Saturday, October 24, 2009

Strange Tales #116:
"Return to the Nightmare World"

Nightmare returns to menace Doctor Strange once more in Strange Tales #116. Doc was still being described as the 'Master of Black Magic' in these stories and this was the second story after his 'panel time' increased from five pages to eight in the book.

One quick note before we begin. I've mentioned before that I am not that big of a fan of Joe Quesada's Marvel. Over the last several years I've watched characters I've loved since the mid-70's get written completely out of character just to fit a writer or editor's whim. And I dislike the new "Screw you, fans!" attitude Quesada's Marvel has towards anyone who dares to criticize this direction or who doesn't somehow get the genius behind any of it. But that dates back to Quesada's early days under former publisher Bill Jemas. I post a lot at Brad Douglas's Spider-Man Crawl Space message boards (I am even an honorary moderator there) and I have often pointed out how Marvel went from the welcome, embracing sense of family that Stan Lee created (the Marry Marvel Marching Society and Stan's Soapbox days) to the "Just shut the @#*% up and give me your money!" days of Quesada's Marvel.

Why do I bring this up? Because reading Doc's Strange Tales #116 story reminds us of what's been lost between Marvel and its readers. Look at this blurb from Stan in this story to Marvel's fans:

Note the part about how the readers are the real editors of Marvel's mags. This is an acknowledgment from the company to the readers that their opinion counts. You won't find this attitude from Quesada's Marvel today. It's been replaced by an "up yours if you don't like it because this is how WE want it - just keep buying it" mindset. Under Quesada's Marvel both the fans and the characters head to the back of the bus to make room for the more important writers & editors.

That being said - on with the review.

Here we find Nightmare hatching an insidious plot to trap people in their sleep within his corner of the Dream Dimension so he can learn how to defeat humanity. Back on Earth (or Midgard for my Asgardian readers) this leads to a rash of victims falling into a coma-like sleep, prompting the authorities to contact Doctor Strange as a "last resort."

I really like the authorities, both from law enforcement and the medical world, coming to consult with Doctor Strange. I sometimes mention here how I enjoy the Sherlock Holmes aspect the character develops and having authorities consult him on a case is very reminiscent of Inspector Gregson or Inspector Lestrade heading to 221B Baker Street to ask for the Master Detective's discreet help with something. It should also be noted here that the doctor who asks for Strange's help mentions that Strange is world famous and that "leading scientists" respect his reputation.

Doc's Lesser Eye of Agamotto quickly reveals that magic is afoot and he consults the Book of the Vishanti 'on panel' for the first time. He finds an incantation that will lead him through the planes (later referred to as the Everdimensions in the Marvel Universe) to the source of this new menace. This is interesting in that it's showing the difference between what the Lesser Eye can do and what this incantation from the Book allows; whereas the Lesser Eye could be used to track down a source of evil on Earth or in Doc's vicinity, referring to the Book of the Vishanti allows him to track this power through different dimensions. In fact, once Doc arrives in Nightmare's realm the Lesser Eye shows him the true path towards the evil, allowing Doc to avoid Nightmare's traps.

When Doc manages to locate the sleeping souls that Nightmare has trapped Nightmare attacks Strange with a monster he calls a Spinybeast, which quickly corners Doc on a cliff overlooking an even more hideous and tentacled threat right out of the pages of an H.P. Lovecraft story.

Displaying the quick thinking that made him 'Master of Black Magic,' Doc uses the Lesser Eye on Nightmare, causing the villain to inadvertently destroy his own Spinybeast. Nightmare rides out cursing Doc while the sorcerer and the victims escape out of Nightmare's realm.

Overall? Not a bad story but it feels like one that was created before the last two, possibly in the two months that Doc didn't appear in Strange Tales (#112 & #113). What really makes me think that is that Steve Ditko's art reflects the earlier Asian looking Strange. Some elements of the story don't hold up. While reading from the Book of the Vishanti Strange considers how dangerous the incantations are if they're misread or misspoken, even in the slightest - then reads something that sounds a lot like everything he's called on so far in the story (Dormammu, Hoggoth, etc) so any sort of danger or tension deflates. While a good story this one feels a bit pedestrian compared to the earlier Mordo battles and the origin story that took place in the preceding issue.

