Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Strange Tales #172

Strange Tales #172, February 1974, Marvel Comics
writer: Len Wein
penciller: Gene Colan
inker: Dick Giordano
colorist: Glynis Wein
letterer: L.P. Gregory
editor: Roy Thomas

Considering some of the supernaturally inclined comic books I’ve read for A Comic A Day thus far, this issue of Strange Tales is tame in comparison. However, such a veritably classic roster of acclaimed talent in its credits (Wein! Colan! Giordano!) could make even the most mundane tale a thrilling one, and this Brother Voodoo adventure is no exception. Perhaps I’m too jaded, but every perfectly rendered panel in this issue struck me as a prime example of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, exuding a sense of suspense in spite of its title character’s cool composure in the face of overwhelming and, yes, strange adversity. I guess when the paranormal comes naturally to you, there’s nothing super about it.

When Brother Voodoo saves a helpless young woman from the roaring waters of the mighty Mississippi River, she identifies herself as Loralee Tate, a New Orleans Police Chief’s daughter, and recounts how she nearly drowned. Apparently, earlier that day, Loralee received a black rooster in the mail, and was pursued by a band of hooded mystery men shortly afterward. Although she eluded, a strange fog surrounded her vehicle, took the shape of a haunting face, and plunged her car into the river. Brother Voodoo calls Loralee’s father, but the hooded men find them first; Brother Voodoo initially defends himself well but is eventually overcome, and when Chief Tate awakens him, Loralee and the men are gone. Despite the Chief’s warnings, Brother Voodoo disappears to pursue the case. The last image we readers digest is the cult’s lair, as they prepare to sacrifice Loralee on the pyre of their dark lord. I’d be interested in the conclusion of this issue if only know more about Brother Voodoo’s macabre adversaries, but perhaps what makes them most strange is their lack of motive. Pleasing a demonic deity is simple enough, eh?

This issue of Strange Tales was very similar to yesterday’s Jungle Attack, particularly regarding its caption-ridden storytelling style. As I cited in yesterday’s post, the captions in Jungle Attack were a bit more poetic, and I dare say relevant in retrospect; as an experiment in graphic literature, I skipped many of the captions during my first read of Strange Tales #172, then revisited the material to see if any of the monologue offered a deeper understanding of the plot. For naught. While the third person perspective certainly peppered a few of the scenes and provided some back-story for the eccentric Brother Voodoo, some of the moments may have been even more perilous sans lofty explanation. I understand that this style is indicative of its era, and thus classic and respectable by our standards – in fact, throughout this analytical experience, I’ve discovered that, for the most part, the older the book, the longer the read. Have modern comics lost some of their meat in the ascension of the artist as celebrity? An evaluation for another time, I reckon.

In the meantime, Brother Voodoo is another fine example of a black superhero, boasting an expertise in the supernatural, a sense of selflessness toward the oppressed, and courage in the face of danger. Interestingly, an ad in the back of this issue for Luke Cage’s book brags that Cage is “The First and Still the Greatest Black Superhero of All,” so although I’ve been very eager to read the Archie Bunker adventure I’ve been saving for months (see yesterday’s review for details), I might have to dust off this Power Man issue I’ve also kept in waiting to conclude Black History Month with a bang. Just as Brother Voodoo is man who was given a chance to live again, he has inadvertently breathed new life into this series of reviews for one last run. A tale stranger than fiction . . .

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