and all he ever does is use it (or them) as a shield against evil. I also now think his original symbol was supposed to be a Greek cross in a circular frame, although there's room for argument about it. So there’s more similarity between Ra-Man’s sun-symbol and Strange’s amulets. Particularly his original amulet, which had a plainer design.
I like a number of the ideas associated with Ra-Man: the Egyptian nature of Ra’s civilisation, his reverence for the Egyptian gods, his powers’ nature as lost science rather than magic. But his mental beam is boringly depicted by Baily, and he needed a better design: he looks like a bland imitation of Dr Strange. His ability to transform one thing into another with his mental beam - he changes the space platform into a giant leaf - is a power I don't like as it feels rule-less. It reminds me of the Golden Age Sargon, who could do this to things he touched.
Anyway, this is basically a runaround story. Helio violates my sense of reality as he has a good vocabulary and personality when newly brought into being and a humanoid form for no obvious reason. His costume is a leotard with a sun-symbol and a pair of styled boots. I like off-beat ideas, and his powers are off-beat, but his look is campy and he doesn't work for me conceptually. I would've preferred a real sun demon.
According to DC Indexes the Batman/Eclipso story in The Brave and the Bold #64 appeared in the month between this issue and #77.
(1) When they first go out it appears to be night, as it should be if an eclipse is occurring on the opposite side of the Earth. In the next panel it could be day: perhaps they searched for hours.
(2) I do like the fantastic elements on Baily's covers for the feature, though. There's an interesting energy creature on #74, a weird brain-trap on #75, and a fight with a horde of critters with strange powers on #77.
House of Secrets #77
“The Moon Creatures”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
Bruce and co. head off to bed. There is an eclipse due the next day. During the night Bruce is awakened by a bright light. There seem to be two figures accompanying it. He screams.
The next morning Mona and Prof. Bennet find him gone. There are odd footprints on the floor. They infer he’s been carried off and rush off in the car in an attempt to find him. The radio informs them that Eclipso has been sighted.
At this point the scene switches to Eclipso, who is hiding out in a construction designed to look like the moon in an amusement park (called “Lunar Park”), currently closed. With him are two blobby, vaguely humanoid creatures with pitted surfaces and no facial features other than a single large eye. They declare “You gave us life, master--we of the moon are yours to command!”
Eclipso monologues that he set their creation in motion last time he was free by mixing dust he obtained from a moon fragment with various other substances, placing the mix in cocoons, and setting a germination process going with black light. He deposited the cocoons “in the deepest part of the island’s underground tunnels”, so they weren’t damaged when his island hideout was destroyed. (This occurred between episodes. Presumably he knows about it as he shares Bruce’s knowledge.) Programmed to release Eclipso, they came to Bruce’s bedroom and created an artificial eclipse to bring about his transformation. This is what Bruce screamed about.
The artificial eclipse wears off and Bruce changes back to Eclipso. The moon creatures bind him and take him to the surface of the construction to be exposed to the eclipse. Bruce struggles helplessly, screaming that it can’t happen, as the eclipse begins…
I thought this one of the most enjoyable instalments. Objectively, it’s not the most imaginative episode of the series, and its key twists are ones we’ve all seen in other stories.(1) But there’s more focus on the heroes’ emotions so it’s more engaging: there’s the scene where Bruce screams in frustration as the eclipse begins, for example. Bruce’s “abduction” is depicted well and an interesting mystery, and the solution is good. Eclipso has a plan - to create an army of moon creatures - worthy of a diabolical mastermind.
The moon creatures don’t violate my sense of reality the way Helio did as they’re more inhuman. The explanation of how they were created is also better, and they have a motivation - to serve Eclipso - that makes sense.
Bruce doesn't look very heroic on the splash. He's shown running away for dear life as the moon creatures capture Mona and Prof. Bennet.
Bruce sleeps in his work clothes with his shoes on.
When Mona finds Bruce missing Prof. Bennet declares “But he can’t be! He knows today is the eclipse and it would be disastrous for him to leave the lab!” He’s done it any number of times before.
It’s not spelt out, but Bruce and co. apparently figure out where Eclipso heads off to after he takes Prof. Bennet and Mona prisoner from an oblique hint he drops.
