One of the sillier crazes in the recent history of comic book speculation was the rush to label certain forgotten Atlas monster/suspense characters as “protoypes” for various Silver Age Marvel superheroes. Though it was based on little more than Stan Lee’s penchant for recycling the occasional name or broad concept, more about it managed to gain some traction among a fanbase whose obsession with pattern recognition has always leaned to the noise end of the signal-to-noise ratio. The speculators and price guide mavens had little problem with arbitrarily hiking the price on some acid-eaten issue of Strange Tales because it happened to feature a space monster named “Magneto” who bore no resemblance whatsoever to the X-Men villain.
One of the few places where the prototype designation legitimately applies is in the case of Dr. Droom, pulmonologist a rough precursor to Dr. Strange who made his debut in Amazing Adventures #1 (June 1961).
Anthony Droom’s hunger for esoteric knowledge leads him to a remote monastery in the Himalayas, where he is greeted by a standard-issue Wizened MysticTM possessed of great magical power. Droom proves to be an able student of such sideshow-worthy feats as firewalking and hypnosis, but it is not until he passes the comprehensive exam….
…that the ancient sage transfers his powers and mantle of Earth’s mystical guardian unto the pipe-smoking dilettante. Droom was essentially a rough draft featuring concepts and ideas put to more effective use in the character of Dr. Strange, raised to an “important” historical footnote by virtue of being Marvel’s first Silver Age superhero, preceding the Fantastic Four’s debut by few months.
That’s a significant, if unsung, bit of real estate for a rather forgettable test-run posing as a fully-developed character, but it was only a matter of time before the aggressively self-referential nature of the genre led someone in the creative chain to confuse perceived historical significance with actual reader interest in Droom.
The character, retroactively renamed “Dr. Druid” to avoid confusion with the Latverian dictator, was reintroduced to the Marvel Universe via reprints in the pages of Weird Wonder Tales before making his true Bronze Age debut in The Incredible Hulk#210 (April 1977). The years had not been kind to poor Dubba D….
…as he was saddled with a laughably generic superhero costume and stuck occupying space already better explored by his creative successor. Whereas Stephen Strange had the benefit of being clearly defined both visually and thematically by Steve Ditko’s trippy layouts and Stan Lee’s unabashed purple prose, Druid was left with being a mystical dude with a costume and cape with little to distinguish him as a character or, for that matter, justify his existence at all.
Though he quickly sunk back into the z-lister purgatory, Druid got yet another moment in the spotlight a decade later, when he was inexplicable shoehorned into the resolution of Roger Stern’s epic “Masters of Evil trash the Avengers” story arc of the late 1980′s. After assisting the team with his ineffective mysticism, Druid was treated to a spot on the Avengers’ roster and a barrage of fulsome praise meant to convince baffled readers about how great a character he was. “Verily, Dr. Druid, thou dost be most bodacious and all noble souls must needs agree!”
There are some levels that even fandom will not stoop to, however. The abortive attempt at Doc Druidmania ended less than two years later, when he got sucked into Limbo while brainwashed by a hawt space pirate chick in a story so embarrassing that it caused the Avengers to break up.
In a just multiverse, he should have remained there and been spared the indignities to come…indiginities of the sort which only a lower-tier property deemed capable of “saving” are forced to endure. De-aging, a stint as leader of the Secret Defenders, demonic possession, transformation into an “authentic” druid (or DROO-ad, as my dad calls them), various retcons, deaths faked and “real,” and a relaunch as a younger, hipper “legacy” character — in fact, I am almost certain that plans are being hatched for a “Giant Turtle Dr. Druid with Massive Hooters” incarnation of Marvel’s “first” Silver Age superhero even as I proclaim the Little Mystic Who Couldn’t to be this week’s Nobody’s Favorite.