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WHttDCnU? – Voodoo: What Lies Beneath

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Welcome back heroes and heroines to WHttDCnU? for our review on Voodoo: What Lies Beneath. I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about Voodoo, other than her previous universe histories with the W.I.L.D. Cats and apparently being a Daemonite, fearsome shapeshifting planetary conquerors from deep space. So how does one of them become a stripper? Join us now as Keeper and the Plague Doctor begin their examination of this mystery, now on:

Whatever Happened to the DC New Universe?

– QueenQeeko

WHTTDCNU-synopsis

plague-doc-rThe scene: a strip club, a dark-skinned woman on stage, in an appropriately revealing outfit. This is Voodoo, or at least that’s what the club owners call her. Around her, various patrons with plenty of money to throw away. And near the stage, two that aren’t like the rest. A man and a woman, These are FBI agents Evans and Fallon, and Voodoo is their target.

Something about the atmosphere of the place makes Fallon uncomfortable, and she heads back to their hotel room. Evans stays behind to get some information out of Voodoo, and he thinks the best way to go about this is to pay for a private dance. See, Voodoo isn’t human. She’s a shapeshifting telepathic alien with an unknown, but almost certainly hostile mission. And Evans thinks that if he tells her this – if he reveals that he and his superiors know the truth – that she will actually turn herself in, given the chance. Because surely, turning herself in to be experimented on would be better than a fight.

He gets to see Voodoo’s true form only for a few seconds. His death is very quick.

Using the information that she gleaned from his mind, Voodoo returns to their hotel room, and spends the night with Fallon, using the time to obtain even more information about the people who are hunting her. In the morning, she leaves via the bathroom window, just before Fallon gets a call, informing her that Evans has been found dead.

Fallon joins forces with the super-powered Black Jack, and the pair would have managed to capture Voodoo, had they not relied on safewords to identify each other. A safeword which Voodoo learned while she was in bed with Fallon the night before. She makes her way to a car repair shop, run by a fellow alien hybrid, who goes by “Skinny,” to deliver an update on the progress of her mission.

The cryptic conversation lasts a couple of pages, until Green Lantern Kyle Rayner bursts through the wall of the building.

Skinny and his two alien concubines decide to lead Kyle on a chase into orbit, to give Voodoo time to escape. Kyle does follow them, but they disappear into a wormhole just before he can catch them. For some reason, despite the fact that his ring could probably track Voodoo down, we never see Kyle again.

Our alien girl then sneaks into a secure FBI facility. The same facility where Fallon and Black Jack are having a Very Serious Conversation about her. Once inside, she uses her seductive powers to gain access to their computers and steal all their files about super-heroes. Not satisfied with this, she also crashes their computers systems and destroys their generator before escaping, and in doing these things, she alerts the entire facility to her presence, making it necessary to transform into a guard dog to escape.

Meanwhile, another mysterious alien presence has also trying to find her, killing everyone it comes across, whether or not they give it helpful information. So when Voodoo arrives at her starship, ready to transmit the information, she discovers a pure-blood Daemonite, who wants to kill her because she’s a hybrid. Something about a misinterpreted prophecy and a Great Cause, and yadi-yadi-yada. They fight, she wins, hops on her computer and what’s this? She discovers a file all about herself in the database, and when she clicks on it, she discovers, to her shock, that she’s a clone. The original Priscilla, who also has alien shape-shifting powers, is being kept as a prisoner in a secure Black Razor facility.

And since the FBI’s entire database was wiped, and she has no alternative means of tracking Voodoo, the team of Fallon and Black Jack decide that they have to break into Fallon’s old Black Razor facility. They manage to break her out just as Priscilla is about to be excecuted, and together, they go on a hunt to find and kill the aliens who experimented on her.

Angsty and tormented about her true nature and purpose, Voodoo decides that she needs to speak to the War Council, and she returns to the mothership hiding behind the moon. She fights past the guards and breaks into the War Room quite dramatically.

We never get to see the outcome of the conversation.

WHTTDCNU-art

keeper-lThe very first page is a full page spread of our main character, currently a stripper. Enough said.

