The merchants are a result of drug dealers and users gaining powers, forming a team, and then using those powers ensure they can get rich selling and taking drugs. As small group with smaller goals, they were never able to carve out much of a following in Brockton Bay. Consequently they did not engender respect amoung other cape groups in the city.
With the visit of the Endbringer following the gang war The Merchants started taking control of more territory and by extension tried to become a larger more powerful group. This also feed into dangerous gladiatorial matches and other traumatizing activities in order to create and recruit parahumans.
As a smalltime gang with small ambitions they did not warrant much PRT attention, at least in comparison to other Villain groups. They were taken more seriously after a certain fish arrived. Then PRT had to start taking them seriously. They tried to stop the group from spreading their influence and interfering with the recovery efforts.
What truly achieved this was the intervention of two teenage villains. Their actions and the raid by Faultline’s Crew damaged their reputation.
Following the attack, the Merchants took over the Docks. People fell in line with them due to the lack of utilities, public services and supplies. Shortly afterwards, the Merchants began attacking city infrastructure, the airport, grocery stores, malls and seized medical supplies and food as they came in.
Skidmark tried to capitalize on the new membership by forcing trigger events and distributing "powers in a can". One of these events was raided by Faultline and her crew as well as other parahumans. This broke the merchants reputation.
The Merchants were later wiped out by the Slaughterhouse Nine after they had arrived in Brockton Bay, and after Shatterbird had sung.
↑ 3.03.1It's worth stating that one of the underling ideas driving the formation of groups and ideological factions in the Wormverse is the notion that some people get a voice where they otherwise wouldn't. Give an immense amount of power to a (relatively) random section of the population and you'll see certain shifts in the overlying sentiments.
All the more so when you think that a parahuman with aspirations might latch on to an idea, concept, or group to get reputation, resources, and contacts. - Comment by Wildbow on Sufficient Velocity
↑ 4.04.1-The Merchants ( Not much known about them. Or even the new recruits from the Cauldron formula )
The Merchants are a group that never took off. They don't have high aspirations, they just use their powers to make a risky business less risky, selling drugs. They're economically depressed types in an economically depressed area, making what money they can off people with very little money to spare. Bit-rate dealers (Skidmark), white trash (Squealer), and people down on their luck, trying to fix their situation in life and failing (Mush).
↑Another group arrived, and it was like you could see a wave of distaste wash over the faces in the room. I had seen references on the web and news articles about these guys, but they weren’t the sort you took pictures of. Skidmark, Moist, Squealer. Two guys and a girl, the lot of them proving that capes weren’t necessarily attractive, successful or immune to the influences of substance abuse. Hardcore addicts and dealers who happened to have superpowers. - Excerpt from Hive 5.1
↑He stepped up to the table and reached for a chair. Before he could move it, though, Kaiser kicked the chair out of reach, sending it toppling onto its side, sliding across the floor.
“The fuck?” Skidmark snarled.
“You can sit in a booth,” Kaiser spoke. Even though his voice was completely calm, like he was talking to a stranger about the weather, it felt threatening.
“This is because I’m black, hunh? That’s what you’re all about, yeah?”
Still calm, Kaiser replied, “You can sit in a booth because you and your team are pathetic, deranged losers that aren’t worth talking to. The people at this table? I don’t like them, but I’ll listen to them. That isn’t the case with you.”
“Fuck you. What about this guy?” Skidmark pointed at Grue, “I don’t even know his name, and he’s sitting.” - Excerpt from Hive 5.1
↑ 7.07.1Weld took the folders and opened the one for the Wards, glanced through it to memorize the faces of his new team. Then he went to the next file, “Then the top priority as far as opposition goes is… the Archer’s Bridge Merchants? Superpowered drug dealers. A Shaker 2, Tinker 2/Mover 3 and a Shifter 4. These aren’t big numbers. Am I missing something?”
“Context. They’ve become a rallying point, representatives and leaders for those on the lowest rungs of society. Too many civilians who were the have-nots think allying with the Merchants is a way to become the haves. People that were angry, disenfranchised or both have gravitated towards the group, are seeking to overturn the social order.”
“So they’ve got, what, a following of homeless?”
“Brockton Bay doesn’t, or didn’t, have many that you could strictly call homeless, as there were so many abandoned buildings to squat in. When the Endbringer attacked, he chose the area with many of these buildings.”
“I think I remember, yeah. The area where the fight started didn’t exactly look upscale.”
“The sad irony of this is that the defending parahumans protected that area, while other locations were leveled by the tidal waves. That area, known to locals as the Docks, was not under the control of any organized crime or villain organization even before the attack. After the battle’s conclusion, it was swiftly occupied by the Merchants and growing numbers of their followers, and is now one of the areas with reliable shelter. Not entirely, but more than many. By the time our local heroes were finished with search, rescue and minimizing damage, their number of followers had reached a critical mass. In the past several days, they’ve begun attacking the city infrastructure, the airport, grocery stores, malls and they’ve repeatedly seized medical supplies and food as they come in.”
“So a big priority will be safeguarding incoming supplies from relief efforts, protecting key areas of the city so it can recuperate from the disaster.”
↑ 8.08.1When Grue stopped the van to let us out, I realized why we were walking. Our stop was a bridge with bus stations on either side. Problem was, it seemed the ABB had decided to cut off this route – the bridge had been reduced to rubble. Large orange and black detour signs with blinking lights barred entry to the shattered bridge, and similar measures had been used to cordon off the piles of rubble below.
Tattletale leaned out the open window and pointed, “See that tower, there? Looks like a lighthouse? It’s an old tourist shop that closed down a decade ago. It’s where the Merchants – Skidmark and his crew of dealers – hung out, before the ABB expanded and forced them out. You’re supposed to meet the others there.”
I looked and saw the building she was pointing at. It didn’t look much like a lighthouse, but whatever. “Gotcha.” - Excerpt from Hive 5.5