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Notes On A Comic Book – Doctor Voodoo: Avenger Of The Supernatural

Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural #1–5 by Rick Remender and Jefte Palo

Doctor Strange is a great character but he can’t seem to sustain an ongoing series. There have been some excellent recent mini-series (The Oath by Brian K Vaughan and Marcos Martin, and Strange by Mark Waid and Emma Rios) but Stephen Strange has only been a regular character in New Avengers. Marvel (or, perhaps more accurately, Brian Michael Bendis) decided to shake things up for magical side of the Marvel universe: the Eye of Agamotto chose Brother Voodoo as the new Sorcerer Supreme; formerly the Houngan Supreme, he changed his title to Doctor Voodoo, and was given his own ongoing series. Why Marvel thought it work out better for him instead of Stephen Strange is beyond me, but good on them for trying something new. The series was cancelled after five issues, but I was curious to see what might have been.

The premise for the book is good: Jericho Drumm (with his dead brother Daniel) was created in 1973 but has mainly been an irregular guest star in the Marvel universe, so he is relatively inexperienced, meaning that he is constantly under the immense pressure of proving himself worthy of the title and one of the highest pressure jobs in the magical universe, even with the help of the previous incumbent as a mentor. (Palo does a great job on art – it’s moody and atmospheric and suitably arcane, with hints of early Mike Mignola – but he draws Stephen Strange far too old for my liking.) Also, there is a dark premonition from the Eye of Agamotto that adds urgency to proceedings, and there is the fact that Doctor Voodo does things differently: he uses dark magic for protection of his Hounfour, his sanctum, of which Strange disapproves. So this is a new and very different Sorcerer Supreme, with his voodoo side to contend with and, in his civilian identity, a clinic in New Orleans.

The story starts out hectic and at full pace: Doctor Voodoo goes to see Dormammu and binds him in his own dimension, before he gets attacked by Doctor Doom, who wants the Eye of Agamotto (there’s a lovely page by Palo when Doom enters, and Remender writes Doom really well), and they fight in the Everdimensions (another great page by Palo). The only thing that felt odd for the first issue where you are trying to hype your central character for a new series is that Doom beats Voodoo – Doom gets the Eye but drops it when it shows him something unexpected. (It is also odd that Marvel went with $3.99 for a first issue – not conducive to people trying new material.)

The second issue sees Drumm trying to recover in the realm where Doom left him, where his power doesn’t work; it’s a place he vaguely recognises as ‘unreal’ but he is unsure, unlike the reader, who is given a clue to the master of the realm, which explains everything that happens in the rest of the issue. There is a flashback/dream (drawn by Gabriel Hardman) back to Drumm’s youth in Haiti and an incident that still causes anguish. He escapes to Earth but finds the world is in trouble, overrun by evil; he meets Daimon Hellstorm, Son of Satan, who offers to help, and the truth is revealed – Nightmare has tricked Drumm into helping Nightmare back to Earth (I love the phrase ‘psychodermic mindphibian’ – comics are fabulous) and he has taken over.

Doctor Voodoo #3 coverIssue three starts with some back story, in another Hardman-drawn flashback, before Nightmare explains to Drumm what has happened and tricking Drumm to using an army of souls, which Nightmare uses to spread his infection across the world (except for Doom’s castle, where he uses an Actuality Shield, another phrase that made me smile). Fortunately, Drumm has his brother Jericho to help him – Jericho takes over Damion Hellstrom – but the Hood shoots Jericho, causing him to succumb to Nightmare’s influence.

The fourth issue shows Daniel helping Jericho by inhabiting his brother’s mind, in a flashback drawn by Alessandro Vitti that returns to Haiti and Daniel’s death and Jericho’s guilt, to snap him out of it and free himself from Nightmare’s influence by gazing into the Eye of Agamotto and escaping to Bondyé (seen in flashback in issue three). Nightmare has to change tactics (there are some cute panels of his control of various superheroes under his influence: Captain America and Hulk were funny, but best of all was Punisher being haunted by his children) with the aid of a magic-based army – Ghost Riders, Magik, Man Thing, Dracula – to attack Doom, to whose aid the Drumms have turned to protect reality.

The final issue has Voodoo and Doom defending reality in an epic and unexpected team-up. Jericho reads from the book of Vishanti to come up with a plan to stop Nightmare, using Daniel as ‘an Actuality Shield suicide bomber’ (I do love comics) – the plan works but then Doom absorbs Nightmare’s power (which was his plan since he left Jericho in Nightmare’s realm in issue one after walking away from the Eye) and demands the Eye. However, Jericho is smarter than that and had planned for a double-cross: the spell he read was a spell of trust, causing Doom to release his protection in the form of the Actuality Shield, allowing Daniel to possess Doom (‘Wow – lot of crazy gypsy swearing going on’) and for Jericho to throw Nightmare into Bondyé and save the day, and he even punches Doom in the face. Victory. (I do like when smartness wins the day, and the clever plotting from Remender.)

Strangely, there are two pages at the end of the book that reveal the villain for future stories that were never to be seen, and there is no explanation or a letters page (the previous issues had included the origin of Brother Voodoo by Roy Thomas). It’s a very odd end to a good book. Remender writes the character well and Palo has a distinctive style that is very appropriate for the types of story being told, so the book wasn’t cancelled due to the quality of content. The lack of awareness of the character didn’t help in the current market, and the sudden replacing of the beloved but not commercially popular Doctor Strange probably caused some negativity towards the book before it arrived. The creative team wasn’t high profile enough to launch the book, and there was no tie-in to a company-wide crossover to help boost awareness, so it’s perhaps not a surprise that the book was a cancelled. However, it’s a shame because this was an interesting book with lots of potential.

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