Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

A New 52 Review: Voodoo #1

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 3rd, 2011

Voodoo #1
“Keeping Secrets”
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist/Cover artist: Sami Basri
Colors: Jessica Kholinne
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

Months ago, in a pitch meeting at DC Comics that I made up as gimmick to start this review… “So in the first issue, our heroine is a stripper… Yeah, a stripper. She peels off her clothes for money and does the whole ‘private dance’ thing in the back room, which could mean she’s willing to prostitute herself completely. It’s up to the reader’s imagination… What? Oh, she strips cuz she needs the money. OK, so she’s a stripper, but she keeps to herself. But little does she know does she know that government agents are watching… Yes, in the strip club. In fact, one of them gets off on seeing her strip and even pays for a private dance. He’s a real sleaze bag, which makes it OK when the heroine slices him up… Um, no, she doesn’t do anything particularly heroic in the first issue, but she kills a guy who’s all skeevy. Y’see, he went to a strip club and watched a woman strip, so he deserves to die! Get it? … I’ll tell you who’ll want to read it: 14-year-old boys with strong parental controls on their computers, that’s who.”

In a few short months, Priscilla Kitaen has become the most popular exotic dancer at the Voodoo Lounge, and as such, she’s been given the stage name of Voodoo. Of course, she doesn’t really want the extra attention. She just wants to earn some money in a hurry and to be left alone. Unfortunately for her, she’s not alone. Two operatives have tracked her down and are keeping her under surveillance. Meanwhile, Priscilla maintains a personal distance from everyone around her, desperate to keep her incredible secret… and to protect them from it.

The real shame of this issue is the fact that Sami Basri’s art is quite appealing, but it’s being wasted with titty shots and lingerie. His work actually boasts the kind of strength and flowing quality that’s made such artists as J.H. (Batwoman) Williams III and Joshua (NYX) Middleton such successes. There are also aspects of his figure work (aside from the gratuitous elements) and faces that remind me of Jamie (Phonogram) McKelvie’s style. We get a hint that he’s capable of more than drawing T&A with his portrayal of Jess Fallon, the woman assigned to keep an eye on the title character. She’s the only female character in a comic full of female characters who’s not portrayed as an object, and her strength really comes through in the art. But despite the amount of “screen time” Fallon gets, it’s easy to overlook her character when the rest of the book is about thrusting breasts and butts in the reader’s face. With projects such as this and Power Girl, his previous assignment with DC, Basri’s in danger of developing a reputation as a cheesecake artist, and he’d be wise to take on an assignment that would showcase his other strengths.

While the cover image shows no nudity and doesn’t focus on Voodoo’s sexual attributes, it’s nevertheless just as egregious a visual as the strip-club excesses to be found inside the comic book. One possible — and likely — interpretation of the cover image is the notion the main character is experiencing some kind of orgasmic bliss that coincides with her monstrous transformation. Given her reptilian form arises in the story only when she kills, one could argue Voodoo is getting off on murder. I admit that’s one possible interpretation. One could also view her expression as one of remorse, sadness or regret. However, given the emphasis on female sexuality in the story, my suggestion of a more sexual explanation is all the stronger as a result.

Marz’s story boasts one aspect that’s not confusing or painfully obvious and gratuitous. Jess Fallon is an intriguing character, a strong female presence in a comic book that desperately needs it. Marz establishes her combat skill in a fairly stereotypical but effective scene outside the strip club, but what’s more interesting is how he establishes she’s flawed as well. Despite the fact her partner’s a letch, she nevertheless reaches out to him, not wanting to be alone. The suggestion is clear: she’s sleeping with a man who’s bad for her. This again could be interpreted as defining the sole strong female character in the book by her sex life, but it’s more indicative of a self-loathing. Fallon is completely aware of the mistakes she’s making, and that self-awareness makes her an interesting personality.

The greatest sin committed in this script isn’t the over-the-top, exploitative emphasis on women as sex objects but rather the fact the writer doesn’t tell the reader much of a story. We get no origin, no sense of the title character’s motivation and no clear sign of what makes Voodoo a heroine in the first place. For all the reader knows, the agents keeping tabs on her are completely justified in their mission. While there’s a suggestion of a cliched threat of secret-government experiments on a supposedly innocent creature, the fact of the matter is Voodoo is the one who performs the grisliest of acts in the story. I don’t like her character, I don’t care about her character and I have no idea what the story’s actually about. Those aren’t exactly the elements of a new comic series that’ll get me coming back for another issue.

The cynic in me suspects the reason this series got made is due to the fact DC co-publisher Jim Lee co-created the title character and would therefore stand to get some residual cheques, but honestly, I doubt the creator royalties arising from what will no doubt a lightly ordered comic book would amount to enough to make much of an impression on Lee’s bank account. With Voodoo and Grifter, DC clearly wanted to extract some value from its Wildstorm properties (for which it paid Lee plenty years ago). Furthermore, I think the title character on this book appealed to DC as a featured character in its New 52 lineup due to its stated mission of offering a more diverse array of characters. Somehow, though, portraying a woman of color as someone who’s willing to cross any line — be it sex for money or murder — isn’t really in keeping with the goals of diversity. 3/10

“New 52 Reviews” on Eye on Comics are sponsored by All New Comics, Happy Harbor Comics and Strange Adventures. Show your support for Eye on Comics by supporting these retailers.

Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.