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The Griotvine's Unwrapping Brother Voodoo's Potential

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Tuesday, October 13 2015 and posted in Columns

The Griotvine's Unwrapping Brother Voodoo's Potential

A spotlight on Marvel Comics' Brother Voodoo and the untapped potential and story ideas that continue to be a missed opportunity.



So we are at the midway point of October and at the end of the month we're treated with the awesome day of Halloween, my favorite day in the whole year. Every year I dress up and to some people that I'm close to, they feel as if I go all out. One year I took advantage of this awesome day to dress up as Brother Voodoo. So given this being the month of Halloween and celebration of horror, I'm going to talk about my absolute love for this character, so deal with it!

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I love Brother Voodoo. I really really do. I love the hell out 1272733-brother voodoo by fred hembeckof this character. Trust me when I say it'd be tough to find a bigger Brother Voodoo fan than me. He's definitely that character that I would buy whatever he appears in. It helps and saves me money that he isn't used much, so yeah! Sure! There's probably someone out there who may in fact be a bigger Voodoo fanboy, but good luck finding him or her! I know he gets a lot of laughs and jokes against him, but they're usually from people who haven't been exposed to a majority of his old stories, which were very well written and a lot of good fun with beautiful art, and they don't have any idea how much potential this character has. While he may be a source of ridicule from a lot of people, mostly due to Fred Hembeck constantly ribbing on the character and thus having him be viewed as a joke, after accidentally confusing Brother Voodoo for DC's Brother Geek but deciding to continue running with the jokes, Brother Voodoo is a character that initially stood out to me and excited me as probably the only Haitian superhero that I've come across.

Readers tend to fall in love with a lot of the characters they see themselves in, whether it's personality, through wish fulfillment, or by racial or national connection, based on sexual orientation, and so on. Growing up as a kid of Haitian background and being a huge fan of comics, there really wasn't a huge collection of heroes from my parents' country I could choose from. So Brother Voodoo became that one among the sea of colorful characters. Now while the character being Haitian shouldn't be the ONLY reason as to why I love him, it is the original influence for me to give a damn to check him out in the first place. And it was in then checking him out that I would eventually became a fan.

3448320-tuturuLike many, I used to look at Brother Voodoo with a side eye and found him to look rather silly. The constantly being bare-foot, the open shirt for no reason that was so prominent in these Black characters (like Falcon, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Black Goliath), those weird red feathers at the bottom of his pants! I used to think, "Really? This is the Haitian character Marvel has?" The fact that he was a Vodou practitioner also made me take pause due to the stereotype of the Haitian being connected to Vodou. At the time, still young, I found it to be offensive, especially due to the negative connotation the religion has due to the misrepresentation from media. But it was my own personal research into the African-based religion and their stories that I started to learn more about the religion, it's mythologies, and it's beliefs and it gave me an appreciation for it. I'm not a practitioner, or Vodouist, of the religion itself but I've grown a respect for it. It's Black culture and Black culture that has been demonized and continues to be looked at as a form of devil worship, a lot of those people preaching devil worship being Black people themselves. BUT!! That's another story I won't get into because I'm sure I'm going to piss a lot of people off.

Brother Voodoo was created by Len Wein and Gene Colan back in 1973. He was created to capitalize on the Blaxploitation craze that was going on at the time, which saw Marvel and DC Comics creating characters such Voodoo, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Misty Knight, etc. The religion of "Hollywood Voodoo" was a theme in mainstream media that have been exploited for horror stories for a long time and also made it's way in some Blaxploitation films, such as the sequel to Blacula: Scream Blacula Scream. Thus Brother Voodoo would become a character in Marvel's horror franchise. But this is where things got interesting and one of the first steps into ensuring my love for this character: instead of making Brother Voodoo a bad guy using Vodou, he is actually a good guy using the Haitian/African-based religion for good.

