Black History Month: The Strange Case of Brother Voodoo!

Pencils, repaneled from Strange Tales No. 171.  Gene Colan is hard to imitate.

Pencils, repaneled from Strange Tales No. 171. Gene Colan is hard to imitate.

So…the Cliff’s Notes version for those of us who are not total Marvel Comics fiends. Brother Voodoo, usually know as Jericho Drumm, is a supernatural superhero. He first appeared in Strange Tales No. 169 in September of 1973. The character was created by writer Len Wein and legendary artist Gene Colan. It has been a long time since 1973, and a whole lot has happened…since replacing Doctor Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme in The New Avengers No. 53, the character is referred to as Doctor Voodoo….a significant upgrade.

What’s his deal? Let’s summarize.

Brother Voodoo starred in his own feature in the Marvel comic-book series Strange Tales No. 169-173 (September 1973 – April 1974), and in a backup feature in the black-and-white horror-comics magazine Tales of the Zombie No. 6 (July 1974, in a story continuing from Strange Tales No.173) and No. 10 (March 1975). He has gone to guest-star very sporadically in other Marvel series, into the 21st century. That was a whole lot of very technical citations in a single paragraph. Considering that he appeared about the same time as Luke Cage, he is very significant in being a step forward in diversity at Marvel Comics in the seventies.

Brother Voodoo was the result of a confluence of two major trends. The first was a movement toward black protagonists, just as it did in movies and TV. By 1973, Marvel Comics had already introduced The Black Panther and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire; and DC was on the verge of bringing out Black Lightning. The other trend, at Marvel at least, was toward heroes who combined the superhero motif with a horror/supernatural theme. Morbius the Living Vampire and Man-Wolf, formerly Spider-Man supporting characters, both got their own series right around then, as well there were the out-and-out horror characters, like Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night and Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan. Combine the supernatural with the black hero, and a voodoo-using superhero is a natural progression…the natural progression that created Brother Voodoo.

The storyline was pretty straightforward, using the narrative methods of the time. Brother Voodoo, or Jericho Drumm was born in Haiti, as befits a practitioner of that particular branch of the mystic arts. However, he was educated as a psychologist in New York City. That was a pretty good step against the general stereotype that was being used, which was a solid move. Jericho was a seriously educated man, and as intelligent as he was magical.

Naturally, he didn’t believe in the superstitions of his ancestors — until he returned to the island after 12 years in the United States, and found his brother Daniel, who was a houngan (voodoo priest), on his deathbed. He was apparently the victim of an evil bokor (voodoo sorcerer) who had sicced Damballah, a powerful serpent god, on him. Because in Voodoo circles, that kind of thing happens. On that deathbed, Daniel extracted a promise from Jericho to learn the ways of voodoo and avenge his death, which Jericho did….becoming a superhero, and thus being in Strange Tales.

He studied under Papa Jambo, an aged master the equivalent of Doctor Strange’s Ancient One. Papa Jambo, also promptly died the moment his protegé attained sufficient skill…which is key for magical superheroes. Well played Papa Jambo. Being way more clever than the ancient one or Yoda, before dying, Jambo resurrected Daniel’s spirit and merged it with Jericho’s own, making Brother Voodoo the most powerful voodoo master of all. After defeating Damballah, Brother Voodoo stayed in Haiti as champion of the downtrodden.

Over the years, Brother Voodoo stayed in comics as a supporting character of increasing importance. He also represents a very early attempt by Marvel Comics at serious diversity, including a backstory that made a real attempt at researching another culture. It may have lacked the kind of care or political correctness that a more modern approach may have used, but in the end, Brother Voodoo really represented a major first in the representation of non white superheroes in comics.

About the art…following the pencils by Gene Colan was hard. Obviously, the art above is pencil only…I considered inking, but I need to stay a coupe of days ahead if I can. Colan’s work is daunting, and his command of contrast and perspective very, very hard to imitate.

Next Issue: Classroom Observations!

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