All week in SHELF LIFE, CBR columnist and veteran comic book writer Ron Marz has been sharing a behind-the-scenes look at his upcoming series “Voodoo,” out this month as part of the DC Comics New 52 line-wide relaunch. Displaying process pieces from “Voodoo” series artist Sam Basri, Marz refused to let either Hurricane Irene or the subsequent hurricane-related power outage at his home stop him from sharing the art from his series — so it’s only fair that CBR shed some light on the story side of “Voodoo” as well.
Originally created by artist Jim Lee and writer Brandon Choi for WildStorm Comics, Voodoo was the code name of Priscilla Kitaen, a half-human, half-alien exotic dancer with telepathy and shape shifting abilities. A member of the superhero team WildC.A.T.s, Voodoo and her teammates fought the Daemonites, an evil alien species embroiled in a centuries-long war with the Kherubim, a nobler alien species, both sides using Earth as a battleground. Now Voodoo and fellow WildC.A.T.s teammate Grifter are being incorporated into the DC Universe, with Marz and Basri on “Voodoo” and writer Nathan Edmonson and artist Cafu on “Grifter.”
Delving deeper into who Voodoo is while power was being restored to his house, Marz gladly chatted with CBR about the central plot of the book, the mysterious Agent Jessica Fallon, and whether or not readers should prepare to see the Daemonites or Kherubim pop up in the DCU.
CBR News: To start off, Voodoo as a WildStorm character was really attached to the WildC.A.T.s — what made you decide to go solo with Priscilla versus doing a WildC.A.T.s team book?
Ron Marz: The notion of WildC.A.T.s was never even discussed really; the offer that came to me was, “We’re doing a ‘Voodoo’ solo book, do you want to do it?” We never really touched on any of the characters except Grifter who obviously has his own book as well. At some point I think it would be kind of cool to bring the two characters together, but I think for now we want to keep the books somewhat different, at least for the first few months, just to make sure we have time to establish the characters on their own rather than jumping into crossovers right away.
What appealed to you about “Voodoo” as a writer and made you want to write Priscilla as opposed to an established DC character?
Well, one of the things that was most appealing is that it didn’t come with a lot of strings attached. There wasn’t really anything we had to keep from the previous iteration of the character. We wanted to stay somewhat close to what she was before but we didn’t have years of continuity baggage to deal with. That’s one of the lovely things about this whole relaunch, you can pick and choose as to what you want your past to be. In the case of “Voodoo” we kept the broad strokes of the character (I guess is the easiest way to put it) and then looked ahead at other elements we thought would make the character stronger. And a lot of those elements are still kind of under wraps because part of what we want to do with this series is pull readers into the mystery of who and what Voodoo really is. She’s not the exact same character who appeared in WildC.A.T.s. And there are hopefully some things in her makeup that will surprise even the longtime WildStorm readers.
Is there a huge fundamental difference between who Voodoo is in your series versus who she was in the original WildStorm universe? Is she a completely different character now?
It’s a fairly different character in that her back story with the WildC.A.T.s is something we’re not even addressing. We’re treating this issue #1 as her introduction and while there are elements of her character and specifically her character makeup, not simply the name but generally the way she acts or her outlook, we’ve incorporated some of that, but this issue #1 is definitely an issue #1. If you come into this having never looked at WildC.A.T.s, never had any contact with it whatsoever, we’ll introduce the character to you fully as a reader. You don’t need to bring anything with you to the first issue. We’ll tell you everything you need to know.
One of the few things you are keeping is that she is still a stripper. What made you decide to keep that facet of her backstory?
I think there was a general mindset that we wanted this grouped in with the Edge books, that we wanted to make the book a little, frankly, edgy. And maybe a little sexier than people are used to in a DC Universe book. So keeping that aspect of the character seemed like a natural fit, kind of a touchstone for this version of the character. That said, nobody’s ever said she’s going to be a stripper in every issue. I think we’ve come up with a viable reason that she’s doing this, and it’s not to pay the rent. But some of that unfolds in issue #1 and I don’t really want to spoil the surprise since we’re dealing with a character who is, at the very least, brand new to the DCU.
