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Peter Merkel, a native of the Midwestern United States, was born with a unique condition: "Triple-jointedness". Like the more common "double-jointedness', Merkel's condition was characterized by extremely extensible ligaments and tendons, though to a significantly extended degree. The son of a side-show barker, Merkel found work in a small local carnival as a contortionist and eccentric dancer. In the early 1940s, the carnival fell on hard times and Merkel found himself out of work. Wandering the streets, Merkel despaired of having money. Seeing large boxes of toys being loaded into a department store, Merkel hit on the idea of hiding himself in one of the large rag dolls and then robbing the store after closing. Going unnoticed among the toys, Merkel carried his idea one step further: He would rob while still hidden in the Rag Doll suit. In these earliest days of costumed villains, the idea seemed novel and Merkel decided that no one would believe that a Rag Doll could commit crime.
In time, the legend of the Rag Doll grew far and wide. Petty crooks began to seek out the Rag Doll, to take advantage of his criminal success. In 1943, The Rag Doll moved his operation to Keystone City. There he had his thugs deliver him as a gift to a young heiress named Geralda Cummins. The young girl was holding a much-touted party for her circle of socialites and the Rag Doll aimed to take advantage of the situation. To coordinate the event, Cummins had selected Joan Williams who had recently begun a party and festival business. It was decided that each of the wealthy guests would donate $10,000 in defense bonds to serve as a prize in a treasure hunt. Whoever solved the hunt first, won the prize. Unknown to Joan, the doll Geralda had received as a gift was listening and planning a much different outcome.
The next evening, the guests gathered to hear the reading of the first clue. As the guests departed, the Rag Doll signaled his thugs to follow them to the museum while he stayed to interrogate Joan Williams. His ploy was delayed however, by the untimely arrival of Williams' beau, The Flash. While the Rag Doll remained in hiding, Williams and the Flash departed for the museum to provide the next clue. On their arrival, they were waylaid by the Rag Doll's thugs. While the Flash made short work of the henchmen, the Rag Doll himself drugged Joan with chloroform and stole the remaining clue. With these, he could find the treasure himself.
With the henchmen wrapped up, The Flash returned to find Joan amnesiac from the chloroform and with no recollection as to the location of the bonds. Taking the first clue, the Flash then began to solve the puzzle at super-speed and intercepted the Rag Doll on the 4th clue, at a local aquarium. The Rag Doll got the jump on Garrick with a swift blow to the skull and dumped the hero into an aquarium containing a giant octopus. He then raced quickly back to the Cummins estate to solve the treasure hunt with the 5th clue. Meanwhile, the Flash came to and after a tussle with the octopus, hotly pursued the criminal. He arrived just in time to see the Rag Doll pull the defense bonds out of their hiding place in the Cummins' grand piano. Quickly, and literally, tying the villain in knots, the Flash returned the gift and carted the outlandish criminal off to the Keystone City Jail (Flash Comics #36).
Flash is reported to have had several other encounters with the Rag Doll over the years but none have been recorded. In the mid 1970s, the Rag Doll became a pawn in a rather bizarre series of robberies. After an encounter with the Thinker, the Rag Doll became brainwashed to commit crimes based on dolls. When the Flash intercepted the criminal, mundane "accidents" befell the elder speedster, undermining his self confidence. The Thinker's plan was to destroy the Flash's self esteem to the point that the hero would be too ineffectual to stop his grander plans. The Thinker was undone however, by a surprise visit from the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, who quickly captured the former carnival worker. Allen also noticed a bizarre aura around the heads of Garrick and Merkel, suggesting that each was being manipulated in some way. At Merkel's interrogation, the Rag Doll swore that he had no recollection of any crimes, convincing Allen that there was a greater force at work. Quickly switching Merkel for a real rag doll, he convinced Garrick and the Keystone police that a bizarre transmogrification had occurred and that Merkel was somehow dead. He then departed, only to return and hide in the evidence room when the Thinker himself paid a visit to confirm the demise of his agent. Caught red-handed, the Thinker was quickly apprehended by the two Flashes and both the Thinker and the Rag Doll were returned to prison (The Flash #229).
