Armagideon Time

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.

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15 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Failed prototype”

  1. Brian Smith

    I want James Lipton to play him in the movie.

    The terrible, terrible movie.

  2. Nik

    Two things sink him — the word ‘Druid’ simply doesn’t sound good on anyone. Add the word ‘Druid’ to any prefix and it becomes goofy — ‘Captain Druid’? “General Druid?’ ‘President Druid”?

    And the bald paunchy with goatee look — no, doesn’t work for anyone.

  3. Prankster

    Oh man, wasn’t this the guy who got turned into an Asian dude when he gained his powers originally? Because apparently it was only OK to have an Asian hero if we knew he was secretly a white dude?

    Also: “a fanbase whose obsession with pattern recognition has always leaned to the noise end of the signal-to-noise ratio.” Fucking YES. That kind of thing drives me crazy. It’s pretty much the single biggest reason my interest in superheroes stops abruptly in the early 70s, when fanboys took over the big two and turned everything into a massive deluge of fanwank, obsessing over insane continuity details, pointlessly bringing back Golden Age characters, and revealing that everyone with blue skin in the Marvel Universe was related to each other, or whatever.

  4. JdR

    Good pick. There have been some shockers added to the Avengers (so a great source of future nobody’s favourites), and Dr Druid certainly makes the bottom 3.

    Has Mr Stern ever explained his thinking behind including Dr Druid in the Avengers? (I understand he’s provided plenty of comment generally on his run).

    I mean, the idea was to add a jerk to the team. Silly idea of course. But why was Dr Druid the selected jerk?

  5. bitterandrew

    I haven’t read anything by Stern, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the heightened awareness of the genre’s history that came in the wake of Crisis (remember the fol de rol about Dr. Occult?) and Marvel’s 25th Anniversary played a big part in it.

  6. Jim Kosmicki

    I liked the reprints of the original stories in Weird Wonder Tales quite a lot. I cringed when they tried to bring him into regular continuity. I had stopped reading Avengers by the time they tried him there. So I still have fond memories (of course I’ve never gone back and re-read the Weird Wonder Tales, either – sometimes you gotta let nostalgia lie there)

  7. Harvey Jerkwater

    Druid to me was the Frasier Crane of superheroes, only stripped of all humor and placed in a melodrama. Painful.

    That name isn’t good. It sounds uncomfortably close to “drool” and evokes memories of a botched musical number in This Is Spinal Tap.

  8. googum

    Warren Ellis would get Druid for a limited after his Secret Defenders failure. Spoiler warning: it didn’t end well for Druid…

    I also had a notably terrible Avengers Spotlight issue, probably written by Roy Thomas, where Dr. Druid was de-aged a bit. Like being bald was his biggest problem.

  9. Jon H

    Maybe Stern played D&D and thought the ‘Druid’ thing would be ‘hep’ with the kids.

  10. Patrick Dean

    The character had no hair in his first appearance in Amazing Adventures; the balding top and beard was added to the Weird Wonder Tales reprints. Yeah, the addition of the red hillbilly longjohns and beard did him no favors. I think it was intentional to make him look like early Atlas ear writer Larry Lieber;

    I like the original ones (reprinted unedited in the Amazing Adult Fantasy Omnibus) where he just walked around in a suit and raincoat debunking magic, as in “This guy’s not a real magician, he’s just an alien from Venus!”.

  11. Kurt Onstad

    I actually really liked the Druid miniseries by Warren Ellis. If it hadn’t come out in the middle of the whole Marvel bankruptcy thing, it probably could have been the start of their own Vertigo-esque line…

  12. Ken Begg

    Jim Shooter took amusing advantage of Druid’s inherent z-grade status by having him totally bone (no pun intended) Johnny Blaze and ruining the stable life that sad sack had managed to build for himself as a Hollywood stuntman. This was back in the early days of the “the demon part of Ghost Rider is getting stronger” plotline, and Druid assumed GR (after seeing him for two seconds on the highway) was an evil dude.

    Blundering in, he forced the GR transformation in front of all of Johnny’s friends, surprising them no end. He then eventually (albeit only because Blaze mastered his dark impulses and refused to slay this hapless moron who had just destroyed his life) managed to knock GR out by attacking him from behind. With his foe safely unconscious, Druid did a mindmeld or some damn thing and was like, “Oh, wait, he’s NOT evil. My bad.”

    This was the event that kicked off the many years of an increasingly despondent Blaze wandering the back roads of country as GR, which finally only ended (for a while) when his original series reached its highly satisfying — if now nulled — finale.

  13. AmericanHawkman

    Well, considering my love of second-tier characters, it was only a matter of time… this one actually IS one of my favorites!

    Dr. Druid was meant to be the Frasier Crane of the Avengers, by Stern’s design. He was arrogant, far more clever than his teammates at the time, and willing to put that intellect into play to screw around with their heads for no reason other than practical jokes, which made him something the Avengers at the time needed… someone to stir the pot a little bit, in a team of friends and colleagues. He was probably the first ever Avenger that was on the team because he felt like he had to be, because he owed them for helping him out something like 40 issues earlier, and he had to pay them back. In other words, he was completely unlike virtually anyone else that had ever been an Avenger before or since, and that gave him a place among the team. He’s also the only real sorceror to ever give the team the time of day, which helped. His Avengers Spotlight appearance (written by Mark Gruenwald) helped to redeem the character, as he came to find peace with being John the Baptist to Dr. Strange and set off on a path of repaying his debts again (a theme for Dr. Druid), starting with aiding Captain America in his battle with Marvel’s OTHER druidic character, Dredmund Druid, and, from there, in facing the Red Skull yet again, and then on to aiding the rest of the Avengers against Kang in that year’s annuals. His destruction came when Dr. Strange cursed him to lead the Defenders, and was largely a way of getting out from under a task that he did not want to participate in but was enslaved to by the more powerful mystic. Ellis’s Druid miniseries took the character’s somewhat mercenary ways and his own view of the historical druids, and wasted a character that really had been misused by Marvel, and deserved better.
    Thankfully, Stern’s been spending the past 10 years or so posthumously redeeming Doc again with his Monster Hunter stories. I miss him and pray for a resurrection.

  14. David H. Smith

    Gadzooks, I wrote a “Hero History” of the character for an issue (the number eludes me) of AMAZING HEROES back in the 1980s, before he joined THE AVENGERS and attained a personality of any kind, pompous or otherwise. His appearnaces then were so scattershot I remember it only took me a day to raed everything he was in, figure out the continuity, and synopsize it all. By the time of his “re-imagining” I had lost what little interest I had!

  15. Pippy

    Wouldn’t a regular lion or for that matter gorilla be more worrying than the fuck yeah gorlion?

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