Voodoo #1

Voodoo #1

F+

Hey, comic fans: have you ever watched John Carpenter’s The Thing and thought “I love this movie, but it sure would be better if the shapeshifting alien invader were a sexy lady instead of a dog”? Have you ever thought Species would have been better with more boobs?You have? Then do I have the comic for you!

Voodoo is a problematic comic, and not just because its protagonist is a stripper — although that is part of the problem. I’ve heard the justifications — she’s always been a stripper, there are strippers in the real world, etc. — and they’re frankly idiotic. Sure, Voodoo started as a stripper, but you may have heard that this is a reboot, that everything you know is wrong. Voodoo was always a stripper, Morgan Edge was always white, Amanda Waller was always a woman of large stature, Martin Stein was always alive. Why are three of those things ripe for change, but not the fourth? And yes, there are strippers in the real world; so why is it that characters like Grifter or Mister Terrific or Red Hood aren’t also strippers moonlighting as heroes? Why are there more strippers starring in DC books than janitors, orchestra
conductors, molecular biologists, paramedics, retail store managers, pizza delivery drivers, realtors, postal workers, and nurse practitioners?

When we take a look at most superhero-type characters who have day jobs, we find that their jobs usually exist to explain some aspect of the character, or to act as a source for story elements (or both). Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are both billionaires to explain how they can afford all their amazing technology. Clark Kent is a reporter because it allows him to keep track of crime and injustice, and because it facilitates travel to different places and different kinds of investigation. Peter Parker started as a science genius to explain how he got his powers and built his web-shooters, a high school student because high school is an easy source of drama and conflict, and a photographer so he could benefit from his powers while also believably having money issues and an overbearing boss. Virgil Hawkins has a job at S.T.A.R. Labs for the same reason that Jason Rusch had a job at S.T.A.R. Labs and that Peter Parker now works for Horizon Labs: because it explains their access to sci-fi technology, and allows for stories to start with “Hobgoblin breaks into the lab to steal the MacGuffin” or “the MacGuffin explodes and gives Virgil’s coworker crazy powers.” The character’s day job exists in the service of the character and the story.

Not so with Voodoo. Voodoo is a stripper because it facilitates boobs. Being a stripper explains why she’s showing her boobs all the time. Writer Ron Marz apparently understands this on some level, because he spends a good deal of time justifying why a shapeshifting alien invader would become a stripper: because there’s a military base nearby, because men have their guard down, because she’s somewhat telepathic and is spying on the military. This gets the process entirely backwards, arbitrarily deciding on a job and trying to fit the story and character to it. Moreover, the story could have been almost exactly the same if our erstwhile protagonist were a bartender or a waitress at a diner. But those jobs wouldn’t have required Sami Basri to draw women in various stages of undress for fourteen pages.

Of course, strippers are more than just their bodies! Why, we spend a whole scene on the strippers’ conversations with one another (this issue passes the Bechdel Test!) and learn that they’re people with lives and hopes and dreams. One of them is a single mother whose babysitter cancelled, one of them is taking community college classes, one of them wants to get out of the job and start her own bar, and don’t you know, the men are the ones who are really being exploited, for their money. Ron Marz quickly and efficiently checks nearly every box on the big list of sex worker characterization clichés — or maybe he just listened to “What Would You Do?” by City High. It’s not unrealistic — I had a friend in college who worked as a stripper, and made some good money by doing it. But it also doesn’t add anything to the story, it only serves as a further attempt to justify the strip club’s existence, by desperately assuring us that these women are well-rounded characters who aren’t just there for eye candy. But a character defined by a profession and a single motivating factor is not a well-rounded character. At worst, it’s a stereotype. At best, it’s a stock character. And given the end of the book, which suggests that we’ll never see these mostly-unnamed community college students and single moms again, the latter seems quite likely.

It’s a shame, because Ron Marz shows us in the other side of the plot that he can indeed write strong female characters who are more than just a job and a single motivation. Voodoo is being followed by two agents of some unnamed organization, who know that she’s a shapeshifting alien invader. The female half of the duo walks out on her pig of a partner at the strip club, beats up some underage punks who were trying to intimidate her, and heads back to a hotel where she calls and expresses regret for abandoning protocol and her partner, who she clearly cares about.

And that really only exacerbates the problem, because the book is called Voodoo and not Agent Fallon. This strong female character, who has a temper that she’s not proud of and a partner she cares about (even if he is an unprofessional ass), who’s connected to something called the “Black Razors,” who talks to herself and has a quick, acerbic wit, is one of the people who’s tasked with tailing and capturing the woman whose ‘name’ adorns the cover. The only well-rounded character in the entire issue — who happens to be a strong, independent, complex woman — is the antagonist, and only by virtue of this being a book called Voodoo.

Our alleged protagonist is introduced through a series of questions asked by the strip club emcee: “Who is she? Where did she come from? What secrets does she hide?” By the end of the book, we’ve learned the answer to exactly one of those questions: she’s hiding the secret that she’s a shapeshifting telepathic alien spying on military personnel. We learn this six pages from the end of the book, entirely through exposition dropped by Fallon’s partner, Agent Evans, in the middle of a five-page lap dance, just before Voodoo alien-hulks out and claws him to death. She ends the book almost as much a cipher as she started. We know absolutely nothing about her character or motivations or personality, except that she doesn’t want to be experimented on and will kill to prevent that from happening.

Basri’s art is good, with expressive faces and a distinctive style that’s a little like a manga-flavored Tony Harris. I enjoyed his work on Power Girl, and it really is more of the same here. The only part where it doesn’t work all that well is when Voodoo shows her alien form at the end, a moment that should be frightening, but Basri’s clean-almost-cartoony style and the creature’s still-human-enough-to-have- boobs design renders it more humorous than scary. The following scene, where the monster is shown in silhouette as it violently kills Agent Evans, is expertly staged and well-done, but the actual reveal that precedes it falls flat.

Ultimately, we have a book that’s upside-down. It spends seven times longer ogling the protagonist than characterizing her. It gives us a strong female character as the villain and a murderous mystery as the heroine. Character development for everyone but the antagonist is done almost exclusively through telling, not showing. The reveal for the alien creature in the midst of a sensual scene is jarring because of its humor rather than its horror. And the only thing the setting and status quo add to the story are page after page of desperate justification for the setting and status quo — which are then jettisoned at the end. Basri’s art is good, and there are pieces here that might make a good story. Instead, we get The Thing by way of Showgirls, with a little Species and X-Files tossed in for good measure, and that’s a messy, ugly combination.

Pull list verdict: DROP IT

tags: ron marz, sami basri, the new 52, voodoo

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