When the trio arrive as he’s enacting his plan Prof. Bennet is about to throw a light grenade when Bruce shouts “Hold it, Professor! If you get Eclipso, we’ll have no way of destroying those creatures!” Heck, Bruce, couldn’t you have told him sooner?
Mona saves the day in this story. The last time she did something like this was in #70, when she saved Bruce from being shot.
The eclipse is visible from the amusement park, but it’s not clear how far from Bruce’s lab this is. Prof. Bennet and Mona can see it from where they are in the car.
The story has no logo this time. But we do get more of the usual guff about how awesome eclipses are and the awesome forces they unleash.
(1) Spoiler warning. Eclipso disguises himself as Bruce to capture Mona and Prof. Bennet. (Actually, if he hadn't done this he might've won. He even tells them to load up with light grenades when he's posing as Bruce.) Mona figures out he’s an impostor from his kiss. (“His lips seemed cold…inhuman… !”) Bruce manoeuvres Eclipso into blasting the moon creatures with black light, and that destroys them.
House of Secrets #78
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
Eclipso is being sought internationally.
At the lab Bruce enters an isolation capsule in preparation for an eclipse. The eclipse occurs and Eclipso emerges from Bruce. Mona operates the flash lamps in the capsule. But when Prof. Bennet opens the door Eclipso emerges! He gloatingly explains that he protected himself from the lamps by spinning like a top while he projected black light, creating a protective “cloak”. Then he runs off. His parting gloat suggests he has something big in mind.
A harbour patrol boat spots him laying low at the docks and opens fire. He gets away but the police find a piece of paper with a circular pattern and the letters KNI 8675. They’re not sure it has to do with Eclipso but they show it to Bruce and co. when they show up.
After this there is no sign of Eclipso for some time. As the trio discuss this at the lab Prof. Bennet observes another eclipse is due soon, in England. Bruce realises the letters are a London telephone number. He guesses Eclipso is hoping that the second eclipse will make him a greater threat.
The trio go to England. The number proves to be the number of Big Ben jewellers. Bruce pretends to be a customer while Prof. Bennet and Mona go round the back. He slips into the back room, onto to find Eclipso is waiting for him with some flunkies and has already taken the others prisoner. He explains they’ve been trailed since arriving in England.
By this point it’s time for the eclipse. Eclipso expects it to make his existence permanent. But to his surprise it transforms him into a huge, goblin-like form…
This instalment starts of well but it wastes its second eclipse premise badly, and twist at the climax, described below, comes out of nowhere.
On the plus side, Eclipso shows his mettle this time out as he twice out-thinks Bruce and co., and I like the depiction of his body language in the scenes where gloats over it. I can accept his escape from the capsule as black light was depicted as having duration in #65.
Dialogue in the opening montage indicates Eclipso’s gang is active internationally and commits acts of smuggling and terror in his absence.
The eclipse that initially releases Eclipso is visible in the arctic.
The transformation scene is handled in an understated way that denies it the impact it should have. The transformed Eclipso is basically a goblin-like Incredible Hulk with Eclipso’s mind.
Eclipso uses his new strength to raid a public library. The title of the book he takes - Prehistoric Monuments of Britain - is the clue Bruce needs to figure out that the pattern on the paper represents Stonehenge.
At Stonehenge Eclipso throws a stone that smashes a rotor of the trio’s helicopter. They’re able to “pancake” but I think in the real world they would have crashed.
Conclusion spoiler warning. Eclipso’s goal is the “legendary treasure of Stonehenge”. He uses his strength to rebuild Stonehenge so the standing stones’ shadows will show him where it’s buried. (I don’t think the shadows of stones placed in a circle could converge as they’re shown doing here. They should appear parallel.) But when he rips up the stone placed over it rays from the treasure transform him back into the old Eclipso, making him vulnerable to a light grenade Bruce throws. Eclipso’s men should really be around and watching at this point, but the story’s written as if they ran away after Bruce scattered them with the helicopter on p.11.