The Doctor Strange 2007 animated movie may have borrowed an element from this story. Whereas this tale had adults trapped in a coma-like sleep by Nightmare the cartoon had kids trapped in a similar state but by Dormammu and Mordo.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Strange Tales #115:
"The Origin of Dr. Strange"

Though he'd just been in a few appearances in Strange Tales Marvel realized in the winter of 1963 that they had an up & coming star on their hands. And thus it was time to get around to telling the story that Strange Tales #115 - "in answer to an avalanche of requests," says the head of the story. Doc's page count per issue increased as well, going from the five-page stories of his first four appearances to an eight-page format in Strange Tales.

Doc's origin story added some much needed background and depth to his character. And for the first time readers got to see a desperate man so unlike the master mystic they'd come to enjoy.

The story opens with Strange finding the Ancient One's castle and demanding that the elderly mage cure his injuries with his healing powers. The Ancient One then uses his powers to discover what events lead Stephen Strange to his castle. He sees Doctor Stephen Strange as he was in the recent past: a haughty, aloof, self-centered surgeon who put money above the good he could do for his fellow man. All of that was changed after a car accident left him with injured hands - hands that would never again be allowed to wield a surgeon's scalpel. Strange sinks down into the dregs of depression, even to the point of swearing he would never work for anyone other than himself, before finally seeking the Ancient One out in desperation to heal his injuries.

The Ancient One offers instead to let Strange become his pupil and to perhaps discover the answers to his problems within himself. At first Strange refuses, but then later he finds the Ancient One's student - Mordo - preparing to attack the Ancient One in a treacherous power grab while calling upon Dormammu for aid. Here was have what is, historically, the first confrontation between Strange and Mordo. Predictably it comes down pretty hard in Mordo's favor; he uses his magic to create invisible restraints upon Strange that forbid him from telling the Ancient One what he knows about Mordo's plot.

The really interesting thing about Mordo's spell is that it doesn't actually stop Strange from speaking or communicating. All it does is prevent him from revealing Mordo's plan, specifically. Yet magically it actually appears like an iron clamp around Doc's mouth that is visible only to himself and to Mordo (the caster) and no one else. This particular spell was even used recently in an issue of The Might Avengers, where the new female Loki (disguised as the Scarlet Witch) used it on Stature to stop her from telling the team that Wanda (who was really Loki) was up to no good.

But Strange uses his intellect to defeat Mordo's spell in a roundabout way. Wanting to protect the Ancient One from Mordo, and wanting the power to beat Mordo magically, Strange agrees to be the Ancient One's student. As he does, the Ancient One releases him from Mordo's mystical restraints, which he was aware of all along.

Overall this is quite an effective origin story from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, setting the foundation for the relationship between Strange and the Ancient one and revealing his deadly rivalry with Mordo as well. The irony is thick - a once proud surgeon who swears to never again work for anyone must agree to become a student all over again, in a different field and with a new mentor, in order to find a place in life again. Very cool stuff! Ditko's art transforms Doc here as well and we finally see the start of the 'classic' Strange look, going from his Asian-like appearance in previous tales to looking something more like actors Errol Flynn or Ronald Coleman.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Art - 10/17/09

Here's another Mike Mignola pin-up from Marvel Fanfare #34 from 1986. This time around it's Dormammu! Hope ya'll are having a great weekend!

Click to enlarge!

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Doctor Voodoo #1 Review

As promised, here's my review of Doctor Voodoo #1, starting the adventures of Jericho Drumm as the Houngan Supreme. This issue was written by Rick Remender with art by Jefte Palo and colors by Jean-Francoise Beaulieu.

SYNOPSIS: Jericho Drumm (now calling himself Doctor Voodoo rather than Brother Voodoo) travels to the Dark Dimension to confront Dormammu following the revelations of New Avengers #53-54 in which it was revealed that Dormammu and the Hood had been working together. Drumm, using information given to him by Doctor Strange, traps Dormammu within his throne room inside the Dark Dimension and banishes him from traveling outside of it.

Later, Strange and Drumm have a pointed discussion about Doctor Voodoo's willingness to manipulate certain dark magical energies - including the Scrying Stones of Chthon for purposes of monitoring magic on Earth. Strange eventually departs, having taught Drumm all that he can, and Drumm heads to his New Orleans clinic to treat the sick.

While there he's warned by Alexis (who he may have some form of relationship with) that they've received an eviction notice for not paying back rent. Moments later Voodoo is attacked by a servant of Ogoun, the Loa version of a fire, iron and warrior spirit. The Loa servant explains to him that the Loa are wary of Drumm's sudden acceptance of the Vishanti and other magic influences. But while Drumm is battling the creature he is ambushed by Doctor Doom via a magical portal, making it clear he means to take the Eye of Agamotto.