Because you are pushing the envelope with this, were there concerns that the racy aspects of the series might alienate the new readers DC is trying to bring in with the relaunch?
I wasn’t concerned about alienating new readers, no pun intended, as much as I was finding where our line was going to be! [Laughs] Finding out how far we could push the envelope, and not just to push the envelope because I think then you’re doing stuff just for shock value rather than story value. I wanted to get a sense of how far can we go with this? How sexy or violent can we make this? Once we got a sense of where this line was going to be they really gave me a lot of room to work with. I wanted to make sure this book was a different flavor than a lot of other DCU books because obviously what DC is mainly in the business of, with this relaunch, is superhero books. I didn’t feel the world needed another straight down the middle superhero book. “Voodoo” is much more of an espionage kind of book that is a little bit more grounded. I think if you want your meat and potatoes superheroes we’ve got plenty of those for you. Something like “Voodoo” or the other books that are on the fringes, the war books, “All-Star Western,” some of the things that don’t fall directly into the superhero category, I think that’s a great step in bringing more diversity to comics in general and specifically to the DCU.
WildStorm always had a slightly racier look to it than DC as well — was that part of your decision to make “Voodoo” different, that you wanted to keep the feel of the original character?
To a certain extent, sure, but it wasn’t really a conscious decision. We wanted to honor what had come before in terms of her character but we didn’t want to be slavishly devoted to it either; we didn’t want to just transport her from the WildStorm universe to the DC Universe whole cloth. We had the opportunity to see what sort of version of her would be the best fit. That was the fun part. That was the creative part, that we weren’t constrained by any one thing in particular; we got to pick and choose.
You described the book as an espionage book. Tonally is this going to feel like a sexy spy drama, sort of like a DC “La Femme Nikita?”
Yeah, I guess that’s not a bad way to describe it, A DC “La Femme Nikita” if Nikita was from really far away!
That actually brings me to my next question: Voodoo was originally tied into two WildStorm alien races, the Daemonites and the Kherubim. Are you using those WildStorm aliens specifically in your story, or did this give you the chance to make up new aliens or bring in preexisting ones from DC?
Yes. [Laughs] Because her heritage was actually revealed to be so plugged into the Daemonite story that’s definitely an aspect of her character, but it’s not the only alien aspect to her character!
You said that one of the fun parts was deciding what went into your version of “Voodoo.” How did you go about picking and choosing what parts of the WildStorm mythos were incorporated? Did you have to talk to Nathan Edmonson on “Grifter” to make sure the parts you were bringing over from WildStorm synched up?
Not really. I was brought into the project a bit later than a lot of the other creators so there were already a number of scripts and an outline for “Grifter” in existence, so I got a chance to look at that and read that and see where that book was going and make sure we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes in any way. That said, I almost felt like it was almost more important to integrate Voodoo into the DC universe instead of sending her to have some sort of interaction with Grifter. We’ve seen Voodoo and Grifter plenty. This is a chance, especially in the first two issues of the book, to have Voodoo interact with characters readers have never seen her interact with before. So we’ll get her interacting with a number of the very core DC superheroes. And I know the solicitation for issue #3 is already out, which features a guest appearance by Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, who I’ve written once or twice, so it seemed like a natural fit.
Did you want to put Kyle into the story after doing your “Retro-Active” story to give readers a fun, familiar face?
I don’t really remember! I was at breakfast one morning and the idea came up, “Well, you should put Kyle into your book because that’s what people are comfortable with you doing.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but if people will show up because they are used to me writing Kyle and we lure readers to the book that way and we hold onto those readers, that’s good for “Voodoo” overall. But we made sure it was a viable appearance that makes sense story-wise, not “Hey, look who showed up in one issue for a panel!”
Speaking of characters appearing in “Voodoo,” can you talk a little bit more about Agent Jessica Fallon?
