A villain whose power is being extremely flexible. What’s not to love about a gimmick that simple? Where does a character like that come from? How do you even become a threat to people who can lift cars and fly across the universe in mere hours? Let’s find out, shall we?
The first Rag Doll was Peter Merkel, a “triple-jointed” contortionist that worked for a circus until times got tough and he was fired. Like anyone with a special talent and in need of money, Merkel got the bright idea to dress up as a rag doll in a toy shipment to sneak in and rob the store (Did I say anyone? I meant to say, only Merkel.). This may sound like something from World’s Dumbest Criminals, but it ended up working for him and he gained notoriety within the criminal community.
Soon Rag Doll was running afoul of superheroes like the golden-age Flash, Jay Gerrick, and golden-age Starman, Ted Knight. He’d continue fighting superheroes into the 1980s (unlike many comic book characters, Rag Doll was aging with the times), and became a founding member of the returning Secret Society of Super Villains.
By the late 80s Rag Doll was an old man, experiencing senility and weakened joints, so most super teams had left him behind. He soon found himself the leader of a cult of the disenfranchised who did his bidding. Gaining an immense following, he became a threat to the golden-age Green Lantern, Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hourman, and Starman. With Opal City in chaos, it was believed that Starman may have killed Rag Doll to stop him from hurting the heroes’ families.
When the new Starman, Jack Knight, was in charge of the mantle, Rag Doll had returned. Having sold his soul to the demon Neron, he was able to get back his youth. Becoming a pawn in Neron’s plans, Rag Doll would nearly be defeated Starman, but he realized it was crueler to leave him to live. When freed to do as he pleased, he joined the Injustice Society before returning to the Secret Society. He then would go on to fight his son, a member of the Secret Six. While on a mission with the Secret Society, he was killed by his own team, who had realized he was going to turn against them anyway.
The Rag Doll legacy did not end there, as is seen with Merkel fighting his son, Peter Merkel Jr., shortly before his death. Peter would be born with no such triple-jointed ability like that of his father or older brother. To make his father happy, he would undergo surgery to have his joints replaced with cybernetics to make him as flexible (also removing his genitals to grant even more flexibility, which he was okay with since he found them to be a nuisance; the Rag Dolls are weird). This surgery would require Rag Doll to need constant moisturizing cream to keep his skin from bursting due to the brittleness of the transformation.
Rag Doll would go on to join the Secret Six, a team of super villains with some anti-hero tendencies. Rag Doll had a Parademon companion (one of Darkseid’s foot-soldier creatures), who was very much like a dog to him. The pet was often ferocious at anyone who bothered Rag Doll, even in the slightest, and often against Rag Doll’s wishes. Sadly, the Parademon was killed on a mission when it sacrificed itself to let the Secret Six escape. Rag Doll would have what remained of him stuffed and mounted in his room at the House of Secrets, the Secret Six’s lair.
While fighting a mob boss that was in charge of the West Coast of the United States’ crime, Rag Doll learned that said boss, Junior, was his own sister Alex. Having been possibly abused by their father, she mutilated herself and became a criminal as well. Rag Doll the first was far more monstrous than Rag Doll the second.
Bane eventually took over as leader of the Secret Six, and brought Black Alice in as the new sixth member. After Rag Doll saved her on her first mission, she began to develop a crush on him, not knowing of Rag Doll’s lack of “ability.” This weirds Rag Doll out when he learns of her feelings for him and that she considers him her boyfriend. Black Alice manages to weird out Rag Doll, which is no small feat. After battling her teammate Scandal Savage, Alice admits to knowing that Rag Doll does not return these feelings, but it lets her distract herself from possibly giving her father cancer. Rag Doll actually showed concern for her by standing up for her when Deadshot made fun of them.
When an artifact that lets one take someone out of hell, an item the team had believed lost, was shown to still be in Scandal Savage’s possession so she could save her true love, Knockout, Rag Doll stole this item so he might bring back Parademon. While in hell, Rag Doll learned that he may be prophesied to rule hell since he was born without a soul (suddenly a lot of Rag Doll is making sense). It is revealed that part of his reason for going to hell was to try and escape what might be any sort of feelings for Black Alice, as that would be too sane and terrifying. Realizing that his team would rather fight than rule in hell, he gave Scandal the card to free Knockout, realizing it was the right thing to do. He also did this since Parademon was having the best time in hell as it’s so much like Apokolips.
When trying to retake Gotham by eliminating several of Batman’s closest allies, the Secret Six was betrayed by the Penguin, who had been aiding them in their mission. The team was promptly taken down, and with the DC reboot, we have not seen nor heard much about Rag Doll.
Flash Comics #36
Starman Vol. 2 by James Robinson and Tony Harris
Villains United by Gail Simone and Dale Eaglesham
Secret Six by Gail Simone and Dale Eaglesham