Doom neutralizes the spirit of Drumm's brother, Daniel, and then redirects himself and Doctor Voodoo to another world after Drumm attempts to teleport them both out of the clinic. On this world Drumm cannot channel the power of the Loa and is forced to resort to sorcery. After a pitched battle Doom's technology defeats Doctor Voodoo and he beats the Houngan Supreme viciously with his armored fists. But as Doom touches the Eye the amulet shows him precisely what malevolent magical force it is that the Vishanti and the Loa are dreading that is fast approaching. Doom departs, leaving Drumm to wonder what the Eye revealed to him.

BOTTOM LINE: Rick Remender and Jefte Palo have churned out one of the most entertaining premiere issues that I have read in years. I enjoyed Remender having Drumm confront Dormammu right off the bat to set the attitude for the book and I really liked Drumm using talking shrunken heads as "null language" to trap Dormammu in his own throne room. That actually freaked me out. I also enjoyed the servant of Ogoun to symbolize that the Loa aren't crazy with Drumm now sharing his time with the Vishanti. It's similar to Strange telling Drumm in the story that he can't split time between being Sorcerer Supreme and working as a doctor, but Drumm insists he can. Drumm comes across as capable but overconfident, and I wonder if having his voodoo ass kicked by Doctor Doom (the highlight of the story) will ground him a bit more and get him where he needs to be.

Palo's art is dark and gritty and aptly suited for a story featuring chattering shrunken heads, crows being used to keep Dormammu a prisoner in his own dimension and a Loa servant creature clawing its way out of a human being.

I loved this comic and I've read it four times now. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Magic 101: Magic in the Marvel Universe

As promised here's a brief look for the uninitiated at how magic works in the Marvel Universe.

Magic powers work in basically three ways - each dealing with specific types of mystical energies and how they are utilized.


These are the energies that mages and sorcerers tap into which reside within themselves. Tapping such powers saps their strength but with the proper training and through meditative trances they are able to utilize their personal energies more efficiently.

Some examples of personal energies being wielded are astral projection, where the sorcerer casts their spirit outside of their body, or mental powers such as mesmerism, hypnosis, mind control and telepathy.

While in an ethereal astral form a sorcerer can use those powers which are inherent to their own mind.

Doctor Strange using his Personal mystic energies to project his spirit outside his body via astral projection. He then astrally travels through the window and completely ignores the nekkid lady picture on the wall.


Universal energies are mystical forces that are inherent within the sorcerer's own home dimension, usually (but not always) requiring short words of power or hand gestures. If the sorcerer is casting within his or her own home dimension they may also use these powers while in their ethereal astral form.

Using universal energies allows sorcerers to cast magical bolts or blasts, or to create magical force fields to repel attacks. Such attacks and shields are often referred to as "eldritch." It also allows casters to teleport either inside their own dimensions or from one dimension to another. Universal energy manipulation also allows sorcerers to conjure things (or even people), to create highly convincing illusions and even transmute objects (i.e. change it into something else).

Some artifacts and items, such as the Eye of Agamotto, are also able to utilize universal energy and can also be used by a sorcerer on his own home dimension. This is how, for example, Doctor Strange is able to use his eye of Agamotto on Earth while he is astrally projecting outside his physical body.

Doctor Strange using Universal energies to create a magic bolt as an attack against a Mindless One in the Dark Dimension.


Here's where we get to what Doctor Strange is most known for in the comics - calling upon mystical forces and powerful magical beings through spells and incantations to achieve incredible, astonishing results. Such powers are entirely reliant on the will of whichever mystical entity whose name and power is being invoked. For example, if a sorcerer is calling upon Hoggoth's power that entity can agree or deny that power to the sorcerer. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange usually enjoys instantaneous granting of those powers whenever he calls upon them.

When you see Doctor Strange yell out "By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak--!" and then magical purplish-pink bands appear and bind his foe, this is a use of extra-dimensional energies.

Some of the magical entities sorcerers can call upon include, but are not limited to, the following: Agamotto, Oshtur, Hoggoth, the Vishanti (which is Agamotto, Oshtur and Hoggoth working together), the Faltine, the Seraphim, Dormammu, Watoomb, Cyttorak, Raggadorr, Valtorr and Ikonn.

Doctor Strange manipulating Extra-Dimensional energies by calling upon the power of Valtorr, a magical entity.


The 2007 special Tarot added a new type of energies - Necromancy - to these three existing forms but honestly I am not so sure how much Tarot is in continuity or established canon. For one it seems like a lot of what is describe there pertains to energies that already exist under the other three types of Marvel Magic. But to be thorough we'll detail necromancy here.

