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“Cringe, Legionnaires! Tremble! Flee! Hide!” taunted Mordru the Merciless, the “almost omnipotent” sorcerer who subjugated the planet Zerox, in Adventure Comics #369–#370 (1968). And the Legion of Super-Heroes, the teen titans of the thirtieth century, did just that, with engrossed readers fretfully wiping their brows. To escape Mordru's onslaught, scampering Legionnaires— including the mega-mighty Superboy and Mon- El—time-travel to twentieth-century Smallville, the Boy of Steel's home, seeking refuge in civilian disguises and even self-inducing amnesia. Mordru seizes Smallville with his armies from the future, ferreting out then crushing the Legion and placing them on trial before a jury of thirtieth-century incorrigibles. Conjuring in his hands an energy fireball teeming with “the power to annihilate galaxies,” the pitiless mage poises to execute the helpless heroes when the sphere's pulsating force causes the earth around him to cave in, exposing Mordru's sole weakness: airless entombment. In this era of mostly anemic or buffoonish comic-book supervillains, writer Jim Shooter and artist Curt Swan's Mordru the Merciless cranked up the ten-point evil scale to eleven. Mordru cast a nightmarish figure with his petrifying scowl, claw-like nails, untamed white beard and mane, and eerie wizard's headdress. He grew to leviathan size, probed minds, became intangible, hurled energy bolts, created creeping shadows, cast illusions, manipulated gravity, and incinerated enemies—all in a mere two-part story. And thus this necromancer, also hailed as “the Dark Lord” in Shooter's first script, (arguably) became the superteam's most baneful enemy, with each subsequent wrathful appearance leaving fans wondering if the bountiful Legion would be diminished a hero or two. Yet Mordru was played for laughs in his television debut on the NBC live-action special Legends of the Super- Heroes (1979), a spoof starring Adam West as Batman, with actor Gabe Dell as the blustery warlock. That frivolous portrayal was long forgotten by the time Mordru again strayed outside of comics as an action figure in 2002 and a television cartoon villain in 2004 in the Justice League Unlimited episode “The Greatest Story Never Told.” Mordru the comic-book character's role has expanded beyond his throne at the apex of the Legion's rogues' gallery. JSA Secret Files #1 (1999) revealed that the sorcerer now officially called the Dark Lord was timeless—according to legend, he has always existed. In the late twentieth century he slaughtered agents of Order and Chaos in a crusade to obtain the occult powers of Dr. Fate, drawing him into conflict with the Justice Society of America. The Dark Lord allied with his fellow “princes of darkness” Eclipso and Obsidian in a 2003 attempt to thrust the world into eternal night, and struggled with Power Girl in JSA Classified #2 (2005). For the denizens of the contemporary and future DC Universes, the merciless Mordru poses a gloomy millennia-spanning threat.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.