A Tribute to the of
Welcome again, faithful readers. I'm taking off on a slightly different tangent for this latest review. For the first time we'll scope out a copy of DC's House of Secrets title. Typically the House of Secrets and its sister publication the House of Mystery were more closely aligned with horror and supernatural offerings, (as evidenced by the cover of this edition's subject: House of Secrets star Mark Merlin is menaced by "Doctor-7, Master of the Supernatural!" by writer Jack Miller and artist Mort Meskin) though House of Mystery also gave us one of my favorite Silver Age characters, Robbie Reed in the "Dial H for Hero" series and of course was the hangout for several years for the Martian Manhunter. The issue at hand, though, introduced a new character that was to make the leap over to the super hero side of the house. This new character came along in the July/August 1963 issue, #61 to be precise and was brought to us through the combined efforts of editor Murray Boltinoff and writer Bob Haney. Throw in the artistic talents of Lee Elias and the world was about to meet "Eclipso, The Genius who Fought Himself!"
Eclipso is hailed in the story as "…both hero and villain," though for my money Eclipso, the persona, is pure villain. See if you agree as we investigate his debut:
The story opens with great promise, as the brainchild of two scientists, Professor Simon Bennett and Dr. Bruce Gordon, in the form of a solar powered city is about to be unveiled. Bruce is, of course, a brilliant young scientist with a bright future ahead of him. He is engaged to Mona, Professor Bennett's daughter and he seems to fit the mold of Ray Palmer, Barry Allen and others as he eagerly looks forward to professional and personal triumphs when fate steps in to turn the tables.
Bruce is making some last minute adjustments to Solar City before the public watches the demonstration and he also pauses for a moment to tinker with a black diamond in his laboratory when we're shown a total eclipse of the sun thousands of miles away over the South Pacific. For reasons as yet unknown, Gordon begins a subtle transformation. A blue sphere-like shadow begins to eclipse his face until it covers about ¾ of it and then the figure of Bruce Gordon is taken over by Eclipso.
Rushing to a nearby locker, Eclipso pulls a ready-made costume out and dons it, completing the change in personalities. He also scoops up the black diamond and soon makes his presence known at the Solar City exhibit. Placing the black gem to his eye, he causes a beam of black light (is that an oxymoron?) to enshroud the dignitaries and then throws a lever during the confusion, causing the giant reflectors that will help power solar city toward the sun, setting the city in motion. Eclipso then jumps into the futuristic suspended monorail train and again beams his dark gem toward the plasti-dome over the city. The temperature extremes by having some of the dome bathed in solar energy and some in the pitch-blackness created by Eclipso causes the dome to begin to crack. The villain continues to wreak havoc by playing the giant reflectors over the city, essentially melting it with the beams of thermal energy. Gratified at his success, Eclipso thinks that he will now leave a trap for Dr. Bruce Gordon. As he works his way through some of the wreckage, a stray beam from a reflector strikes him, staggering him momentarily. This is observed by Professor Bennett, who has been watching the unfolding scene with horror while wondering about the whereabouts of Dr. Gordon.
Eclipso darts into the underground laboratory and sheds his costume, hiding it in an atomic pile, completely immune to its deadly radiations. The figure of Bruce Gordon works its way to another room and his thoughts are revealed yet again: "No one will find me here…and in a few moments…Eclipso will vanish…until it comes time for him to reappear!" In the next moment, however, Dr. Bennett enters the room and watches as Bruce gradually returns to his normal countenance and the influence of Eclipso leaves his body.
Bruce has no memory of what has just transpired, so Simon fills him in. He quickly looks around for the last thing he recalls, the black diamond, but it is nowhere to be seen. Dr. Bennett further explains that Bruce had the diamond and the costume, but has possibly hidden them while under the influence of Eclipso. Bruce tells his fellow scientist that he brought both objects back with him from Diablo Island. Bruce is also aware that there was a solar eclipse in the South Pacific, so he refers to his notes from his journey there. Bruce recalls that he was on Diablo Island to photograph a solar eclipse. He tried to enlist the aid of the natives in moving his equipment to the top of a nearby plateau, but they refuse as their seer, Mophir, has warned them that if the image of the sun god is captured, he will destroy them. Gordon convinces them that there is no danger by showing photos he's taken of an eclipse. They assist him with his gear and the young scientist is about to take his photograph when a strange figure appears bearing a dagger and a black diamond. It is Mophir, who has come to attack the interloper. Lunging toward Dr. Gordon as the eclipse takes place, he falls past Bruce's quick sidestep and plunges over the edge of the precipice to his doom. As he lunged past Gordon, however, the black diamond cut into Bruce's arm. Bruce further relates to Simon that the grateful natives presented him with Mophir's costume and diamond in gratitude for their freedom from his tyranny. Gordon then speculates that emanations from that eclipse may have affected his cellular structure and perhaps the eclipse triggered it again today. Dr. Bennett mentions that only during an eclipse do solar corona rays bombard the Earth unimpeded. Bruce also wonders about the cut from the diamond, but of course Eclipso has hid it. The two decide to search.