Necromancy is concerned with utilizing and manipulating "potent energies brought about by the termination of lesser entities (i.e. human sacrifice." The resulting black magic, first established in the Darkhold, often has quick, powerful effects but at a high cost. The creation of vampires and zombies is attributed to this type of magic.

Part of that is essentially right. The Darkhold does contain 'the Vampire Verses' which detail the creation of vampires. This is dealt with during a multi-part Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme arc from the 1990's. But I have trouble seeing how power created via sacrifice or the creation of zombies (perhaps a form of conjuring?) is necessarily it's own type of magic and not, say, Personal, Universal or Extra-Dimensional. But that's just my two-cents.


Voodoo in the Marvel Universe is presented in a far more dramatic fashion than how it's actually practiced and observed in the world today. In Marvel Voodoo there are definitely good and evil sects of Loa (types of spirits who are under God) but in the modern voodoo of today there's less emphasis on good and evil Loa so much as there is an emphasis on good or evil intent in regards to the houngan (voodoo priest) or the mambo (voodoo priestess) and what they're trying to accomplish. Both blessings and curses can come from the same Loas and they are more akin to saints or angels; voodoo itself is a mix of French Catholicism and Yoruba/West African mythos that came together in Haiti when slaves first started arriving there.

So in that sense Marvel voodoo does differ from the actual practice but from a fictional standpoint I can see where Marvel felt, at least in the sensational occult days of the early 70's, like they needed to alter the details a bit to fit Brother Voodoo's stories.

I personally do not see voodoo as a separate type of Marvel magic so much as I see it as existing magic used differently, though Doctor Strange and Doctor Voodoo seem to disagree slightly in Doctor Voodoo #1 in that respect.

So how do we know all this? Well the first time I caught the explanation of the first three types of magic (Personal, Universal and Extra-Dimensional) was in Doctor Strange's entry in the first Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #3 (March, 1983) and was explained by Marvel guru Mark Gruenwald. The first time I'd heard necromancy listed as a separate school was in 2007's Marvel Tarot, and the voodoo information was gathered from Brother Voodoo's appearances as well as from the back-up stories Book of the Vishanti: Mark of the Vodu Parts I - III in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme in issues #16, #17 and #20.

Tomorrow I'll have a review of Doctor Voodoo #1, which I rather liked!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Strange Tales #114:
"The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo"

When last we left Strange Tales Doctor had just stopped his arch-foe, the insidious Baron Mordo, from killing the Ancient One. And that's the last of Doc that readers saw for two months. After two very popular appearances in #110 and #111, Doc sat out Strange Tales #112 and #113. Why the gap? I am not sure. They probably had already done the backup stories that were published in those two issues and didn't want them going to waste. Either way readers knew that Doc would be back after the final panel of his appearance in #111 where he invited readers to follow his further adventures. There's a blurb from Stan Lee on this story where he says they wanted to wait and gauge the reaction to Strange. Though that last panel in #111 tells me they'd already gotten the hint that readers liked Stephen Strange.

At this point Strange is still being titled as 'The Master of Black Magic' in his five-page stories. And another curious event begins to take place here as well - Doc starts opening his eyes! By the second page he's finally opened his peepers. He looks a little tired but there it is. Shockingly, this trend would continue. Steve Ditko did finally change the way he drew Doc later on in the series, making him more suave and less Ming-the-Merciless.

Doc's summoned out to England to help someone he apparently knows yet hasn't spoken to in ages - Sir Clive Bentley. But of course it's all an elaborate trap set-up by Mordo who posed as Bentley to make the call, even changing his appearance to Lord Bentley's while he made the call. He makes the trip around the world and exits a cab in a very odd panel; the cabbie asks him if he wants Doc to wait for him to which Doc replies that he doesn't and that he only needed the directions to the castle. That's true, of course, but at the same time if Doc didn't want a taxi ride couldn't he find some way out of it? Was the taxi driver just that damn good at selling Doc a ride? Was there something far more sinister at work? Who knows! Anyway this panel stood out like a sore thumb and had me scratching my head.

When Doc enters the dark, lonely estate he immediately deduces that though he cannot see or hear danger he is nonetheless sure it's real there in the castle. Doc's displaying that awesome 'cosmic awareness' we talked about way back in my review for Strange Tales #110. Later on in Doc's travels other characters will exhibit this as well - usually mystic or cosmic types like Adam Warlock or the Silver Surfer. And it starts to heighten as its used in comics, allowing characters to dramatically sense that some form of impending doom or another is hurtling through the void. You know how it goes. One minute you're having coffee with Moondragon, the next her head's thrown back, she's floating in the air, her eyes go white and she's screaming about something not being right with Eternity and that the Living Tribunal's about to judge everyone. That's what this sort of cosmic awareness jazz turns into later - but right now at this early age it's more like Doc's spider-sense and it's here more for flavor than anything else.

