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The Post-Game Show » Blog Archive » Voodoos & Don’ts

Voodoos & Don’ts

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Brother Voodoo is back!

This may not be the most exciting news you’ve heard today, but it is a little exciting for me. Brother Voodoo, AKA Jericho Drumm, is a magical Haitian superhero in the Marvel universe. He debuted back in 1973 in the pages of Strange Tales, just a few months after the voodoo-themed Bond movie Live And Let Die. He is kind of awesome, and very much underappreciated. It appears he’s now taken over from Doctor Strange as Marvel’s Sorceror Supreme, which could see the character propelled into playing a much bigger role.

However, his return has raised a few eyebrows. Even though he only appeared fleetingly in a recent issue of Avengers (I forget which flavour; Uncanny or War Zone or Caramel Ripple), and only said a scant few words, those words were enough to merit a double-take. The words were; “My name is Jericho Drumm. They call me Brudder Voodoo. What da hell is wrong wit you people?”

Given that Brother Voodoo is a physician educated in the United States, this broad regional accent seems a little peculiar - and outdated. Writer Brian Michael Bendis observed on his Twitter; “the accent is established. Nothing I can do about that”. But that’s not true.

First of all, one of Bendis’s favourite characters is Luke Cage, another black 70s superhero who used to speak jive. He doesn’t anymore, because it would be ridiculous. Bendis is not averse to making changes to his characters. Furthermore, Bendis is notable for imposing a certain consistency of rhythm on his characters’ speech patterns. Sometimes works very well, but it has also lead him to write the third worst Doctor Doom in comics (after Mark Millar, whose Doom calls another man ‘master’, and J Michael Straczynski, whose Doom likes to have a bit of a weep).

Second; it’s not established. On the contrary, in Brother Voodoo’s first appearance, everyone else in Haiti spoke that way:

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But Brother Voodoo did not. The panels below show his first uttered lines, and there’s not a ‘dis’ or a ‘dey’ a or a ‘brudder’ among them - and that’s true throughout all of his original appearances. However broad the stereotypes that Brother Voodoo encountered, however cringe-inducing the caricatures, he himself never called anyone ‘mon’.

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We’ve gone from, “I am called Brother Voodoo” in his first appearance to, “They call me Brudder Voodoo” in his latest. I’m sure there must be a precedent for Brother Voodoo talking this way, but it’s not the case that this is how he always speaks.

Now, Marvel traditionally responds to online criticism by attacking the critic, because Marvel hates people who read their comics, so I suspect their comeback here would be to call me a racist for suggesting that an educated person can’t have a heavy regional accent. Obviously that’s not what I’m suggesting, nor do I think this portrayal of Brother Voodoo is the product of racist attitudes on their part.

I just think it’s dumb, and perhaps thoughtless, to write the character this way. Even if it were how he was originally written, dialogue spelled out in a regional dialect tends to look and read badly. Chris Claremont loves doing it, but at least he largely limits himself to Scots and Southerners. When you get into accents that are associated with racial stereotypes, where those regional tics have historically been used in the media to present a group of people as stupid, or savage, or comical, then you’re entering choppy waters. In just a few lines of dialogue, this version of Brother Voodoo skirts uncomfortably close to evoking a Sambo caricature. It would be like having an Asian superhero mixing up his Ls and Rs.

I’m open to the possibility that I’m being too sensitive. I’m aware that, one panel in, I’m quick to jump to conclusions. I’m also quite sure Bendis didn’t mean to stir up any unfortunate associations. He’s a nice guy and an intelligent writer, and I’m sure he means well. All that said, I know I’m not alone in having looked at that panel and thought, “oh dear”. If we were living in a post-racial world, it ought to be just as fine to write a Haitian character with a thick Haitian accent as to write a Scottish character with a thick Scottish accent (which is to say, it ought be equally awful either way). Even then, though, I think Brother Voodoo earliest appearances suggest that he’s not that guy.

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2 Responses to “Voodoos & Don’ts”

  1. burge Says:

    Behind his back, I bet they call him Brother Freakyhands.

  2. Rich’s Pull List - 24th June 2009 | Tech Monkey Comics Says:

    [...] last week. Ah well. Here’s hoping Bendis doesn’t overplay Voodoo’s patois as he never spoke that way before and it’s bordering on the offensive.Nova #26 - I’ve mentioned that this is awesome, right? Good.Secret Warriors #5 - Yawn-worthy [...]

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