In the early 1980s, the Rag Doll was contacted by the Ultra-Humanite, a long-standing foe of the Justice Society of America. Along with other elder villains as well as new younger recruits, the Rag Doll became a founding member of the second generation of the Secret Society of Super Villains. The Ultra-Humanite had devised a machine that, for the sacrifice of ten heroes from the Justice Society and Justice League to be held in stasis, (five from each team), all the heroes on Earth would disappear. Each villain then was assigned a target and the Rag Doll took the Flash. After delivering a false tip to the Flash, the Rag Doll ambushed the hero on a freight ship in Keystone Harbor. After luring him into the hold, the Flash learned too late that all he would find there was a bomb, the explosion of which dropped the unconscious hero at the feet of his bizarre adversary.
As the other members of the Secret Society completed their task, the heroes were dispatched to Limbo, clearing Earth of costumed heroes. Unfortunately, the Ultra-Humanite had deceived the Justice League into helping and while the Rag Doll and his colleague waged a massive crime wave, the villains rescued the captured heroes in Limbo. In short order, the Secret Society of Super-Villains were consigned to Limbo and the balance of heroes on Earth was restored (Justice League of America #195-197).
Limbo would not prove a prison for the Rag Doll for long. While trapped there, the Ultra-Humanite made contact with himself in the past, when he occupied the body of Dolores Winters in 1942. Through the contact of advanced information, the Ultra-Humanite taught himself a way to open a portal to Limbo in the 1940s. On doing so, the Rag Doll and other members of the Secret Society escaped to assist the young Humanite defeat the All-Star Squadron. After a romp across the landscape of their youth, the aging villains proved no match for the large numbers of heroes and were beaten back to Limbo (All-Star Squadron #24-26, Annual #1).
By the late 1980s, the Rag Doll was well into his sixties. His hyper-elastic ligaments had begun to collapse and over-extend, causing the villain great pain. He was no longer able to even affect the lifestyle of the minor criminal. He soon became senile, and began ranting. As he did, he saw the lost, the homeless and the disenfranchised gravitated toward him, soaking up his words and in time, became a cult of followers blind to his every indulgence and desire. And after a life of defeat and despair, what the Rag Doll desired was revenge.
He rallied around him a cult that took over the streets of Opal City. That summer, Opal burned and the streets ran red with blood. Ted "Starman" Knight was unable to stop the madman, so Justice Society of America members Green Lantern, Flash, Hourman, and Dr. Mid-Nite joined the hunt. Eventually, the heroes thwarted Rag Doll's plans and captured the villain. Restrained, Rag Doll taunted the heroes, telling him that he would command his horde from prison. He threatened the lives of Jay, Alan, and Ted's families. While the JSA listened to the Rag Doll's discourse, the villain strained his limbs to slip free of his bonds and as the heroes seemed lulled, made a quick break for the door. The aftermath was never officially recorded but in an explosion of cosmic energy, the Rag Doll was found blasted to a painful death. It has since been largely concluded that Starman, fearing for the safety of his sons, had slain the villain, a fact disputed by witnesses Flash and Green Lantern The next afternoon, Rag Doll's body disappeared from the morgue (Starman #9, 11 and Starman 80-Page Giant #1).
Exactly how the Rag Doll survived is unknown. His body was retrieved by his followers however. Some years later, Rag Doll was approached by Neron. In exchange for Rag Doll's soul, Neron gave the villain youth. He also instructed Rag Doll to remain hidden until approached by a man named Simon Culp. Years later, Culp did come looking for Rag Doll's help. Trapped in the form of The Shade, Culp explained that he had a very profitable plan to launch against Opal City and the Shade. Rag Doll agreed to help (Starman #68).