But his awareness is right! Doc finds himself caught in Mordo's deadly scented candle trap and is paralyzed. Mordo exits the shadows to gloat and to proclaim that when the candles die out, so will Strange. He also pauses to talk about world conquest (that old chestnut!) and then exits the room to leave Strange to his candle doom. The Ancient One perceives Strange's situation and tries to intervene from Tibet but Strange asks him not to because he wants to beat Mordo on his own. Now this I like a lot. Doc's drawing a mystical line in the sand and deciding it's time for him to sink or swim. This is almost like deciding if he's not good enough to beat Mordo's freaking candle trap then he might as well die and prove that there is such a thing as magical natural selection.

Though paralyzed Doc manages to reach up to his Lesser Eye of Agamotto and activate it. He uses the eye to send his thoughts out across the countryside to find someone who can come and put the candles out. He finds a gal apparently getting ready to sit down to eat dinner and hypnotizes her with mental commands to drop everything and come save him. He later finds out that she is none other than Victoria Bentley, the daughter of Sir Clive Bentley, and that Clive died a decade ago. Victoria's going to play a larger part down the line in Doc's tales so definitely remember her for now. What's even more interesting is that she's cute and basically makes a sci-fi pass at Doctor Strange - you know, the man who just mind controlled her to do his bidding. Doc's response is awesome; he basically tells her not to talk that way cause he's going to make her forget she ever met him once they leave the castle. Some guys would just say "But we live in different countries!" or "I'm just not ready for a long distance thing right now" or something! But no - Doc's willing to just make chicks forget him! But he's got a point. Maybe his cosmic awareness is telling them the chickie he's destined to be with is comin' 'round the editorial mountain before too long...

We come to the end where this tale falls right apart. Mordo springs into the scene once more and tries to mentally command Strange to kill Victoria Bentley, who he surmises must have some magical aptitude to have heard Strange's distress call via the Lesser Eye of Agamotto. But then at the last minute a second Doc appears off to the side and merges with the one before Mordo. The explanation? That this whole time the Dr. Strange we've been following... the one who took a taxi, the one who was trapped by the scented candles of doom, the one who has been fully colored throughout the story and not translucent, has apparently been Doc's projected mental image and this whole time Doc was actually zooming to England on a jet. And now his physical body has caught up with his ethereal one and he's keen to turn the tables on Mordo. Man that's a stretch. For one, it's vague as to whether or not it was Doc's astral form this whole time or an illusion. If it was an illusion he was creating on the other side of the planet I could see why it would at least look normal and not translucent. But it's far fetched to think Doc managed to create an illusion like that while at the same time being able to board a plane to London. And if it was his astral form then it's already been established that Doc's physical body can't move while he's out of it. What did he do, have himself Fed Ex'd? Bah!

"The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo" was a disappointment. But Stan & Steve more than make up for that with the next issue, Strange Tales #115, where we finally get Doc's origin. And what a doozie it is!

That's all for this review. Over at Marvel Monsters I've posted the first part of a two-part look at the history of Marvel's monster and horror comics. The first part deals with a brief history of horror comics, what happened with EC, why there weren't any horror comics for a long while and then why there was an almost sudden demand for 'em.

Tomorrow here on Strange Scribe will examine how magic and voodoo work in the Marvel Universe and also see how different Marvel voodoo is compared to the "real" deal.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Brother Voodoo:
An Introduction and History

Recently the Marvel Universe's Sorcerer Supreme stepped down after deciding he was no longer worthy to hold the title or the responsibility. Doctor Strange started resorting to last ditch dark magic efforts to combat his foes (most notably in the pages of New Avengers) and it seemed like he was being overwhelmed by the very world he was charged to protect.

Or maybe he was just getting tired of several years worth of unending events. That, too.

Regardless, Doc's continual habit of seeing dark magic as a "go to" in clutch situations has the equivalent potential of Batman becoming the Punisher. And so the good doctor relinquished his title and the Eye of Agamotto went in search for a new Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. Many candidates were considered, one was chosen: Jericho Drumm. Or as the Marvel Universe calls him, Brother Voodoo.

Jericho Drumm as Brother Voodoo from the first splash page of Strange Tales #169, September. 1973.