As they emerge from the underground laboratory, Bruce sees the destruction caused by Eclipso and is devastated. He then finds a note from Eclipso challenging him to a fight between light and darkness. This makes the young scientist feel even worse, but his mentor urges him to shake it off and fight Eclipso. Abruptly Bruce darts from the room and climbs a nearby tower where he disables a booby-trap left by his other self. In the next moment his fiancée, Mona, arrives and a sad Dr. Gordon tells her that their marriage will need to be postponed. He uses the excuse that he needs to spend his time rebuilding Solar City, but the heartbroken Mona retorts through tears that science and romance don't mix. The crestfallen Bruce tells Simon that he can't tell her about the danger of Eclipso and Dr. Bennett responds that they must begin work at once to prevent the return of the villain.
As the two scientists continue their research, they discover that another eclipse is due in three weeks. They begin to make preparations in case the event should trigger another appearance of Eclipso. Fortunately, being scientists, they have access to things that the rest of us don't, such as a wind tunnel, which is completely light tight. They also have the luxury of a pair of high-tech walkie-talkies. They look a little like the old military field radios we've all seen in the World War II movies. You know. Big, clunky jobs that weigh as much as a Geo Metro. Hey, it was 1963. Nobody had heard of Nokia yet.
So, the day arrives and Gordon is escorted into the wind tunnel, which is illuminated only by a small red bulb of the sort you'd see in a photo lab. Outside the vault-like door, Dr. Bennett monitors Bruce's condition via the walkie-talkie while the eclipse takes place. All seems to be well until Dr. Bennett opens the door after the end of the eclipse. Eclipso lunges out and locks the professor in the wind tunnel while he goes to retrieve his costume. Eclipso realizes that since Simon Bennett knows his secret, he must be eliminated, so he activates the wind tunnel and Dr. Bennett is drawn toward the menacing blades. Fortunately, an explosion occurs, disabling the controls to the wind tunnel and opening the vault door, allowing the shaken but whole scientist to emerge unscathed while the villain flees. Bennett pursues Eclipso, but only catches up after he has managed to again hide his costume and the black diamond and has reverted again to Dr. Bruce Gordon.
As Gordon regains consciousness, Simon again fills in the gaps. When he mentions the fortuitous explosion that foiled the villain's plan, Bruce explains that he was responsible for rigging the board to emit a high photon light burst, which triggered Eclipso's change back to Bruce Gordon. Additionally a small time bomb also set by Bruce sprang the hatch, freeing his future father-in-law.
The dialogue in the final panel sets the stage for the future: "Brilliant! Eclipso outsmarted me—but not you, Bruce! You're more than a match for him!" "Perhaps professor—but this was only round one! He'll be back at the next eclipse…and who will win then?"
The story of Eclipso is a fairly obvious take off from the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" or perhaps even the legend of the werewolf. In later stories, when Eclipso was able to actually separate himself from Bruce Gordon you had a pretty near parallel to Detective Jim Corrigan and the Spectre, though of course the Spectre is a good guy.
According to some reference material by Carl Gafford, Eclipso continued for a few more years until issue #80, October 1966 when he "faded into comic book oblivion." Apparently the whole premise wore thin. You can see why there weren't a series of sequels to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Just how much can you do with an evil persona occasionally taking over a good man's body? So, Eclipso initially lasted only about 3 years. I know that he, or at least his influence in the form of his black gem, showed up at least once in the modern age as I read about him in Green Lantern Annual #1 from 1992. Aside from giving his alter ego, Bruce Gordon fits, I'm not sure if he was the designated villain for anyone in the DC Universe. Frankly, this is the first time I'd read much about him, though I was aware of him from a "team-up" with Batman in Brave and the Bold #64, which will be the subject of a future review. Eclipso was sort of a so-so concept in my opinion. Perhaps his short life is a tribute to that fact as well. I'll give this one a 6 on my 10-point scale. He just didn't impress me in particular.
More exploring waits in the future, so don't forget to return in the requisite two weeks for another peek into this beloved era. I'm also available to you at the following e-mail address, so drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long live the Silver Age!
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