Rag Doll helped Culp's gang subdue Mikaal Tomas when the alien attempted to make contact with Ted Knight (Starman #64). Rag Doll watched as Culp cast a spell on the Black Pirate, causing Opal City to become encased in a shadow-dome (Starman #63). Rag Doll and his gang then helped Culp seize control of the entire city. The villains then paraded their prisoners, baiting Jack Knight into a confrontation. Jack held his own until, cut off from the stars, his cosmic rod failed. As Rag Doll and the villains beat Jack down, the Shade fell to the ground as Culp emerged from within his shadow form (Starman #65).
Just as Culp was about to slit Knight's throat, Adam Strange and Black Condor attacked. Their distraction enabled Knight to fight his way free. The three heroes freed Culp's prisoners, and escaped. Culp and his gang remained in custody of the Shade however, and withdrew to prepare for the final rite (Starman #67). While Culp prepared, he sent Mist, Solomon Grundy, Rag Doll, and Crusher to search for the escaped heroes (Starman #69).
Ted confronted Doctor Phosphorus in the streets of Opal and, no longer needing to be cautious of his health, fought the villain toe-to-toe. Ted defeated his radioactive foe, and as he was about to deliver a killing blow, he was ambushed by the Rag Doll (Starman #70).
Phosphorus quickly recovered and the two villains closed in on Knight. They revealed that they had been approached by a man named Neron years ago, who had bid them to wait for the coming of Culp and to aid the dwarf in his plans. As they moved in for the kill, Ted used his cosmic rod to tear the pavement from beneath Dr. Phosphorus and drive him into the earth, killing the villain. With that, the rod's charge was exhausted. Ted turned to face Rag Doll, challenging the villain to kill him, sparing him a suffering death from Phosphorus' radiation poisoning. Rag Doll then turned and left (Starman #71).
Rag Doll was then recruited to join a new version of the Injustice Society. He helped rescue the Icicle from incarceration, leading to a showdown with the JSA. In the ensuing battle, the Injustice Society used strange discs to teleport the elder JSAers away. Their mission accomplished, the Injustice Society disappeared (JSA All-Stars #1).
He then briefly rejoined a reformed version of the Secret Society. During an assault against the Secret Six, he battled his son (who had taken over the Rag Doll name and identity). Their battle was cut short by other attacking villains. (Villains United #5, 6)
Soon afterward, Merkel died while in mission with the reformed Injustice Society (JSA Classified #5-7). The team was attempting to retrieve the Cosmic Key (which would return Johnny Sorrow), but they were betrayed by The Society.
In the midst of the battle, it seemed that Ragdoll and the Gentleman Ghost betrayed their comrades, running away with the Key. However, Tigress witnessed the return of Johnny Sorrow, a happening which kills Ragdoll, though the ghost was prepared for it as he hands Sorrow his all-important mask. Sorrow then takes the rest of the Injustice Society to safety in the Crooked House, the former abode of Prometheus, and the Society must lick its wounds and curse the loss of the Key. It is revealed that Gentleman Ghost, Wizard and Icicle were expecting Ragdoll to turn on them, so they set him up to die.
Rag Doll began his career as a solo thief. He immediately caught the eye of Catwoman who saw her competition as a threat. Rag Doll and Catwoman instantly had a rivalry, and the Batman's interferance was not helpful either.
When trying to steal lost emeralds the Gotham Clock Tower, he got caught in one of the gears and lost the emeralds to Batman. He was then taken to jail for the first time.
Sometime later, Rag Doll escaped from jail and agreed to join a new supervillian gang called Team Penguin.
The gang got along well until they realized they were only stealing penguin themed items. Rag Doll attempted to quit, but Penguin threatened them with the newly transformed Killer Moth. Rag Doll, with the rest of Team Penguin, was defeated by Batman, Robin, and Batgirl. Rag Doll was taken to jail again.
Ragdoll is also seen amongst other villains in the episode "Rumors".
It is unknown whether this Ragdoll was based on the original Ragdoll (Peter Merkel) or his son, the second Ragdoll (Peter Merkel Jr.).