Brother Voodoo hasn't had as much exposure as other Marvel heroes throughout the years but he has put in quite a few guest appearances. The upside for the editorial decision selecting Brother Voodoo is that the character has a lot of room to play with. Or in other words he's not as neck-deep in that evil continuity that many of today's writers and editors fear when they go to bed at night.

So Drumm is almost a tabula rasa. Almost. But before we get into that let's take a look at what went into creating Brother Voodoo in the first place.

Marvel writer Tony Isabella wrote a brief article detailing Drumm's genesis at the House of Ideas. The write-up appeared in 1963's Tales of the Zombie #2 and is thankfully reprinted in the new Doctor Voodoo #1 that just hit shelves. Stan Lee was looking for something to get Strange Tales back off the ground and flying; it had sat dead since Doctor Strange and Nick Fury left the title for their own books. According to Isabella Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and other Marvel staffers sat around kicking ideas. Stan wanted a new supernatural hero and Roy ran with an idea he'd had when he was younger of a physically powerful supernatural hero called Doctor Voodoo. The voodoo angle for a hero was attractive for Marvel at that time because it was part of a giant occult & paranormal upswing in pop culture during the 1970's. Books like Chariots of the Gods, haunting cases such as The Amityville Horror and television shows like In Search Of were feeding the frenzy on all things odd. From UFO's to ghosts to Bigfoot, the supernatural was king in the 70's.

In fact In Search Of (a very popular t.v. show hosted by Leonard Nimoy) focused specifically on voodoo in its first season. Here's a clip.

For the other two parts of this fascinating show, click here!

To an outsider that seems... well, alien. And this was its draw in the 1970's. People wanted to know more about it and there were numerous sensational books published about it. And so Marvel introduced Brother Voodoo to its fans and relaunched Strange Tales in 1963 at #169.

Stan Lee himself, according to Isabella, decided upon the 'Brother' part of Jericho Drumm's hero name and Roy let writer Len Wein get the first story ready while John Romita Sr. and his son, John Romita Jr., worked on a design for the character. Isabella's article explains how Roy Thomas wanted Voodoo to be different than, say, Luke Cage. So where as Luke Cage was street smart, Drumm was a college educated scholar. At least he was until he returned to his homeland of Haiti to visit his ailing brother.

The scholar angle worked very well for Drumm's introductory story. It allowed the reader to view the source material like they were watching a sensational news story about voodoo at home or reading a book that played fast and loose with fact. At any rate, having Drumm - a psychologist - return to Haiti and lose himself in a third-world of the supernatural is an intriguing fish-out-of-water story.

Drumm's brother Daniel was actually Brother Voodoo to the people of Haiti before Jericho was. To the Marvel Universe Haitians, Brother Voodoo is their Doctor Strange - a guardian against evil forces referred to as the Houngan Supreme. And Daniel had fallen under the spell of a pretender 'loa' (spirit-god) called Damballah. Damballah was actually a man who had been possessed by the spawn (called Damballah) of an Elder God from the long years after the earth was formed. The elder god spawn aspect of Damballah would be explained years later during, if I recall, the Atlantis Attacks event of the 1990's. Later on in Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, in back-up stories dealing with the Book of the Vishanti (Mark of the Vodu Parts I through III in issues #16, #17 and #20), we're lead to believe that the actual voodoo Damballah is a different cat altogether and that he's sort of a voodoo spirit god of snakes.

This is all very simplified from the "real thing" but for the sake of a coherent story it kind of has to be. We'll get into that more on Thursday.

As Daniel falls victim to Damballah's voodoo he makes Jericho promise to seek out an old man called Papa Jambo who lives out in the jungles so that the people will have a protector when Daniel is dead. Jambo was Daniel's voodoo mentor (his Ancient One, if you will) and because it's Daniel's dying request, Jericho agrees. He seeks out Papa Jambo who refuses to return with him but instead offers to train Jericho the ways of voodoo so he can even the scales with his brother's killer. And that's precisely what Drumm does.

While in training Papa Jambo has Drumm undertake a voodoo ritual involving his own brother's bones. The end result is his brother's spirit becoming a part of his being - two brothers now literally acting as one Brother Voodoo. Daniel serves Jericho in much the same way as Doctor Strange's ability to astrally project himself out of his body. Daniel's spirit can also possess others - something he does quite effectively, even getting minions to turn on their criminal bosses. With his powers Drumm also gains heightened physical prowess as well as becoming resistant to fire. And he can also materialize out of thin air in a cloud of smoke with mysterious supernatural jungle drums playing from somewhere. And now you get his last name, right?