When Mona asks what changed Eclipso back Bruce responds “There’s only one answer! That “treasure” was a meteorite containing an ore from which emanates wave lengths destructive to any abnormal or mutant biological form! It must have saved the ancient people from an attack by mutant beasts!” Don’t you wish you could read stories about the ancient people of Salisbury Plain defending themselves with the meteorite from attacks by mutant beasts?
House of Secrets #79
“The Master of Yesterday and Tomorrow!”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling (part 1) and Bernard Baily (part 2).
Playboy Whitney Hargrave collects occult objects. He is gloating over one of his prized possessions, the Circlet of Circe, when a trader in occult goods turns up at his mansion. Hargrave’s African servant, Jambo, says he doesn’t like the look of him, but Hargrave loves adding to his collection and tells Jambo to show him in.
The dealer, who is obviously shady, says he has heard Hargrave has the Circlet of Circe and he can sell him the matching Gorgas Ring. Hargrave is sceptical, but the dealer produces the ring. Excited, but determined not to be fooled, Hargrave fetches the circlet to test it. The dealer reveals himself to be Eclipso in disguise. He slugs Hargrave and makes off with the ring. Jambo tries to stop him, but Eclipso blasts him and gets away.
Jambo is only knocked over, though, as he was wearing a heavy war mask. He rejoins Hargrave. Hargrave says he’ll have to contact Prince Ra-Man for help. “We must tell him what’s happened! That…I…ah… slipped up again!”
Meanwhile, Bruce and co. are hunting for Eclipso in Bruce’s car. (We never find out how he gave them the slip this time.) They hear he’s been spotted downtown and head there. “Some strange sixth sense” guides him to Eclipso’s location. Bruce has rigged the car’s lights so they can flash high intensity light but Eclipso busts them with eye bolts before he can set them off. Bruce wonders how he knew to do this.
Prince Ra-Man, Hargrave and Jambo are now also hunting for Eclipso on Ra-Man’s sun-symbol, which he can enlarge to giant size and use to fly. They spot Eclipso and Ra-Man confronts him. Eclipso foils his first attack, and he realises that with the circlet Eclipso can see the future and anticipate his moves. Eclipso declares he has another power, as Ra-Man will find out “after you’re attacked by fang and claw”. He then jumps up on a druggist’s sign as a circus truck carrying caged lions loses control and crashes. While Ra-Man is dealing with the lions Eclipso gets away.
A man from the circus is shocked to see the lions: “Our two big cats died last week! The cages on that truck were empty!” Ra-Man realises what this must mean and in time-honoured hero fashion takes Hargrave and Jambo with him to warn the city while keeping it to himself. He arranges a broadcast, but Eclipso cuts into it and says there will be an attack of pterodactyls in the city at 10 a.m. the next day if his demands are not met. He then lists his demands, which are for dictatorial power.
Ra-Man meets with the governor and a general. The governor is old, fat and hidebound and the general is presumably the head of the state defence force as he seems to be his subordinate. Ra-Man tells the governor that the prediction will come true as the circlet and ring give Eclipso the power to “actually influence the future… creature menaces within it!” The governor doesn’t believe it but tells the general to put his men on the alert. Ra-Man seems to be disappointed by the governor’s disbelief but I don’t know there’s anything else he could have done short of evacuating the city.
As morning breaks the next day soldiers wait in the streets and Ra-Man patrols the city on his disc, with Hargrave and Jambo. (I think he wouldn’t have taken them with him this time.) Bruce and co. continue to search for Eclipso in their car. With an hour to go Eclipso emerges from his hiding place and projects an image from the circlet of a particular street corner one hour ahead. Then using the ring he projects into this an image from his own brain, of a swarm of savage pterodactyls.
And one hour later they appear!...
This was the second book-length Eclipso/Prince Ra-Man story, and the last, as it was the second-last issue. Unlike the first it’s a Prince Ra-Man story all the way through. Bruce and co. appear in both parts but do not contribute to Eclipso’s defeat. It’s even Ra-Man who flashes Eclipso back into Bruce at the end.
