Hot damn, here’s another new favorite thanks to an impulse buy at Gem City a couple weeks ago:
Strange Tales #169 (Brother Voodoo)
Let’s ponder the cover for a little while before moving to the interior pages. That’s obviously a John Romita drawing, yet done in a strange Kirbyesque fashion. Could this have been derived from an unused Kirby layout? Was Marvel trying to “Kirby up” the look of some of their covers since the King had defected to DC? Was Jazzy Johnny just feeling frisky that day? I have no idea. This just struck me as a strange piece coming from Romita.
Another detail to ponder: Strange Tales #168 was published five years prior to this issue, just before that anthology series’ features graduated to their own titles (Doctor Strange, Nick Fury). When fishing for a new title to showcase new characters in, Roy Thomas reached back to revive that title with issue #169. Imagine that kind of thinking today– not only a series devoted to generating new concepts, in a market that hasn’t seen a lasting new ongoing character since John Constantine stepped off the Gordon Sumner back in my high school days, but also that the issue number was completely an afterthought.
Brother Voodoo is the Haitian Doctor Strange, a witch doctor superhero whose loosely defined and mysterious powers are apparently the result of Thomas and writer Len Wein having just seen Live and Let Die
in the theatre earlier that year. Most of the Marvel “Phase 2” characters seem to have been created by committee, the result of Thomas sitting down with a writer over lunch to discuss the “kind of character” he had in mind before the writer fleshed out the concept. As with Wolverine and the Punisher, John Romita probably designed the look of the character before passing it on to the series’ artist, Gene Colan.
Now on to our story! A doctor from the U.N. is waylaid by thugs as he arrives in Haiti, only to be rescued by the spooky protagonist. The scene demonstrates the character’s premise as he dispatches the terrified criminals; he walks through fire, and summons the spirit of his dead twin brother to possess one of his enemies. After this introduction, we’re taken by flashback to witness the character’s origin…
…as big city physician Jericho Drumm returns to his homeland of Haiti after two decades away to rush to his brother’s deathbed. Daniel Drumm was the first Houngan known as Brother Voodoo, until a hex laid on him by an enemy put him at death’s door. The man of science is skeptical at first, until the villain– a mystic called Damballah– shows up to finish the job and Drumm witnesses the magic firsthand.
Tasked by his brother’s dying words to search for a voodoo Yoda called Papa Jambo, Jericho carries his twin’s body with him into the jungle. After nearly dying on the journey, he awakes in Papa Jambo’s hut where he is told he will be trained as the next Brother Voodoo.
This comic truly rocks.
One last note: remember my point a while ago about the loss of captions and expository text, along with the trend toward “naturalistic” dialogue, dumbing down the vocabulary of new comics? Chew on the panel below which leaped out at me as I read the book and consider how you think the reading level of most material on the stands today would compare.