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For the people who don't know much about Vodou, like every religion or source of power, you can use that belief system for good to help people or you can use it for bad. Mainstream media for years have tried to lead people's perception to believe the whole system is bad and evil. The creators of Brother Voodoo actually went about to do their research and learned that the priests who practiced Vodou and used it to help people, connect and worship ancestry, and lead a ceremony in celebration were Houngans and thus Jericho Drumm would become the Houngan superhero. His first enemy would be a bokor, which is a priest who uses the religion for malicious means. This bokor would be Damballah. Damballah in the actual Vodou religion is a Loa, a spirit of the religion (and some would say a God). He is the highest Loa in position of power and respect underneath Bon-Dye, the overall God of the universe, and Damballah is in the form of a snake and he is the holiest of the Loa. While I felt Marvel did a fun job with portraying Brother Voodoo in a positive light, the usage of Damballah as the enemy and a bokor at that was very suspect and did annoy me, but they made sure to note that this was someone corrupting the actual power and was not the true Loa. But this leaves a perfect opening and potential to fix such an issue if Marvel hires a writer interested in investing in this.

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The origins of Brother Voodoo was originally presented as thus: Psychiatrist and psychologist Jeremy Drumm ran away from his homeland, Haiti, to avoid the superstitions of Haiti and to establish himself in the U.S. He represents full assimilation and rejection of his Black people and their roots. And yes, Jericho Drumm was a doctor! One of the common criticisms I kept hearing and reading when Marvel decided to rename him Doctor Voodoo from people was that he shouldn't be named Doctor since he "wasn't a doctor" despite the character having a PhD since the very first page he appeared in and also being a legitimate VODOU DOCTOR!! Digression aside... Jericho comes back home when his twin brother, Daniel, is inflicted with sickness that he can't seem to uncover and learns that it is actually a Vodou attack done by Daniel's rival, Damballah, the bokor using the Loa's name for corruption. voodoo 2Daniel was the original Houngan Supreme, the top priest, who asks Jericho to take his place. After Daniel dies, Jericho is driven to stop Damballah and decides to take over for his brother and through a ceremony, his brother's soul combines with Jericho and their union creates Brother Voodoo, the new Houngan Supreme. Their union and new power gives them special abilities that connects them to the great pantheon of the Vodou religion and have a few set of worldly powers that were used to actually differentiate him from Doctor Strange.

The above was the simple origin of the character and that origin alone leaves so much potential for the character that isn't usually tapped into. Vodou is a vast religion and there are tons of books about it for research. It becomes rather distasteful with all the knowledge at hand that so many writers and people who showcase the religion continue to present such a messed up portrayal of it. The last one that really got me annoyed was its usage on American Horror Story: Coven. After much interviews from the creators stating how much research they did in order to honor the religion, they made sure to piss off quite a number of practitioners in the end due to their offensive portrayal of Marie LaVeau, the important real life Vodou Queen figure, who is first introduced in the show as a pro-black figure doing all she could to help her people then revealed as an evil and vindictive woman who kidnapped babies for demented Loas while secretly killing off our protagonists for petty reasons while never having the power to save any of her followers when the time came, among other groan-worthy situations, andScreen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.59.17 AM Papa Legba, the Loa of the Crossroads, a holy figure who connects you to the other Loas and is there to help guide you when you're lost but in the show was turned into an evil cocaine sniffing baby kidnapper who bared no resemblance to the Loa. Instead, they made him resemble a totally different Loa! This version of Papa Legba is now unfortunately the popular representation of this figure. Oh, just the same ol' demonization of a Black culture. Nothing to see here. Sigh.

