Merkins is a one off character who was employed by a small crime boss Mr Quinn who had plans to have his favored mayoral candidate to become the mayor of New York City. Quinn, who also had a super villain persona known as the Conquer Lord, believed would be guaranteed if the then new Moon Knight was eliminated and went to some lengths to obtain information from the Committee, a secret group of morally and ethically corrupt businessmen, about Moon Knight’s secret identity. Or one of the hero’s secret identities, wealthy playboy Steve Grant.
Enter Merkins who was ostensibly Grant’s new valet. Like Cher, Merkins went by one name only and you recognized him by his clothing and physical characteristics attributed to him by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin. In 1976 visual coding was a method to tip off astute readers a character was queer while bypassing the censors of the Comics Code Authority which prohibited any positive depictions until a major rules revision in 1989.
In reality Merkins was sent by Conquer Lord to spy on Grant and he isn’t very good at it since Grant catches Merkins hiding behind a door while Grant changes clothes into his Jake Lockley cabbie persona. A brief fight happens ending with Grant pretending to be knocked out by Merkins who flees the scene in Grant’s stolen Corvette. Staying true to the dumb and desperate criminal trope, Merkins unknowingly leads cabbie Jake Lockley right to Conquer Lord’s headquarters. As disappointed crime bosses are wont to do, Conquer Lord has a henchman shoot and kill Merkins, but not before Merkins is made to grovel. Just a bit of sniveling and begging though, mind you.
Merkin’s ensemble consisting of a pastel green suit combined with a pink shirt, and yellow-orange flowered tie with a white flower boutinere was one big clue. Perlin does an outstanding job of conveying the message with a few lines to describe facial features such as: fully drawn lips that at the time only women were typically drawn to have; exaggerated eye lashes; a haircut that at the time would’ve been considered effeminate; and a long, thin face accented by high cheek bones.
Doug Moench adds to the stereotypes by having Grant call Merkins “Tinkerbell” and pansy (twice) and wrote the following line of dialog for Grant: “You [Frenchie] ought to be able to smell his perfume all the way up on the roof” which doubles as a helipad for Frenchie’s helicopter. It’s all topped off by the character’s name, Merkins. A merkin is a pubic hair wig (or a decorative piece) originally associated with women.
Merkins is one of a small group of negatively stereotyped characters that briefly appeared in comics before the 1989 Comics Code Authority revisions that allowed positive portrayals of LGBTQA characters. Other criminal characters include Felicia the Prison Inmate, Them!, and Hefty Hannah and Toots Malone. Fussy but not criminal characters include Jasper Dewgood, Reginald Richtone, Anton Previn, and Anonymous Theater Manager.
Merkins appeared in Marvel Spotlight #28 and #29 (1976)
Created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin. Art by Perlin from Marvel Spotlight # 28.
Thanks to Ronald Byrd for bringing Merkins to my attention.
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