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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