Known Relatives: Peter Merkel, Jr. (son), Alex Merkel (daughter), unnamed son.
Base of Operations: Keystone City, Kansas, later Opal City
Past Occupations: Contortionist, eccentric dancer
Past Group Affiliation: Secret Society of Super-Villains
First Appearance: Flash Comics #36 (December 1942)
Contortionist Peter Merkel was so flexible he was said to be “triple-jointed.” When the carnival he worked for went bankrupt, he decided to try his hand at theft. Disguised as a life-sized rag doll, he hid in a department store stock room until closing, then robbed it overnight.
Having succeeded once, he embarked on a criminal career in Keystone City, where he eventually ran afoul of the original Flash. Despite teaming up with other villains, he was never very successful, and he spent most of his life in jail.
In his old age, the Rag Doll found himself on the streets of Opal City, speaking to anyone who would listen. Those listeners became a cult, and that cult became an army. One summer he ordered his followers to flood the city with violence. The sheer randomness of the crimes made them hard to solve. The police called on Starman, and Starman called in the Justice Society. Starman, the Flash, and Green Lantern finally captured the Rag Doll, who threatened to send his followers after their loved ones. He made a break to escape, there was a burst of energy, and the Rag Doll was dead. In the confusion, none of the three heroes was sure which of them had killed him. (Starman v.2 #11)
Ironically, the Rag Doll’s face became a pop icon in Opal City.
At least, they thought he was dead. His followers stole his body from the morgue the next day, and nursed him back to health. Then the devil Neron came, and he traded his soul to regain his youth. After a massive battle in Opal City, the Rag Doll faded into the background.
Merkel had two sons and a daughter. One of his sons was triple-jointed, like himself, and it has been implied that he took over the identity at some point. This may explain how he appeared to survive the JSA’s attack, or it may have been his son who originally led the cult. The original Rag Doll appears to be alive as of Villains United #6 (2005).
His daughter Alex went on to become the secretive criminal boss “Junior” (Secret Six #5, 2009).
The elder Merkel was “horribly disappointed” in Peter, Jr., who was born normal. To make up for it, the younger Merkel spent twelve years having his joints surgically replaced to make him even more flexible than his father and brother. The surgeries left his skin and muscles brittle, dependent on a particular chemical. A shadowy figure called Mockingbird provided him just enough to get by each day, as long as he joined an organization called the Secret Six (Villains United, 2005).Text by Kelson Vibber. Do not copy without permission.
- Primary Sources
- Art Credits
- Profiles in Print
- Golden-Age Appearances
- Silver-Age Appearances
- Legacy-Era Appearances
- Further Notes
- Prime: Flash #229 (September–October 1974) - Nick Cardy
- Aged: Starman v.2 #11 (September 1995) - Matt Smith
- Second Generation: Villains United #1 (July 2005) - Dale Eaglesham & Wade von Grawbadger
- Who’s Who in the DC Universe #19 (September 1986)
- Flash Comics #36 (December 1942): “Tale of the Treasure Hunt,” Gardner Fox
- Flash #229 (October 1974): “The Rag Doll Runs Wild!” Cary Bates
Nothing definite, but a Ragdoll appeared in the background during “Crossfire.” He has, of course, appeared in Starman. The Rag Doll’s son is a feature character in Villains United (2005) and Secret Six (2006).
Thanks to Brian Windsor for the information about Peter, Jr.’s name and Alex.