Len Wein and the creators of Brother Voodoo actually did some research and uncovered the actual names of positions of Vodou. They also found out the importance of twins and thus tying Daniel and Jericho together to the "Brother" name. I think that last bit became a bit of a coincidence, as the Brother is definitely a branding to tie into the "Brother" movement from Blaxploitation. But it was clever of them to now tie the twins into the name. The importance of drum music got tied into the character along with Brother Voodoo needing to perform a dance and ceremony to connect him to certain power. A majority of these abilities and connections to his actual religion have unfortunately diminished and disappeared in the recent portrayals of the character. A lot of the potential for the character has not been touched in at all as he's now mostly seen a spell caster similar to Dr. Strange sending energy beams. I had hoped after 1296540-barrier crows of legbaRick Remender's book Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural, would bring a lot more of that potential but Marvel seemed to drop the ball when they killed him after their push of the character didn't latch on as well as they would have liked. There's a lot that could have been done with Remender's mini of the character and it's unfortunate that it was canceled before Remender could tackle Voodoo's pantheon Gods, but he showed a general love and interest with the character and it was clear there was some research there. The fact that I actually saw Marinette-Bwa-Chech in a Marvel book made me go "O_O ". Or the fact that Jericho had a hounfour, a temple for worship where it would have been interesting to actually see the Brothers Voodoo lead a ceremony and while we meet a cast of their followers.

Another recent portrayal of the character that I enjoyed was Reginald Hudlin's take 1244711-dv heton the character in his Black Panther run where Brother Voodoo used the power of prayer to connect to a Loa to help him take down an enemy. His connection to the Loa is sadly an ability that has hardly ever been explored or taken advantage of. We're in a universe where Black Panther could have a conversation with the Goddess Bast and Hercules can hang out with Ares and Athena and Thor is flying around making lightning whenever someone pisses him off, but we can't see any African or Caribbean Gods connecting with a character whose power is that he is their emissary of sorts?! Imagine how much story potential and how many abilities these various Gods can simply grant Brother Voodoo based on what his mission is! Maybe he could tap into Ogoun's power to help him gain the strength and knowledge of Warfare, or Shango can grant him a powerful thunderbolt to shock a sea of enemies! Or maybe he could make a deal with Baron Samedi to save the soul of a love interest or something! Maybe his relationship with his twin brother has some connection to Marassa Jumeaux, the Devine Twins! Heck, I don't know how one can't find a way to maybe use max beauvoir 1Max Beauvoir (1936-2015), a biochemist who would eventually become a chief Vodou priest, as a form of inspiration for this medical doctor-turned-Vodou doctor. Beauvoir was a real life figure in the world of Vodou who was involved in politics as well as being an important representative of the religion. In a very strange parallel with Brother Voodoo, Beauvoir also went back to his country to see a dying family member who chose Beauvoir to replace him as a Vodou priest and Beauvoir would eventually become the chief priest of Vodou in Haiti. Essentially he was the Houngan Supreme of real life! See?! This is me using real life research to make a connection that has so much base and potential here! May Max Beauvoir rest in peace.

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I am a firm believer that there is absolutely no such thing as a bad character. I believe with the right writer, anyone could save a character. Brother Voodoo has suffered years of being seen as a bad character but his few sporadic appearances prove that he could be written well if written seriously. All it takes is some good ol' research, knowledge and respect for another people's culture, and creativity. While the series was canceled and initial thoughts weren't strong, I felt Denys Cowan and Seldyn Hines' Voodoo Child from Vertigo Comics was a great source of using the Vodou belief with some respect and creativity. Or even Alan Moore's Voodoo: Dancing in the Dark. You could also look into books like The Hole: Consumer Culture by John Jennings and Damian Duffy where they play with the complexity of Papa Legba along with the misrepresentation of the Black body, culture, and religion, or works like Jiba Molei Anderson's Horsemen or Kenjji Marshall's Witchdoctor. With Marvel currently trying to change up their books, it'd be fun to see the usage of Brother Voodoo taken to another level. He's going to be in Uncanny Avengers by Gerry Duggan, who informed me this past weekend at the NYCC that Voodoo is going to play a big part in the first story line and that Voodoo was one of his favorite parts of the book. So I'm going to hold him to his promise.

Bring on the Vodou that you do, Brother Voodoo!

me as brother voodoo 3 by gregae





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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee


Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.


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