Agent Fallon will be a recurring character in the book. I’ve said that I think it’s really obvious that she works for a government agency, she’s on the opposite side, or at least it appears that way, than Voodoo’s on. So there’s very much an antagonistic relationship between the two of them. To me, Fallon is almost as big a part of the series as Voodoo is. I’ve said previously that if we do this book right half of the audience will think Voodoo is a hero, and half the audience will think she’s a villain. The exact same thing can be said for Fallon. If we get this right it’ll be split down the middle in terms of who is rooting for her and who is rooting against her. Just because she works for a government agency that’s supposed to protect us against all manner of threats doesn’t mean she’s automatically the good guy. So I’m investing just as much effort into fleshing out her character as I am fleshing out Voodoo.
From the solicitations released thus far we know that Voodoo has a double nature. She’s possibly part alien and she’s investigating her background a bit more. What can you tell us about the story?
I don’t think its giving away too much to say her purpose here is to gather information — as a spy is supposed to do — about Earth in general and in specific the heroes who protect Earth. So she is working for an alien power and her job is to find out our strengths and weaknesses. That gives us a device to drive the book forward as much as possible in that she’s going to be visiting different locations and specifically different heroes in the DCU trying to find out who they are and what they can do — and in a lot of ways how they can be defeated.
That goes along with the “is she a hero/is she a villain” idea you’re playing with in the book, too.
Yeah, I’m really pleased we’re able to do this book and have a lot of shades of grey in it rather than this white hat versus black hat stuff you generally get in superhero comics. This is a little bit of a different flavor because our main character is not completely altruistic. She’s not driven by a need to help the human race; she in fact has a very dim view of the human race because she’s been exposed to some fairly unsavory segments of humanity.
Outside of DC, a great deal of your work has also centered on complicated and morally ambiguous female characters. Is this another reason why “Voodoo” appealed to you?
I guess to a certain extent. You know, I try to approach each gig or each assignment as an individual assignment, not “Oh gee, I wrote a tough broad in ‘Witchblade’ so I should do the same thing here.” I try to do everything simply character driven, not necessarily driven by a female character. But, yeah obviously there’s a certain similarity to a number of the books I’m doing right now so it becomes my job to make sure all those books read fairly differently. Nobody thinks that Batman and Superman and Green Lantern are the same book simply because they star a guy, so I hope people wouldn’t automatically broad brush “Voodoo” and “Magdalena” and “Witchblade” and “Shinku” for that matter as the same book because they all star a female.
Jim Lee was the original artist for the character (and the other WildC.A.T.s) — have you had any conversations with him about his version of Voodoo?
No, I actually didn’t. Jim and I haven’t talked at all about the book. As you might guess he’s a fairly busy dude between drawing a monthly book and being Co-Publisher. But Jim did actually help out with the layouts here and there for issue #1, kind of bringing his storytelling and his frankly natural drawing ability to tweak some of the stuff we’ve got in issue #1. It’s very much a hands on involvement from him as not only as Co-Publisher but also as an artist. Jim’s obviously a pretty awesome resource to have artistically to the company. It’s not that there was a top-down “Here, do it this way” insistence, it was simply if there was a way we could do things a little better, if there was a way we could tweak a pose or some of the storytelling, Jim was there to help out with that, which I think was pretty cool.
“Voodoo” is essentially one of the few new DCU characters in the relaunch. For you, what is the one thing about “Voodoo” you think will make readers want to pick the series up and read her adventures?
For me it’s the excitement of the new thing; it’s the excitement of a character you haven’t encountered before in a setting that is somewhat familiar. Voodoo lets you explore the relaunched DC Universe and come into contact with the heroes of the universe from different perspective than we’ve ever had a chance before. Obviously superhero comics in general are very much rooted in nostalgia, or they have been until midnight Tuesday night. I think this whole DC relaunch is a chance for superhero comics to look forward, to adapt to a new century and a new way of reaching people and I’m really excited that I have a chance to play in that playground. And I think we’re going to do a few things in the first few issues that people have not seen in DC books before! If you want the same old same old this is probably not the book for you. But if you want to have a book that is closer to the edge and a little more daring, I think this is certainly one of the titles of the new 52 that bring that.
“Voodoo” #1 hits shelves September 28.