Characters Appearing: Dr. Druid, Hellstorm, Nekra
Issue(s): Druid #1, Druid #2, Druid #3, Druid #4
As with Ellis' Hellstorm, and maybe even moreso, this is a well written series that is definitely intended for a Vertigo type audience, not a super-hero audience. It's full of Warren Ellis signature crazy ideas, and Manco's art is is moody and weird. That said, it is of interest to Marvel universe fans; in addition to Dr. Druid, it features Daimon Hellstrom and Nekra, and also, um, has some things to say about the Ancient One.
The story begins with yet another reimagining of Dr. Druid. This is a character that can almost* be defined by his reimaginings, starting with the fact that he was originally Dr. Droom. After those initial appearances as a reprint host, he lived in ill-defined limbo until Roger Stern made decent use of him (in i guess what was less of a reimagining than a fleshing out), but since then he was defined mainly as a patsy of Fake-Nebula. Roy Thomas then tried to repair that in Avengers Spotlight #37, which did a number of things actually very similar to the reimaginings here (albeit in very different styles); i'll get more into that below. Since then, there have been two attempts to make Dr. Druid "happen", first as the leader of the Super-Spook team the Shock Troop, and then as a replacement for Dr. Strange as the leader/coordinator of the Secret Defenders. So he's been through a lot of changes! (*I say that he could "almost" be redefined by his reimaginings, but i think most people either think of him as one of the weirder/questionable things in Roger Stern's Avengers run and/or as the absolute loser he turned out to be in the period immediately after that, and probably aren't even aware of Thomas' reboot.)
Warren Ellis' take here shows more familiarity with Dr. Druid's history than you may expect (in essay in the lettercol, Ellis mentions having talked with Tom Brevoort). The idea is a refocus on the "druid" aspect of Dr. Druid, which Ellis acknowledges had been somewhat done before, but with a misunderstanding of the nature of druids. Basically, in Ellis' opinion, druids were terrifying and shouldn't be depicted as "nice".
We start with Dr. Druid retelling his origin, with added details. He says that he was originally Anthony Ludgate, a student of Celtic antiquity. He says that all of the ancient druid traditions were lost thanks to the Romans, and so he went to Tibet based on research (diaries of Julias Caesar) suggesting that all magic in the world maybe have emanated from the Celtic territories, and therefore that Tibetan magic "might have been an aged, bastardized form of Druidic lore". If "confirmed" in the story, that would have been some wild cultural appropriation, but instead when he gets to the Ancient One, the theory is ignored. Instead, the Ancient One had his own theory to test, namely could he "empower a foreigner to succeed him". The Ancient One is described as "filthy" with "opium-stained fingers".
The Ancient One learns that Ludgate had innate Druidic powers thanks to having descended from the days of "Lud's Gate".
It's said that after his encounter with the Ancient One, Ludgate was left with "one foot forever in screaming... madness". He went back to the US, renamed himself Dr. Druid "to integrate himself with the colonials", and describes the origin he'd previously given as a "PT Barnum version of his experiences". His time as a "gaudy" costumed hero is described as a "career of failure and humiliation".
With that recap, we learn that Dr. Druid is not in a good state of mind. He's been living in a shabby house with a group of mystic hanger-ons. One of them tries to use one of Dr. Druid's books to summon the devil. He instead gets Daimon Hellstorm (since he's replaced his father as the ruler of Hell). Druid's attempt to intervene is another episode of humiliation.
As a result, Druid locks himself in his room and refocuses his powers on his Celtic origins.
The result is a new powerset based on control of Druidic elements (fire, water, and plants), and a new skinny tattooed body.
He also gets all his hair back (and more!).
Superficially, this is a lot like the Roy Thomas reboot, which also caused Dr. Druid to lose his pot belly and bald spot and emphasize Celtic magic. But obviously we're in a very different place here; Thomas' goal was to make Dr. Druid even more of a super-hero; Ellis has given us a madman. One of his first acts is to immolate a taxi driver who had some anti-immigration views (seemingly more for his grammar than the views).
Ludgate also eschews the "Dr. Druid" moniker, but since the title of the series is "Druid", i'm still going to call him that.
Druid sends his acolytes (they have names and personalities, but since they never appear outside this series i'm not going to bother) to find cases for him ("I have decided to return to an old trade of mind -- consultation upon and investigation of matters occult"). And i guess that would have been the storytelling engine for this series had it survived as an ongoing. But instead, the one and only case that Druid is brought involves Nekra, who had undergone a makeover of her own.
Someone has stolen Nekra's corpses!
It turns out that another occult group believes that the true nature of the world is too awful for humanity to accept, so they spend their time dreaming up an illusory world, which is the world that we actually see. A splinter version of that group was upset that they weren't actually worshiping anything, so they stole Nekra's corpses to create a new meat-god.
Druid - depicted as unstable and overeager to please Nekra - uses his network to locate the splinter cult and kill them with his new powers.
After wiping out the cult and its god, Druid decides to go after the original cult as well. And this, the fourth issue, is where we possibly get a story differently than what was originally intended. It turns out that Nekra was actually resurrected by Hellstorm to test Druid's sanity, and by going after the original cult - which (at least per Hellstorm) really is providing an important and necessary service by hiding the horrible nature of the world from humanity - he's proven that he's an existential danger. (Killing his own acolytes as a way to escape a trap that Nekra put him in probably didn't help either.)
Hellstorm kills him, and the book ends with the following bleak text: "And, later, they burned his body in a garbage can."
It's a dark, disturbing story, and it's kind of hard to see how it could have continued as an ongoing, even if issue #4 was written differently. Druid here is completely unstable and a violent killer. But as an (effective) mini-series, it's a good read showing yet another humiliating failure for poor Dr. Druid.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
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