I’ve taken the synopsis up to the end of the first part. The second part is an action chapter all the way through. The fight against the pterodactyls is OK but the final part of the tale lets it down. After the pterodactyls are defeated Eclipso uses the circlet and ring to activate a robot from the Hall of Science, imbue it with extra power, and send it on a rampage. The robot and its rampage aren’t very well depicted by Baily, and the idea that imbuing a robot with solar energy gives it magical qualities like an ability to grow and regenerate doesn’t work for me. Ra-Man convinces Eclipso to team up with him to defeat it and the means they use is a combination of a fair use of Eclipso’s new powers - at Ra-Man’s suggestion he creates a meteor that slams into it - and cod science (“The robot-- it’s shrinking-- ceasing to glow…” “Exactly! That’s what I counted on! The meteor’s porous other-world rock is absorbing the robot’s solar life force!”)
Hargrave was introduced in the Prince Ra-Man story in the previous issue, where he accidentally unleashed a being called Lord Leopard. He’s a much more interesting companion for Ra-Man than Elsa as he’s sympathetic but capable of bungling, and Ra-Man is abrasive towards him. He blames himself for the crisis all through the story, and Ra-Man rubs his guilt in, but it’s not really his fault; what he does wrong is lead Eclipso to the circlet, and I figure Eclipso could’ve found it by some other means if he hadn’t. DC Wikia says Elsa was back next issue. Apparently this was the only Ra-Man instalment without her.
Although Jambo is Hargrave’s servant and an African warrior he’s not depicted as subservient, foolish, or speaking in broken English.(1) In fact, he’s braver and sharper than Hargrave. After the circlet is stolen he tells him off: “But you’ve unleashed more trouble! I warned you--!” Hargrave responds “I know it—I know it!” I liked this relationship. He kills a pterodactyl with a spear in the pterodactyl fight.
There’s no antenna on Bruce’s car this time. The trio seem to search for Eclipso by driving around aimlessly.
Given that the story involves a fight between troops and a swarm of savage pterodactyls and a rampage by a giant, solar fire-breathing robot the cover and splash have unexciting images. The cover shows Eclipso wearing the circlet, and it seems to be shielding him from Ra-Man’s mental attack. This isn’t something it does in the story. The splash shows Eclipso foiling Ra-Man’s attack on him from part 1.
Bruce shouldn't be so surprised at Eclipso's knowing what he's up to with the lights. He has Bruce's knowledge, so he'd be aware of what Bruce had prepared.
Ra-Man’s method of stopping the lions depends on their being circus lions. That means Eclipso imagined them as trained circus lions. He should have made them untamed jungle lions.
Ra-Man calls the governor “a good and dedicated public servant”. He must support his party.
The name “Circlet of Circe” is probably supposed to alliterate. The c’s of “Circe” are often taken as s’s by English speakers - hence the Eternal is “Sersi” - but they’re k’s in Ancient Greek.
(1) He calls lions "simbas" and says “Jambo will stop him” in the pterodactyl fight, but his English is fine in his longer speeches.
House of Secrets #80
“The Giant Eclipso!”
Written by Bob Haney. Art by Jack Sparling.
Eclipso is loose again. (It’s night, and the moon looks very full: perhaps he was set free by a lunar eclipse.) He steals a private plane. Bruce and Prof. Bennet arrive at the airfield just as it’s taking off and chase it in their car, but Eclipso blinds them with black light and the car crashes.
Back at the lab Bruce enacts a plan he calls Operation Big Boy. He has already prepared a giant bio-mold “filled with methane, carbon, and oxygen, the stuff of life!” and arranged the mixture in “certain special bionic patterns” using the data he has on Eclipso. He wires it up and has Prof. Bennet shoot one million volts through it. The trio turn away to shield their eyes as the power crackles through the bio-mold, and as their eyes recover from the flash they see emerging from it - a giant Eclipso! Didn’t I say Bruce was a mad scientist? I was right, wasn’t I?
Bruce names the giant Big Boy and orders him to seek out and defeat Eclipso. They head off in a plane with Big Boy spreadeagled on top. He has a “natural affinity for his real prototype” and is able to direct them to where Eclipso is. He leads them to an island in the South Atlantic.
On the island Eclipso is trying to blast a cliff open with his force bolts, but they’re not strong enough. He sees the trio’s plane land and Big Boy on its roof. He flees, but is not able to outrun Big Boy’s giant strides. So he puts his black diamond in his belt, activating a force field.