All jokes aside, Voodoo’s art is competent. Its forms make sense, even for a shapeshifter; its colours are understandable, nothing visually looks out of place. The layout works. But it’s only technically competent.

I’ve used the words ‘in-house style’ a lot in this review series, so let me explain. Like all good companies, especially those who deal with art or pictures, DC has an ‘in-house style’, a set of guidelines that tie all DC products together. It’s a good business and marketing decision; the guidelines mean that DC comics all have distinct qualities that are recognisable and consistent. You can tell a DC comic at first glance. But these guidelines are very general, designed to create branding while also allowing artists with their own stylings room to add their own personal touch to a comics art. An in-house style is a great way to get a bunch of different artist to churn out visually interesting pictures that all have similarities, especially when they’re all working on disparate stories that are part of the same universe.

But those baselines become the measure, the point against which a comic’s art is compared. Artists aren’t measured on how well they adhere to the parameters, they’re measured by how well they can make the art distinctively theirs while still adhering to the guidelines.

On character design: Black Jack is a monochrome Major Force, and I don’t know why they didn’t use Major Force instead (as an addendum, he actually IS Major Force. Go figure.). I also hate how incredibly lazy it is that we never see Voodoo transforming, not even in a single panel. The tricks used on TV to hide transformation are done because it costs money and special effects, both of which have a tendency to age poorly. While it serves as a visual shorthand, it’s also indicative of the lack of effort put into Voodoo’s art. Sami Basri can do better, especially given his run on Power Girl in 2009. Voodoo is the most banal, paint-by-numbers art of the New 52 that I’ve seen. It screams bland from every line.

plague-doc-rVisually, I can’t really fault the way that Voodoo is put together. The art in the comic does pretty much everything right, with decent character proportions, good use of colour and lighting, and unique designs for each character, except of course the alien ones (who all look identical, because that’s just what aliens are like).

The combat is fast-paced, quick and ruthless, particularly between Voodoo and the pure-blooded Daemonite who tried to track her down. The comic had a pretty interesting and effective way of showing how one might use shapeshifting to give onesself an edge in combat, even against much larger opponents. Enlarging muscles, lengthening one’s jaws – though so many changes proved harmful to the character, they added a little extra something to a fight scene that might have otherwise been a little bland.

There were a couple of issues with the pacing. As written, Voodoo’s escape from the FBI facility makes no sodding sense. Let’s have a look at what that scene requires.

There is panic and chaos everywhere. With Fallon in hot pursuit, Voodoo has only a couple of seconds to round that corner. Despite the crowd of hundreds escaping from the building, she must transform from a human into a dog without anybody noticing. And then, she has to attach herself to the leash of a security guard, who probably already had a dog next to him, without him noticing. No. Just … no. I don’t buy that for one second, and neither should anybody else.

WHTTDCNU-writing

keeper-lVoodoo is known as a cheesecake comic,and like Catwoman or Deathstroke, is supposed to be a ‘dark, gritty; mature’ story. In reality this means that it focuses on what I call ‘the three M’s’, things that are in dark comics that don’t show up in your more child-friendly iterations.

The three M’s are Murder, specifically violent killing; Motivation, the exploration of why a character does things/the ‘choices have consequences, and they’re all bad’ storyline; and finally, Mammaries. Well, Deathstroke had Murder, and Catwoman unsuccessfully attempted to dive into Motivation which just leaves the last one.

I’m being overly harsh to Voodoo here. There isn’t a whole lot of cheesecake past the first three issues. Mostly just shots of her time as a stripper in case files that the undisclosed government agency has.

That doesn’t change the fact that there’s precious little else to the comic. We’re originally introduced to the protagonist living as a stripper in New Orleans. She gets found out and heads to Mississippi to check in with her handlers. Without any change of mission, she’s suddenly breaking into the Undisclosed Government Agency Facility to get information on Superman, suddenly she’s a clone?

The number of plot contrivances is a terrible thing. Our shapeshifting alien, trapped in a house, suddenly has telepathy, which she never demonstrated before. Our Undisclosed Government agents, who have lost all tracks of the alien, just happen to be visiting the one facility that voodoo is breaking into, at that exact moment, thus putting them back on her trail? There’s willing suspension of disbelief, and then there’s this.

