Man, it’s so damn nice to see artwork by Gene Colan in a mainstream Marvel book, even if the art is in a reprint. Leaving aside all talk of the merits of the stories presented in this comic, Gene Colan’s artwork is an absolute marvel of grace and intensity. Colan’s sinewy and sensuous linework was the perfect fit for a comic that explored voodoo life. Whoever appointed Colan to draw these comics (most likely his longtime friend and collaborator Roy Thomas) knew well that he was working to the artists’s strengths.
And Colan’s work is remastered and recolored here, in much the same way that some of Lee and Kirby’s “Tales of Asgard” stories were remastered and recolored in that recent reprint series. Similar to Kirby’s work on those stories, Colan’s work looks absolutely gorgeous when given a fuller color palette and better reproduction. Aspects of the art that might have dropped out on the rotten paper on which these comics were originally published now look gorgeous on these pages.
The way the new coloring presents the ghostly spirit of Brother Voodoo’s brother is especially nice. The brother now looks suitably ghostly, but the new effects for the character never take the reader out of the story, George Lucas-like. Instead, they elegantly complement Colan’s wonderful artwork and give the book a wonderful feel.
Which is thoroughly important, because the success of this comic is almost entirely dependent on the mood that Colan gives the book. Len Wein’s writing unfortunately has a rather dated feel to it. It’s wordy in the way that so many comics from the ’70s are wordy. Characters spend lots of time describing the events that happen around them, or speaking in expository ways to fill in their back story.
That style of writing got a bit annoying as I worked my way through the story. So many scenes in this comic are dependent on the reader understanding voodoo terms and ideas; thus, many scenes show our hero, Jericho Drumm, specifically explaining those terms to the people around him – who know those terms as well as he does. In real life such conversations would be strange or awkward, and we seldom see them in comics these days. But this was normal writing for the ’70s, and it gives the book a strange and gawky feel.
It’s also awkward reading Brother Voodoo taking lessons from his master, Papa Jambo. The scene has an odd sort of dull familiarity to it that I found distracting. So many heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Neo, learn at the feet of the master, but this scene has a perfunctory sincerity to it that I found oddly distracting. I kept imagining Yoda standing on Jericho Drumm’s shoulders as he learned the voodoo arts, and found that image rather distracting. Still, the scenes do show the universality of the characters, a very interesting idea.
But for all my complaints about Len Wein’s dated writing, I have no complaints about Gene Colan’s artwork. His wonderfully moody artwork brings this story to deeply intense life, filling each page with a sort of gorgeous mystery that thoroughly transcends the story. I loved this book, and my colleague Paul Brian McCoy agrees in an extended essay on these comics as part of ComicsBulletin’s “Mondo Marvel” column. I think Paul would agree with me: these aren’t the greatest comics that Marvel released in the ’70s, but they’re satisfying and lots of fun.