December’s comic book pick of the month: Witch Doctor: Malpractice

Witch Doctor: Malpractice #1

These last few weeks in December are great for sorting through tons of books, comics, television shows, etc., that you missed throughout the year. And it’s almost 2013 now! Better hurry. We all have a lot to catch up on, and this is one title you don’t want to skip.

If you read my open call for comics back in April, then you know I’ll be spotlighting current comic book series (in addition to my graphic novel reviews) every month or so to inspire discussion. I’m also taking requests, so please — leave a comment or drop me an email.

Check out November’s review of WHITE DEVIL.

I didn’t read the WITCH DOCTOR four-issue miniseries (plus the few extras that came out) when creators Brandon Seifert (writer, SPIRIT OF THE LAW, DOCTOR WHO, HELLRAISER) and Lukas Ketner released it last year. Actually, I had never even heard of it until the first issue of WITCH DOCTOR: MALPRACTICE hit last month. But I do know about the company behind it: Skybound Entertainment, an imprint of indie comics publisher Image, is owned by Robert Kirkman. He’s a pretty famous guy in the industry — known for creating THE WALKING DEAD, the zombie comic series that inspired the popular AMC TV show and some games.

Witch Doctor: Malpractice #2

The name Skybound itself doesn’t guarantee quality, but give MALPRACTICE a shot and you’ll find it has a certain The Monstrumologist vibe that’s irresistible. I can only imagine that Dr. Vincent Morrow’s (the eccentric occult physician and lead character in the comic) laboratory and all the gruesome experiments that go on there are as ghastly as they would appear in Yancey’s young adult book if it were a graphic novel.

Morrow has two assistants: Penny Dreadful and Eric Ghast. I’m not sure what Penny is exactly — she’s some sort of Red Riding Hood look-alike who’s moody and possessed by demons. Ghast is a paramedic.

Their boss seems to be the most knowledgeable and experienced of the three, so it’s natural that he would take charge of each case. These aren’t your everyday hauntings and maladies, either. We’re talking about witch-cast curses compounded on demon-parasitic possessions.

But I love that Morrow isn’t just the star of the show — the guy everybody loves, with too little attention for the unfortunate sidekicks, like how Watson is often portrayed next to Sherlock Holmes. Morrow may be the brilliant scientist/detective-type, but Penny and Eric feel just as important. They’re less like two-dimensional, accessory characters who fill the plot and more the doctor’s essential right hands. Sometimes they’re the ones who move the story forward, find clues, and solve problems, not Morrow. (Issue #2 really emphasizes this when Morrow casts a dangerous and useless spell. Nice homage to Hellraiser, Seifert!)

In fact, writer Brandon Seifert puts Morrow in a nasty predicament right from the first issue: He gets drunk and wakes up naked in his bed, feeling violated. He may have good reason to be concerned — he thinks he slept with a vampire — but he reacts so awkwardly and his panic is so overblown that I couldn’t help but laugh.

What happens after that had me hooked. That “vampire” wasn’t a vampire, and she may have just given him a terminal disease. Man … sex kills.

Lukas Ketner’s pencils and Andy Troy’s colors are a great match for the story. They’re gross, dark, and mysterious, but never overly so. Issue Two delves more into the details surrounding Morrow’s new affliction, and it’s much heavier on the monsters and magic than the first issue is. By this time, though, you’re probably on board and eager for as much supernatural and paranormal weirdness as you can handle in one sitting.

Seifert explains in the letters page of issue #2 that due to “lots of logistical problems” that would need ironing out, WITCH DOCTOR is going to be a set of miniseries rather than an official “ongoing” title, which just means it could end on the conclusion of any arc (usually between four and six issues long). I’m holding out hope that circumstances will change, but in the meantime, I’ll be looking into the collected trade paperback of the previous run, Witch Doctor Vol. 1: Under the Knife.

WITCH DOCTOR: MALPRACTICE #2 (by writer Brandon Seifert and illustrators Lukas Ketner and Andy Troy) hit stands on December 19. You can purchase it and the first issue on ComiXology.

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