Right off the bat this fella wasn't "of the norm" and that made him special even in such a diverse fictional setting as the Marvel Universe.

After defeating Damballah Jericho claims the villain's snake controlling amulet and also gains a servant, Bambu. Exactly the same way Dr. Strange has Wong. So in many ways Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo start off in almost the exact same spot. They're both men of science thrust into a world foreign to them who wind up controlling vast new powers and are aided by both a faithful servant and a mentor. Formulaic? A little bit, yes. But their paths begin to take much different paths very quickly. Whereas Strange had his mentor, the Ancient One, for a very long time (speaking in terms of years worth of comics) Drumm loses his, Papa Jambo, right off the bat. In Haiti and wherever he goes he is the head honcho on voodoo.

Drumm's Strange Tales adventure ended with issue #173. Afterward Strange Tales was occupied by Golem - The Thing That Walks Like A Man - and then Adam Warlock, who took over the book from #178 to #181 with some really fun Jim Starlin stories that introduced the Magus, Pip and Gamora for the first time.

Strange Tales Volume One came to an end at #188. The final seven issues were reprints of previous Dr. Strange stories.

On a side note, I've been told that Drumm's now a love interest for Monica Rambeau in Marvel Divas. I don't read Divas (and don't particularly want to) but if so that's all the better because she's been one of my favorite former Avengers for a good long time. Hopefully Drumm's learned some lessons after having his spirit brother possess one of his girlfriends for a time just cause he didn't want her to leave. The cat's got some issues!

So to sum up. Marvel picking Voodoo as the new Sorcerer Supreme gives them some wiggle room. They're not as completely continuity free as they'd like to be but Drumm's one of the best choices. He's an interesting character whose new exploits I'm looking forward to following. Speaking of which I'll have a review of Doctor Voodoo #1 for you on Friday.

Also, before I forget. I've started a second blog to cover Marvel's monster & horror series that started back in the 1970's. Click here if you're interested. I call it Marvel Monsters and it should be a blast covering old Marvel warhorses like Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, Simon 'the Zombie' Garth and of the Living Mummy. Just to name a few! So give Marvel Monsters a go. Especially since it's October. Think of it as homework for Halloween.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Strange Tales #111:
"Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo"

Today we tackle Strange Tales #111 which featuring Doctor Strange's second appearance in the still forming Marvel Universe and also introducing readers to one of his most dangerous and vile enemies - Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo. At this point Doc's still being referred to as the 'Master of Black Magic' in this five-page story from August of 1963 called 'Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo.'

The story opens with Mordo plotting in front of a fireplace in his "heavily-guarded, hidden castle in the heart of Europe." Later on in the Doctor Strange comics we'll learn that Mordo's Transylvanian. Since we've established how alike Mordo and Bela Lugosi's character Roxor from Chandu the Magician are it's not too surprising to find out that Mordo hails from the same country as another Lugosi villain - Dracula. Mordo's up to no damn good - as is the norm for Mordo - and he desires to topple Doctor Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, to acquire his magical secrets. This, Mordo surmises, will allow him to finally take down his nemesis Doctor Strange. On one hand it's rather odd that Mordo feels the only way to tackle the student is to slay the teacher. Normally this sort of scenario involves killing the mentor and then the rising star student. But we quickly learn that while the Ancient One is more powerful than Strange he is also more vulnerable.

Taking a page out of Doc's own book, so to speak, Mordo astrally projects himself out of his body after firing up some *cough* "ancient incense." He hurls his ethereal form through the across the world to the Ancient One's temple in Tibet. In my previous review for Strange Tales #110 I mentioned how the Ancient One's home is said to be in Asia and that it would later be established as Tibet despite Doc's origin story in Strange Tales #115 saying the Ancient One's temple was in India. In this particular story writer Stan Lee has it down as Tibet.

Mordo uses his powers of mind control while in astral form on the Ancient One's servant and forces him to create a poison potion and slip it into the Ancient One's food. It must be soup since he's preparing something in a cup (damn, I am getting hungry now!) and since the Ancient One apparently doesn't believe in paying the money for a good, professional Taster the way a king or queen would he succumbs to the potion. With the poison in his system he'll continue to weaken until dead. Mordo gloats over him, as all good Marvel villains do, and tells him he will let the Ancient One die if he does not tell reveal his knowledge and secrets of black magic. Of course the Ancient One refuses.

