09 October 2009

COMICS PAGETURNER: The Perils of "Doctor Voodoo"

Portland-based Rick Remender is no stranger to the criminal element. We sort of take that for granted, and even introduced him to you earlier this week as the man responsible for The Last Days of American Crime as well as the scribe of the Marvel MAX mature reader's title, Punisher War Journal.
With this Wednesday's launching (or perhaps, re-launching) of Marvel Comics' new series Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural, our buddy Rick's pitting that criminal savvy against his understanding of darker arts.
To his credit, Rick Remender has had plenty of experience in the magical arena: his Fear Agent, Night Mary, and the ominous superhero tale The End League are all books no one should read when they're alone. Add his other creator-owned titles, Image Comic's XXXZombies or Black Heart Billy from IDW Publishing, into the mix and Remender comes across as nothing short of a nightmarish pro.
Now Remender's taking his black magic know-how one notch further as he faces the challenge of Doctor Voodoo.
Voodoo (alias Jericho Drumm) isn't a new character in the Marvel Universe; Len Wein and artist Gene Colan created the hero, then Brother Voodoo, for Strange Tales #169 back in 1973. [Interestingly, you can read a back-up essay of Brother Voodoo's creative origins in Doctor Voodoo#1. The off-the-cuff manner is which new superheroes sometimes make it onto newsprint is worth the read by itself.] Brother Voodoo then became the lead character of Tales, although the run lasted just over a year.
Though Voodoo's not a new name, Remender nevertheless will be charting new and somewhat perilous territory with Doctor Voodoo. None of Marvel's African-American heroes -- from "Hero for Hire" Luke Cage to the many attempts of keeping Black Panther afloat as a monthly title -- fare well in the long run. Marvel's two most popular black heroes -- Storm from the X-Men and the Ultimate Comics version of SHIELD super-spy Nick Fury (a name audiences will get to know quite well when Samuel L. Jackson portrays the character in at least three of Marvel's upcoming super hero films) -- have consistently lead their respective title's supporting cast, but have never moved into the front seat.
But Remender's putting his guy right behind the wheel. Doctor Voodoo, freshly plucked from the storyline which re-introduced him in Marvel's best-selling New Avengers series, promises to add the City of New Orleans to the Marvel U map, as well as Voodoo mythology to its mystic pantheons. Before the first issue even begins, Voodoo has assumed the mantle to be Marvel's newly reigning Sorcerer Supreme, a title once held by the more well-known hero Dr. Stephen Strange. In an appropriate turn of phrase, Remender's character prefers to be called 'Houngan Supreme' - the voodoo term for 'sorcerer.'
That's just the first of many differences large and small with which Remender fills the first issue of his new series. And it is, frankly, a lot to adsorb. The prospect of voodoo's obscurity coming to the mainstream is intriguing, and the first issue is packed with information to render it less obscure. Jefte Paulo's pencils and Jean-Francois Beaulieu's color designs definitely add extra flavor to the voodoo Remender's doing, and also serve to delineate this Sorcerer from the more traditional renderings of Doctor Strange. Even Doctor Doom makes a cameo to challenge the new Doctor, and in doing so, validates the book's editorial stance: We're not kidding. This guy's really here too stay. Just ask Doom!
The issue's broad exploration of Voodoo's many magical tenets also serves the purpose of differentiating the title character from Doctor Strange. Strange, an early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko creation that also made his appearance in Marvel's Strange Tales (Issue #10, 1963), has become aged not just in his comic books, but as a concept that's not weathering the times as well as, say Iron Man's Tony Stark. Marvel seems quite sincere in their intention to retire the wizard and welcome his replacement.
In fact, readers familiar with Marvel's current story lines will know that the publisher's been updating their 'Universe' across several of their titles. From the 'superhero side' (The Marvels Project, Captain America, Dark Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man: One More Day, Civil War) to the 'cosmic side' (War of Kings, Nova) and now to the 'supernatural', Marvel's been bringing their large mythology into the twenty-first century. It's a re-invigoration that has gone well with readers, retailers,
critics, and obviously, super-large corporate investors.
Doctor Voodoo is a series that brings with it an undeniable learning curve, which both comic book writer and reader will have to endure. Eve for longtime Marvelites, Doctor Voodoo is a course adjustment of a different kind. But because it is, I'd prefer to see Doctor Voodoo join The Punisher as a Marvel MAX title; it seems a fitting home. There's much promise to its premise, and for a writer like Remender whose storytelling strengths excel in matter of esoterica, Jeremiah Drumm's outer limits - and those of the Marvel U -- should be right up his alley.
I'll stick around to see what new tricks Rick Remender has up his sleeve. With talent, support, and perhaps just a bit of luck, he's just the guy to keep Doctor Voodoo from becoming Doctor Voo-Did.

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