The creative team changed for issues 5 and 6, with Josh Williamson replacing Rob Marz as writer, and this didn’t help matters. Tying Voodoo’s alien history into the Daemonites of Grifter is actually a pretty well thought out and elegant solution to ‘too many secret organisations issue.’ Or it would be, if it didn’t assume that you knew about Daemonite’s from Grifter. Instead, those who aren’t reading grifter wont understand either why the Daemonites are doing this or what the hell the ‘prophesy’ is.

plague-doc-rThe story of Voodoo feels like it was put together out of elements that were only vaguely thought through. It’s as if someone had a lot of great, interesting scenes in their head, but didn’t spend a great deal of time thinking about how they could all be strung together into something that made sense, and would make a reader want to get their hands on more of it.

Scattered mentions of prophecies and the Future Of The Daemonite Race were obviously supposed to lend weight to the story and the combat, by making it seem as though vast, only dimly glimpsed events hung on the outcome of this one fight, and the actions of this one hybrid character. In theory, this is a much better way to go about it than a conversation which starts with “As you know…”. In practice though, it felt more like these things were just flimsy excuses to keep the characters running around and doing things, rather than ominous silhouettes of truly significant events.

Maybe this is because the first volume ends before a single major plot element can be properly resolved. Voodoo discovers that she’s a clone, but has no idea what that might mean. She goes to the council for answers, but the volume ends before the rest of thhat conversation can happen. The original Priscilla gets broken out of a secure facility, but we never get to see what becomes of her or her rescuers. She will almost certainly be facing off against Voodoo at some point, but because we only met her one chapter ago, it’s really difficult to actually care.

All of this adds up to a really unsatisfying comic to read. If the goal was to frustrate and annoy readers with a hail-storm of important-sounding scribble, then great job, guys! You have succeeded admirably. If, however, the goal was to actually write an interesting, compelling story, then your failure is so complete that I’m at a loss to come up with any way to fix it.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation

keeper-l‘Voodoo’ is a Daemonite-Human hybrid, sent by the Daemonite high council to gather information, presumably pending an invasion of Earth. She’s also a clone of a woman with shapeshifting powers.

Why? I’m assuming this is a bait-and-switch, with our freed ‘original’ replacing the evil clone by the end. End of what? Who the hell knows. Not the comic. It suffers from a significant inability to tell who the protagonists are. Is it the shapeshifting alien out to gather information for the conquering of Earth? Or is the Undisclosed Government Agency, who have the original locked up in their basement for completely no reason?

Voodoo, the alien, is a terrible character who floats through every problem with judicious use of her… powers. Like making people trust her for no reason. Or having a government agent reveal stuff to her in a private room while he’s strapped into a chair and disarmed. Or having a Green Lantern give her ‘the benefit of the doubt’. I can almost hear the juvenile sniggering and whispers of ‘that’s not all he wants to give her….’

She’s trapped? She has telepathy, so that shapeshifter problem is solved. She can apparently control her shapeshifting enough to create spines under her skin, and then fire them with enough force to penetrate skin. Despite the fact that shapeshiftng ‘hurts’, and apparently has a limit. Now she’s a half-human daemonite, who can do things no other clone can, I’m guessing because her template came with shapeshifting as standard.

As for everyone else, they’re your standard Government Agents. Well, no, they were Black Razors, an organisation dedicated to this sort of thing. Except they’re incompetent. But they’re Black Razors (insert 80’s metal guitar screech, then eagle cry.) Also the Daemonites, religious zealots and all around evil alien race of indeterminate technology or concept other than ‘telepathic, evil aliens’.

plague-doc-rAs a protagonist, Voodoo succeeds about as well as everything else in this comic. She is bland, uninteresting, and nearly impossible to empathise with. This is not because she’s female, or alien, or because she wants to conquer the Earth. It’s because the thing that drives her every thought, action and emotion is something completely unknown to the reader.