Meanwhile, back in the states, Strange wraps up a black magic 'experiment' and decides to contact the Ancient One to share the results. Here again we see Strange's place as the student and not the master further cemented, almost like he's got to turn in homework. However he gets no response when he tries to contact the Ancient One via the Lesser Eye of Agamotto and figures he'd better hot foot it astral-style to Tibet and see what's what. Upon arrival he finds that Mordo is threatening his Master and Strange and Mordo begin to astrally beat the Hell out of each other. Mordo rambles off some typical but strong random world conqueror exposition here while Strange makes a desperate attempt to use the Lesser Eye to strengthen the Ancient One - leaving the Doc vulnerable. While Doc and Mordo continue to struggle, the Ancient One tries to come to his senses in time to help his student.

Left with not much else than his astral form and his wits to combat Mordo with, Strange tricks the Baron into leading him to Mordo's body. His ploy works and Mordo's astral form enters his corporeal form once more, allowing Strange to use the Lesser Eye to freeze Mordo and eliminate his plan. This time it's Strange's turn to gloat as he tells Mordo the details of why his trick worked. Clearly the Doc has a long way to go still before he's ready to be the Sorcerer Supreme. Never show all your cards, Doc! Just win, leave and brag about how stupid is to the Ancient One over a cold one back in Tibet.

So what's the bottom line here? Again, it's just five pages so it's not like Stan could do War and Peace with it. The story introduces Mordo well enough and sets up the rivalry between him and Strange and the Ancient One. The story does its job and Ditko throws in almost a dozen images of the protective symbol of the Vishanti via Doc's Sanctum Sanctorum and the Ancient One's Old Tibetan Home. The last page has a panel of Doc inviting the readers to keep following him in Strange Tales, meaning by now Marvel knew it had struck magic gold. And in two months Doc would return to Strange Tales for years on a permanent basis.

On Tuesday we'll examine the history of the current Sorcerer Houngan Supreme of the Marvel Universe, Brother Doctor Voodoo!

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Regarding Brother Voodoo, Doctor Voodoo and all things Mystic from Marvel...

Since I've dedicated this blog to covering Doctor Strange and his role as the Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe I've decided that certain people, places and things will naturally have to be discussed and focused upon as well. If it's mystical and it's Marvel, we'll take a look at it here and examine it together.

The first character we'll branch out into is Brother Voodoo - who now calls himself 'Doctor Voodoo' and is acting as the 'Houngan Supreme' following Doctor Strange's recent decision to step down from his role as the Sorcerer Supreme. Since I don't like to phone anything in when research is concerned (or on anything, really) I'll be doing a lot of homework on this one. That includes reading a lot of new & recent Marvel, which I've been loathe to do for the last five years.

So this week we'll continue our look at Doctor Strange's early years in Strange Tales but we'll also be casting our inquisitive gaze upon Jericho Drumm, too. I had originally planned to just start with the new Doctor Voodoo, Avenger of the Supernatural. But now I've decided we'll go all the way back to Doctor Voodoo's beginning this week. I won't dwell as much on Drumm as I do Strange here but I won't just gloss over his history either. Brother Voodoo has always been a fun and interesting character who I've always liked seeing pop up in the Marvel Universe over the last three decades and the character is worthy of a bit of study. I won't be reviewing every Brother Voodoo appearance but I will do a lengthy 'behind the scenes' on him as I did here for Doctor Strange and we'll take a lengthy gander at the character's progression through the years and his place in the Marvel Universe.

So Monday we'll get back to Strange Tales, with #111, and on Tuesday we'll get our first Brother Voodoo post. Wednesday we'll have another Strange Tales review and on Thursday I'll take a look at Marvel's version of voodoo compared to the real thing and also how Marvel voodoo plays against Marvel magic. I'm pretty excited and I hope you folks are as well! Then on Friday I'll post a review of Doctor Voodoo, Avenger of the Supernatural - which I liked!

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Art - 10/10/09

This weekend I've been going through a lot of my old old old Marvel stuff from back when raptors walked the Earth. Last night I was re-reading a lot of Marvel's horror stuff that I hadn't read in years. Most of it early 70's books like Tomb of Dracula and Fear. But today I started going through a lot of my old Marvel Fanfare issues for the first time in ages and I had forgotten about all the neat pin-ups they used to run in that title. And I found a handful that were Strange related. Here's the first one - it's Mike Mignola's pin-up for Nightmare from Marvel Fanfare #34 (1986). I figured that'd be a good one to start with since we just got done looking at Strange Tales #110, which was Nightmare's first appearance.

Click to enlarge!

Have a great weekend folks!

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"By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth--!!"