Interestingly, two superhero comic characters have been, more or less, shamans — the Canadian superhero Shaman (Marvel Comics) and the Mexican superhero Chamán (Mambo Comics).
Shaman has a long and complex history in Alpha Flight and other interlocking comics. His real name is Michael Twoyoungmen, a top Canadian surgeon, who has given up his native tradition for a wife and family in the white world. When his wife Kathryn is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he dedicates himself to healing her, promising his daughter Elizabeth that he will not let her mother die. So, when Kathryn dies, his daughter hates him for his failure, and moves out of the house. Michael himself spends years in seclusion, until he finally opens a gift left for him by his grandfather, who had died, remarkably enough, on the same day as Kathryn. The gift is a a medicine bag and a skull, which connects the earthly plane to his grandfather's spirit. The grandfather's spirit then trains Michael to become a powerful mystic and to use the powers of the medicine bag, becoming the superhero Shaman.
The story becomes more complicated after that. Shaman's story interacts with those of the other superheroes comprising the Alpha Flight team and a wide variety of spiritual entities, and he eventually becomes a key character in the Marvel Universe. He finally reunites with his daughter Elizabeth, who develops a newfound respect for her father, and he discovers that she, in turn, is destined to take on the crown of Talisman, making her one of Earth's greatest mystics.
Ironically, it is the medicine bag that undoes this relationship. When the bag is unexpectedly turned inside out, it begins to suck in everything around it, and Shaman has the choice of saving either his daughter — who is now the powerful Talisman — or Snowbird, daughter of the Inuit goddess Nelvanna. He saves Snowbird, knowing that his daughter is powerful enough to survive inside the medicine bag nexus. When his daughter is eventually rescued, she is furious with her father, who had failed to save her, just as he had failed to save her mother.
Rejected by his daughter, Shaman loses his confidence and therefore his powers; and the spirit of his grandfather returns to lead him into the barren lands for a series of tests to help him rediscover his inner power. He gains the respect of the spirits of the land, who are willing to help him, and acquires an eaglet animal spirit. And so the story goes on; a summary can be found here. Alas, Shaman is eventually killed in a great battle with a vastly powerful mutant called The Collective.
Chamán was the star of his own eponymous comic book, which appeared just twice, in December 1995 and March 1996. These issues are rare; I have taken the outline from the Comiqueros blog and La Cucaracha comic book website.
While there were at least some vaguely generic shamanic elements in the Shaman story — a medicine bag, an eaglet animal spirit, the spirits of the land — it is difficult to see much that is shamanic about Chamán. He in fact dresses not in anything remotely indigenous but rather in the costume of a luchador, a professional masked wrestler. It is not, as far as I can tell, ever made clear why.
The first and only Chamán story is entitled Welcome to the Jungle. A taxi driver tells us that the appearance of a mysterious person, a masked justiciero, a superhero, has changed life in the city. Crime has diminished and everything seems more peaceful. This mysterious person is named Chamán.
But now crime and violence are on the rise again, for a villain named Candlestick has created a bunch of robots — they look more like robot clowns than anything else — who are robbing banks, stealing jewels, and resisting all efforts of the police to capture them. Now Candlestick is threatening to poison the city water supply unless he is paid a million-dollar ransom, and Chamán has promised the chief of police that he will capture him within 24 hours.
Thanks to information given him by Bimba, a punk girl, Chamán succeeds in finding Candlestick's hideout, where he is captured by the villain, manages to escape, and destroys the robots, although Candlestick manages to get away.
Later, with the chief of police, he thinks up a plan to attract Candlestick. They set up a lucha libre, a wrestling match, in the hopes of luring Candlestick to take on Chamán in the ring. Candlestick falls for the bait, there is a fight involving a backpack rocket and a manure truck, and Chamán manages to arrest Candlestick and lock him in a mental institution. Chamán decides that he will continue to work as both a superhero and a professional wrestler.
Is it a coincidence that, ten years later, one of the leading luchadores in Mexico was named Mistico?
None of this has much to do with real shamanism, but I thought it was interesting.
PERMALINK to: Shaman Superheroes
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