Big Boy is not able to penetrate the force field. Bruce orders him to crush it. Big Boy obeys, but the result is an energy feedback. This makes Big Boy Eclipso’s servant instead of Bruce’s. Eclipso declares he knew what Bruce was planning and planned this. Big Boy places him on his shoulder.
The trio now try light grenades, but Big Boy intercepts them. They are helpless to stop Eclipso as he lends Big Boy his diamond and directs him to blast open the cliff. From it emerge three shaggy, ancient, three-eyed giants…
At the emergence of the giants (“Thoom! Thooom! Tramp! Traammp!”) I thought this was going to be one of the most fun episodes. But the story has only four pages to go at that point and the conclusion feels badly rushed.
When Bruce and Prof. Bennet arrive at the airfield Prof. Bennet is driving. Normally it would be Bruce, but it’s this way here so the art can imply Bruce is going to try to grab the plane’s undercarriage. I think he would’ve been killed so he’s lucky Eclipso stopped them. Bruce and Prof. Bennet are thrown out of the car when it crashes and are lucky they weren’t hurt.
The force shield was a surprise to me, as it appeared again when Eclipso fought the JLA in Justice League of America #109, in which story I first saw him. I had no idea it came from the original series. The cover of the present issue shows Big Boy trying to crush his way through it. The trio and one of the planes can be seen in the background.
Bruce seems to be wearing his jacket on the cover. He has this on in the sequence at the airport but takes it off as he begins Operation Big Boy, so in the rest of the story he’s shown in the black, short-sleeved shirt he wears under it. This is a good look for him.
There’s a nice splash this time out, showing the four giants striding into a town Eclipso means to take over while Eclipso sits on Big Boy’s shoulder and gloats. The locals look like stereotype Mexicans.
Eclipso calls the shaggy giants “a lost link of evolution… mutants of incredible power”. They can levitate, so there’s a scene of them flying off while Big Boy sits on the back of one and Eclipso sits on his shoulder in turn.
Conclusion spoiler warning. Bruce breaks Eclipso’s control over the shaggy giants using powdered rock from the cliff-face. He explains this had “brain-affecting properties” which wiped out “their memory of Eclipso’s control so they in turn obeyed me-- the first man to give them new orders!” So the final resolution depends on cod science. They fall off a cliff to their deaths battling Big Boy.
The “ Eclipso” in the title in #78 was in the logo’s style, but the same size as the rest of the lettering. This time around there's no logo and Eclipso’s name is in the same style as the rest of the title.
And this brings me to the Showcase’s end.
I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you breaking down the Eclipso run in House of Secrets. I didn't make any comments because you covered the subject so well, and I enjoyed both your synopses and your commentary. I barely looked at the Eclipso series back then. In fact, I think my first exposure to the character was the Brave and Bold appearance. While I can appreciate the premise as an adult, I didn't gravitate toward villain-based series as a youngster.
If I wanted simply a recitation of each Eclipso story, there are several sites which offier me that; but you provided the benefit of your observations and evaluations, which any good review requires.
Thanks for taking the time to do that, sir.
Thanks for the kind words. I think the right way to approach series like this is to try to appreciate each individual episode, because when the stories were coming out readers read them one episode at a time. I want to like stories and look for reasons to do so. My jokes aren't expressions of derision.
I made a mistake in my review of the first instalment when I wrote that the series should have kept the idea that the triggering eclipse can be anywhere. Due to #64 I thought this was dropped, but not so. I also implied on p.1 that Ra-Man stopped working with Elsa. I wrongly inferred this from #79.
The Sparling Eclipso grew on me. I think he lost the angry look he had early on.
When I called Eclipso's plan in #77 worthy of a diabolical mastermind I meant because of its ambition. It's not anything we readers haven't seen before.
The joke I'm sorry I made is the "Whatever gets you through the day" one, as the plotting of the first half of #71 is quite interesting, and a departure for the series.
Finally, I regret lumping #79 with #76 as conceptually dead back on p.1. In #79 the headband and ring are interesting. It's the robot sequence that lets the story down.