We’re only ever given the vaguest hints towards her motives. The Mission. The Prophecy. It takes several books for anybody to even mention these ideas, and when they do, that’s all we get. A name-drop, and nothing else. If we as readers can’t understand what motivates her, then there’s no reason to care about anything that she does. And by the time we finally get something to latch on to – deception, a search for identity and purpose – the volume is almost over, and that plot-line is left dangling, just like everything else in the comic.

The other characters aren’t much of an improvement, but out of the rest of the cast, Agent Fallon is probably the most developed. If she had been the lead character instead, I think the book would have been a lot more interesting. But almost all the characters that surround her are about as flat, dull and lifeless as Voodoo herself. Black Jack’s only defining characteristics are a name, and the power to shoot energy beams from his hands.

Those energy beams are black.

The end.

No! That’s not enough to build a character around!

And don’t even get me started on the original Priscilla. There was literally no space left in that comic to establish any kind of history or personality, let alone motive besides simply getting back at those filthy aliens. But who needs those things, right? She’s a badass chick with shape-shifting powers and a burning need for revenge! People love that!

Right?

WHTTDCNU-conclusion

keeper-lNope.

In Magic: the Gathering terms, this is draft pick #45, behind the basic land and the 2/1 for 3 mana vanilla creature. In sports terms, this is the comic picked behind the kid in the wheelchair and the fat kid that gets winded walking to join his team.

I’m being harsh again, and it’s not really all Voodoo’s fault. But this is a comic that has all of the plot of your average superhero story, coupled with glaring, annoying flaws. It’s not the concentrated suck of Deathstroke. This isn’t the misguided attempt to be cool that I genuinely believe George Liefeld is going for(He just wishes everything was the nineties again!). Voodoo just commits the cardinal sin of entertainment. It’s boring.

It’s bland, it’s boring, it’s banal. It’s like DC said ‘we have to have 52 comics’ and this was the last thing they come up with. ‘Low-effort’ is the best word for it. It’s almost sad, but not in the way Catwoman or Deathstroke were. Those were done by people who actually thought that was what people wanted. This was a bland boring idea, done with the blandest possible art, with no story or attempt to actually make it interesting. No one put themselves forward with this, no one cared enough about this to even give it a shot. And if the writers and artists didn’t care enough to give it a shot, why should we as consumers give it any consideration?

plague-doc-r“Less is more” is a phrase that I hear applied to all sorts of media, from writing, to film, to comics. Used in the right way, it can be great advice. It’s especially true when it comes to horror; that way, the reader’s imagination can fill in the blanks and come up with something much scarier than what the author or artist could come up with on their own.

The problem with this comic is that the author seems to have really wanted to create an air of suspenseful mystery to the events in the comic. And so they apply that idea of “less is more” to everything.

The characters don’t just lack substance, but seem to be composed of hard vacuum (once again, Agent Fallon is the exception to the all-pervasive rule). The web of events driving the action are only ever hinted at in the vaguest way. The protagonist is a single-note character whose sudden crisis of identity near the end of the volume has no chance of saving the audience’s empathy for her.

And you know something? This all adds up to an unbelievably boring comic.

Voodoo was a chore to wade through. I wouldn’t read more of it if you paid me by the minute. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. Even if you want nothing more out of your comic besides violence and boobs, Voodoo is still not for you. Why? Because the comic spends far too many pages trying really, really hard to make its events seem important, foreboding and mysterious. And it fails, completely, each and every time.

WHTTDCNU-comic

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  • Andrew Henriquez

    On reading that you have to be following Grifter to really understand the vague mentions of The Prophecy, I can’t say that I’m really surprised. This is something I’ve seen quite a lot of, reviewing the New 52. The only thing that’s missing is the obnoxious little yellow box that tells the reader, “Hey, guys! Buy Grifter if you want to know what these two characters are talking about!”

    Also, the Ultima Society comic at the end looks great, and was definitely worth waiting for. I especially like the insane amount of detail put into the shattered everything. Keep up the fantastic work!

  • Man I read both Grifter and voodoo side by side and I barely understood what was going on. It was mostly just poor writing and a stupid mid run reboot.Voodoo was an utter mess.

  • Great work on the comic as always Qeeko! I love the various looks of confusion and concern. 🙂