A few reviews ago I gave Marvel some well deserved credit for their role in bringing minorities into comic books. For far too long African-Americans, Asians and women were ignored at best or presented as offensive stereotypes at worst. Marvel brought us characters like the Black Panther, the Falcon, Gabe Jones and Shang-Chi and treated them with respect, as equals. That was a huge step forward.
But, no one's perfect. Every now and then a character slips in where you want to give them an "A" for effort but simultaneously ask "what the hell were they thinking?" In my opinion today's co-star is one of those characters.
First appearing in Strange Tales 169 (sort of an oddball title, that one. Years after being cancelled it picked right back up at the number where it had left off), Jericho Drumm was an educated man, a psychologist, who went to visit his childhood home in Hati. There he found his brother, a voodoo priest, on his deathbed about to succumb to a curse placed on him by a rival practitioner. Jericho's brother made him promise to study under his master, Papa Jambo. Before Jambo himself passed away he merged Jericho's spirit with that of his dead brother, making him into an extremely powerful voodoo priest.
So far that just sounds like an inventive twist on Dr. Strange's origin, so what's my problem? My main problem is the "costume" they put this guy in. He's walking around New York City in bare feet with no shirt and necklace of teeth. His adversaries invariably look like extras who escaped from a Bela Lugosi zombie flick. The overall effect just strikes me as being the sort of sterotype Marvel had done so much to dispel, it looks like a step back.
Now that that's out of my system, let's see what Brother Voodoo is up to with our favorite wall crawler.
This adventure starts off with a pretty funny splash page. Spidey is hanging on a Daily Bugle advertising billboard blackening in the teeth on JJJ's picture. The attentive reader will also spot the Cultural Time Capsule; the slogan on the billboard is "Our crusading publisher says I'll beat the energy crisis". Spidey's burst of artistic expression is interrupted when he hears a scream from the street below, and going to investigate he sees a girl being attacked by "the four freakiest muggers I've ever seen." These would be some of the jungle steretypes I mentioned above. I mean, these guys look like they should be trying to grab Fay Wray and drag her to see a certain giant gorilla.
Spidey naturally drops down to put an end to this anti-social behavior, and the fight goes his way for a few panels. But when two of the thugs snap his webbing it surprises him, and in the fleeting moment he's off balance all four pounce on Spidey.
Just when it looks certain that Spidey is about to become tonight's sacrifce, we hear "the frenzied pounding of voodoo drums" and a great cloud of smoke rises in the street. Out of that cloud steps Brother Voodoo, who swats two of the thugs aside effortlessly. That opening being more than enough, Spidey shrugs off the other two goons and begins to wallop them some more. One of them hurls his dagger at Spidey, who ducks it with no problem. However, after missing Spidey the dagger goes on and strikes the young lady he'd come to save in the arm. Both heroes turn to tend to the wounded girl, and the villains use the distraction to make good their escape.
I did mention that Brother Voodoo is barefoot, right? In New York City? Man, I hope his tetanus shots are up to date.
After taking the girl to a nearby hospital, the heroes exchange some information with each other (and with us). Brother Voodoo explains that he's a voodoo priest, and he's been tracking the escaped leader of a cult he recently smashed in New Orleans. The man is called Moondog, and considering that the cult he seeks to revitalize takes pleasure in death it's probably a good idea to track him down. The men who just attacked Spidey and the girl all bore the symbols of Moondog, and were clearly his servants.
One question remains... what did they want with that particular girl? The only way to know is to ask her, but when you can crawl right up the side of the building into her hospital room that's not a problem. Spidey is able to talk to her only briefly before she falls asleep from her sedative, but he learns that her name is Gail Paris, and she's an actress. She was on her way home from an audition for an off-Broadway play about voodoo when she was attacked.
Having teleported into the room at some point Brother Voodoo overheard all this. The heroes decide it would be best to check out the theater Ms. Paris came from, and they both head there in their own style.
Spidey arrives at the theater to find Brother Voodoo already there (teleportation is a lot faster than webslinging) and the two enter to find the show in progress. On stage is a woman bound to an altar, with disciples dancing all around. As the audience watches as the priest raises a huge knife and prepares to plunge it into her chest. "Put down the dagger, Moondog!", Brother Voodoo suddenly commands from the back row. He then advises the audience to leave, because the show is now over. At that the audience throw off their overcoats and reveal themselves to also be diciples of Moondog, and turn to attack!
Looks like we found our cult I guess.
Brother Voodoo may very well have been overwhelmed, but at that moment Spidey drops from the rafters and joins the fight. They're making short work of Moondog's gang when the man himself gets involved. He casts a voodoo spell that renders both heroes unconscious.
When they awake they find themselves bound to stakes and standing in piles of kindling, and Moondog stands ready with a torch. "Exactly what are your intentions, Moondog?" Brother Voodoo asks. Giving the obvious answer to that question, Moondog says that he intends to light their pyres and use their deaths to make up for the sacrifice he was denied by their interference.
Moondog puts them to the torch, and flames quickly envelop our heroes as the cultists laugh and cheer in triumph. That laughter quickly dies, however, when Brother Voodoo strides unharmed from the inferno! Apparently he used his voodoo powers to protect himself while the fires burned away the ropes that bound him.
Brother Voodoo bats aside several of the cultists and uses his cape to smother the fire around Spider-Man. He's relieved to find that within the fire Spidey has wrapped himself in a protective cocoon of webbing and is also unharmed.
The freed heroes press their advantage, and it soon becomes apparent that the cult is doomed. Realizing this, Moondog decides it's time to get out of Dodge and starts quickly climbing a ladder leading to a catwalk above, and freedom.
On the high ground of the catwalk it appears that Moondog has regained the upper hand, and he dares Brother Voodoo to come and get him. What Moondog fails to take into account is the spirit of Jericho's brother Daniel, which rises now from his body and takes possession of one of the unconscious cultists. Having boxed him in from both sides, Brother Voodoo now concludes that the only way to defeat Moondog is to kill him, and so he sweeps him up and tosses him off the catwalk!
Just before hitting the ground, Moondog is saved by a rapidly spun web-net. He reacts very strangely to being rescued, claiming now that his name is Wally Bevins and he's an accountant. What he's doing here in such outlandish clothing is a mystery to him. Brother Voodoo is able to explain it to him; Moondog was actually just a Loa (spirit) that had taken control of Mr. Bevins. When it looked like Bevins was about to die, Moondog fled his body as an act of self preservation. We don't think he'll be back, but if he does return rest assured that Brother Voodoo will be there to stop him.
Did I mention that Brother Voodoo is still walking around barefoot? In New York City?
Next Issue: Spidey teams up with the Man Without Fear... Daredevil!
The only real misgivings I have about this issue are with the character of Brother Voodoo, and I think I've covered those pretty well (barefoot!!!). If the character doesn't bother you then this is a fairly solid single-issue story. Jim Mooney's art isn't inspired or anything but it's certainly competant, and the story moved along at a decent pace.
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: There's big things afoot this month over in Amazing Spider-Man 135. The Punisher is making his second full appearance, helping Spidey take down the Tarantula. More ominously, Harry Osborn finds Peter's costume in the laundry, blowing his secret identity and setting the stage for a tragic confrontation.
And meanwhile, in the real world : On August 9th, America's "long national nightmare" comes to an end when Richard Nixon resigns the presidency and is replaced by Gerald Ford. Also, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh passes away this month at the age of 72.
I'm giving this one two webs because, well, Brother Voodoo just bugs me. Any Spidey fan who skips this one will not find himself much poorer for it.